The Ericas are small shrubby plants which are bought in flower during the winter months. Their tiny leaves and masses of bell-shaped flowers are attractive, but these plants will give disappointing results in a centrally heated room. In hot, dry air the leaves drop very rapidly, so only choose an Erica for display in winter if you can provide a cool and well-lit spot. Pay careful attention to watering – never use hard water and make sure that the compost is never allowed to dry out.
There are two popular varieties to choose from – E. gracilis bears tiny globular pink or pale purple flowers and E. hyemalis which bears larger tubular pink flowers with white tips.
Even under cool conditions and with the compost kept suitably moist you cannot expect an Erica to survive for long in the home.
The Cape Heather and its close relatives are bought in bloom and are then discarded once the flowering period is over. There are needle-like leaves and masses of small flowers – Erica gracilis is the favourite one and is in flower during fall and winter. One of the easiest Ericas to cultivate, perfect for that indigenous ‘English Garden’ look.
Erica hyemalis is also widely grown – it produces its blooms at the same time as E. gracilis but the flowers are larger – ¾ in. long pink tubes with white mouths.
The Christmas Heather (E. canaliculata) bears tiny white blooms with black centres. There is a midsummer-flowering Heather – the white or mauve E. ventricosa (2 ft). The popular garden species E. carnea is not suitable for indoor cultivation.
Secrets of success
Temperature: Cool – must be kept at 40°-55°F when in flower.
Light: Bright light. Some direct sun is beneficial.
Water: Keep compost moist at all times – frequent watering may be necessary. Use soft water.
Air humidity: Mist leaves frequently.
Care after flowering: Plant is usually discarded. To keep for a second year, trim back shoots after flowering and stand pot outdoors during summer.