Shrubs

Winter Heath Guide: How to Grow & Care for Erica Carnea ‘December Red’

Read our guide to Winter Heath for everything you’ll ever need to know! Tips for planting & caring for Erica Carnea ‘December Red’

Are you one of those gardeners that enjoy having their garden full of delightful ornamental plants even during the winter months? Say no more! Erica carnea ‘December Red’ plants might be exactly what you are looking for. Needless to say that the beauty and charm of these flowers is one of a kind. But let’s get you more familiar with them and help you decide if these plants are perfect for your outdoor space!

Erica carnea ‘December Red’ plants are very peculiar and adorable varieties of flowering shrubs in the Ericaceae family. These winter-blooming buddies are native to the Alps of Central Europe. However, they have become pretty popular ornamentals worldwide, especially in those areas when they are feeling at home.

Besides their showy flowers, Erica carnea ‘December Red’ plants have gained their respectable reputation thanks to their overall easy-going nature. These cultivars are among the hardiest of Heathers. They need little to no water to thrive and will grow at their best in a wide range of lighting conditions, temperatures, and soils.

About Erica Carnea ‘December Red’

  • Erica carnea ‘December Red’ plants are pretty versatile, being lovely additions to both indoor and outdoor settings. They will look wonderful in containers, rock gardens, coastal gardens, cottage gardens, slopes, and also as ground covers.
  • They go by many common names including Winter Heath ‘December Red’, Heather ‘December Red’, Alpine Heath ‘December Red’, and Snow Heath ‘December Red’.
  • These stunning shrubs grow mostly at higher elevations and can tolerate very cold climates. However, they are quite sensitive to chilly winter winds and require some protection from these particular conditions.
  • Not only are their blossoms absolutely unique, but they also produce high amounts of nectar that is very attractive to bees on the mild winter days.
  • All parts of Erica carnea ‘December Red’ plants are toxic to both animals and humans if ingested or touched. For the safety of your furry friends or curious kids, grow these shrubs in a spot where they cannot reach them.
  • These superb flowers make for great companions to other fabulous species of plants. The most suitable companions include Carex ‘Frosted Curls’, Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’, Crocus ‘Jeanne d’Arc’, Dwarf Iris, Helleborus ‘Golden Lotus’, Narcissus ‘Tete a Tete’, and Siberian Squill.

Erica Carnea ‘December Red’ Features: An Overview

  • These plants belong to the Erica genus that contains about 857 species of flowering shrubs. They share this genus with other nice-looking species like E. abietina, E. arborea, E. ciliaris, E. cruenta, E. mammosa, E. nana, E. peltata, or E. vegans.
  • Erica carnea ‘December Red’ plants are vigorous evergreen perennials. They are low-growing shrubs that can reach from 6 to 12 inches (15-30 cm) in height and up to 18 inches (45 cm) in width.
  • Their foliage consists of numerous tiny, fine, needle-like, and light to dark green leaves that grow in whorls on long, thick, wood-like, and brownish stems. These mat-forming plants spread along the ground, creating an overall dense appearance.
  • Erica carnea ‘December Red’ plants bloom heavily for weeks from early through late winter, usually in December to February. These buddies are one of the earliest Erica carnea cultivars to produce blossoms.
  • Their small, narrow, and urn-shaped flowers appear in dense masses or clusters. The blooms first show up in various shades of pink but deepen to a vibrant light purple colour over the season.
Erica carnea
Erica carnea

Growing Erica Carnea ‘December Red’

Erica carnea ‘December Red’ plants look so exquisite that you might think they are also very picky regarding their growing environment. But this could not be farther from the truth! These evergreen perennials are super friendly and low-demanding, making them excellent future companions to any type of gardener, even beginners. However, they still have some basic requirements that you must meet for them to grow at their best.

First, let’s talk about the amount of light these plants prefer. In general, Erica carnea ‘December Red’ shrubs do well in full sunlight to partial shade. If you live in a northern region, you can safely grow your flowers in a place where they can receive lots of bright and direct light. In warmer regions, however, these plants will benefit from a partially shaded location, especially during the harsh afternoon conditions or the summer months.

