HOW TO GROW ERICA (heath, heather)

5 deg C/41 deg F

Two species – which also have a number of named hybrids – make favourite florists’ plants for the Christmas period, but they are usually forced to flower earlier for this purpose.

B. gracilis is of South African origin, and has both white and pink forms. It grows like a clump of heather, with stems45cm (ljft) high. The flowers are heather-shaped. and borne similarly, making a very pretty and neat pot plant that will enhance any home. li. hiemalis is rather a mystery, since the identity of its origin is not really certain and it may well not be a true species. However, it is popularly called the Cape heath. It bears flowers more tubular

than li. gracilis and they are pink with white tips. The normal (lowering time is from October to January. Commercial nurseries manipulate temperatures to bring about timed flowering for Christmas, but high temperatures must be avoided at all times. The plants should be given an airy, cool room and a bright position, and not allowed to dry out at any time, winter included. It is wise to water them with clean rainwater where the mains tap-water is hard. The plants must be given an acid compost when being potted. These heaths will be happy in an atmosphere drier than most other houseplants and even in summer the temperature should be kept down. It may be more convenient to stand the plants outside in a cool sheltered place, but don’t forget to water them, especially during dry weather. The best time to pot them is March, Pests and diseases are uncommon, but lime in the water or an alkaline compost will soon cause yellowing and sickly growth. It is common for ericas that have been forced to deteriorate. They are difficult to save from one year to another.

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