Like most plants that bloom mostly in winter, Erica carnea ‘December Red’ buddies can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. These plants are typically winter and heat hardy in the USDA zones 5 to 7. In areas with cooler conditions overall, you can provide your shrubs with a generous layer of mulch to help them withstand freezing temperatures better.

Even if Erica carnea ‘December Red’ plants are virtually pest and disease-free, they can encounter some issues once in a while. The most common diseases that may bother these shrubs include powdery mildew and rust. If the foliage of your plants has suspicious patterns on it, such as cotton-like patches or golden-yellow dots, you should take action immediately. Make sure you remove the unhealthy parts from your shrubs, then apply a suitable fungicide to prevent any future spread.

Planting Erica Carnea ‘December Red’

When it comes to their growing medium, it is pretty easy to satisfy your Erica carnea ‘December Red’ plants. These shrubs do well in sandy soils that come with great drainage. Likewise, they absolutely love those substrates with a pH that is more on the acidic side. If your soil is actually loamy or clayish, you can improve its drainage by mixing some organic matter, such as compost, in it before planting.

In terms of fertilizing, Erica carnea ‘December Red’ plants can do just fine without yearly applications. These flowers will thrive if you provide them with fertilizers only once every two years or so. As a general rule, you must feed your shrubs with that type of fertilizer that you would also use for acid-loving plants or Azaleas. The best time to fertilize your plants is usually in autumn.

Because Erica carnea ‘December Red’ shrubs tend to grow at a pretty fast pace, you will have to prune them regularly. In time, these plants may become somewhat lopsided, so you can also correct this flaw by shearing them heavily. Likewise, this process will help you regain the shape and size that you want your shrubs to have. However, keep in mind that they will handle the pruning better only once their blooming period has ended, typically in early spring.

Winter Heath
Winter Heath

Watering Erica Carnea ‘December Red’

Like most species of shrubs, these fellows do not require plenty of moisture to grow healthy and happy. Yet, they will need more attention during their first year after planting. But once your Erica carnea ‘December Red’ plants settle in their new environment, they become fairly tolerant of drought for long periods.

Water your young Erica carnea ‘December Red’ flowers whenever their top 2 inches (5 cm) of soil feels dry to the touch. In general, established or mature plants will get the preferred amount of water from regular rainfalls.

If you live in a region with hot and dry climates, however, supplemental irrigation will be necessary. Make sure you always allow the soil to dry out completely before providing your shrubs with another drink.

Propagating Erica Carnea ‘December Red’

Although Erica carnea ‘December Red’ plants look gorgeous by themselves, they will bring more winter interest if you plant them in masses. Don’t have enough specimens to fill your landscape decoration? No worries,! You can surround yourself with more of these beauties by easily propagating them through seeds or cuttings.

To start your own Erica carnea ‘December Red’ shrubs from seeds, you must first collect them from the mother plant. Once you have the seeds, you can sow them just above the surface of a damp, but well-draining seed-starting mix. For optimal results, cover the container with a plastic bag, then place it in your refrigerator for a month or so.

After this period, you should take the container out of the refrigerator and remove the plastic bag. Move the container to a well-lit location where the seeds can receive mid-cool temperatures of 65 to 68 °F (18-20 °C). With proper care, the Erica carnea ‘December Red’ seeds will typically germinate in up to several months.

Since Erica carnea ‘December Red’ plants do not always come true from seed, we suggest you propagate them using layered cuttings. In fact, these shrubs may also exhibit shoots that will develop a strong root system without any extra effort on your part. Once their roots emerge, you can remove the offsets and plant them wherever you want.

But for the fun of it, look for healthy stems and cut about 3 to 4 inches (7.5-10 cm) off them. After this process, remove the bottom layer of leaves, then plant the cuttings in fresh soil. If you provide the cuttings with lots of light, slightly cooler temperatures, and regular moisture, they will produce roots in two months or so.

In Conclusion

Without a doubt, these shrubby friends are a must-have in your plant family this winter and the other ones to come. Even if pink may not be your favourite colour, every winter garden needs a bit of warmth and vibrance. Especially when Erica carnea ‘December Red’ plants are so alluring and very easy to grow, care for, and propagate!

Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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