Wintergreen Plant Care: Learn About Wintergreen Growing Conditions
By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Evergreen groundcovers keep the life in the landscape even in winter. It is perfect for cooler regions and is native to North America. Some tips below can help you decide if it is right for your garden as well as a guide on how to care for wintergreen.
Growing Wintergreen Plants
Any area of the garden that is shady to partially sunny make ideal wintergreen growing conditions. These low growing plants form creeping mats of glossy green foliage that turns red to bronze in winter. The decorative red berries are an added bonus that were used in candies, gum, perfume, cosmetics, teas and other uses prior to synthetic flavorings.
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is a forest plant in its native habitat. It primarily colonizes areas around natives like mountain laurel and rhododendrons in moist, acidic soils. Much of its wild range is west of the Mississippi River, but it is also found south to Georgia. As understory plants, a low light area is best suited for growing wintergreen plants.
The species name, procumbens, proclaims this as a ground cover because it means “lying flat.” Optimal wintergreen growing conditions are found in United States Department of Agriculture zones 3 to 8 or AHS heat zones 8 to 1. Wintergreen plants perform best in light to full shade in areas with cool summers. The plants do not enjoy hot, humid conditions, suffer in drought and dislike overly wet, boggy soils.
How to Care for Wintergreen
This is an easy little plant to grow provided it is situated in a suitable location. Plants grow slowly and should be spaced 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm.) apart. When plants are newly installed, wintergreen plant care should include regular watering and even established, mature plants require supplemental moisture in hot, dry summers.
No pruning or mowing is required with this plant. It also has few pest or disease issues, partly due to the pungent oils the crushed leaves and berries emit. The only concern of issue is cosmetic, where rust can discolor the leaves.
In summer, pale bell-shaped flowers appear and lead to deep red drupes. The berries may persist well into the winter if birds do not eat them or if you aren’t tempted to try your hand at a sauce or canned preparation.
Wintergreen Plant Propagation
As with most berries, these plants can be propagated with their seeds. In fact, in ideal conditions, the plants may self-sow. The seeds need to be separated from the pulp and given 4 to 13 weeks cold treatment. Plant seeds in flats filled with peat and sand in early spring. Place flats in a greenhouse or cold frame until sprouts are noticed. Seeds should sprout in 1 to 2 months but plants are slow to grow.
A faster method of wintergreen plant propagation is through division. Divide plants in early spring. After planting divisions, provide average water as part of essential wintergreen plant care, unless the spring rain is consistent. Wintergreen can also be propagated by semi-ripe stem cuttings with a little rooting hormone and a low soil medium.
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Wintergreen Plant Indoors (Gaultheria procumbens)
A gorgeous plant with year-round appeal. The glossy leaves are evergreen and complimented by small, dangling bell-like flowers that produce red berries. Outdoors the leaves will take on a lovely red tinge in autumn. The fragrant oil from Wintergreen's leaves was traditionally used for medicine, but munching leaves raw can cause stomach distress. Best to enjoy this plant for its beauty and fragrance. Plant Wintergreen in the garden where it can slowly spread into a colorful groundcover.
Can be grown outdoors in a container or in the garden through the summer, as well as indoors year-round.
Once every month during growing season.
Keep soil moist throughout growth and bloom season.
Basic Care Summary
Plant in organic-rich, well-drained soil. Keep soil moist throughout growth and bloom season. Apply a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly. Remove faded flowers for best display. Prune to maintain desired size.
If the plant was purchased in a pot, then it is probably already in a quality potting soil and requires little more than watering and grooming for a while.
If potting a flowering plant to bring indoors or to give as a gift plant, start with a good quality, commercial potting soil. These are usually lighter in weight than topsoil, sterile and pest-free. Many are available with a mild starter fertilizer in the mix.
Select a container with a drainage hole or be prepared to drill holes for drainage if there are none.
Prepare the container by filling with potting soil up to 2” (5cm) from the rim of the planter. Make a small hole in the soil slightly larger than the root ball either by hand or using a trowel. Insert the plant into the hole and press soil firmly around the roots and just covering the root ball. When all the plants are potted, water thoroughly to settle the soil and give plants a good start. Place plant in bright location for best performance.
Repot every 2 years in the same container or in a container slightly larger than the diameter of the roots.
Most potted flowering plants prefer consistently moist but well-drained soil. If the soil gets too dry the blooms can wilt and they may not recover. Check the soil moisture with your finger. If the top 2-4” (5-10cm) of soil is dry, or plants are wilted, it is time to water.
Apply water at the soil level if possible to avoid wetting the foliage. Water the entire soil area until water runs out the base of the pot. This indicates that the soil is thoroughly wet.
Fertilizers are available in many forms: granulated, slow-release, liquid feeds, organic or synthetic. Determine which application method is best for the situation and select a product with a nutritional balance designed for foliage plants.
Too much fertilizer can damage plants so it’s important to follow the package directions to determine how much, and how often, to feed plants.
Slow-release fertilizers are an especially good, care-free choice for container plants. Follow the product directions for proper timing and application rates.
Remove the flowers as they fade. This keeps the plant looking tidy and may encourage more blooms depending on the type of plant. After flowering many blooming plants make attractive houseplants. Be sure to trim the foliage to maintain the desired size and shape. Occasional trimming encourages the plant to develop more side-shoots and flowers, and reduces the demand for the plant to develop a larger root system. This is important since the roots are in a confined space.
Some plants will re-bloom on their own, but others may have very specific day-length or temperature requirements to flower again. A bit of research may be necessary to determine what is needed to encourage future blooming. Some plants, such as bulbs or perennials, can be turned into wonderful garden additions after the flowers have been enjoyed indoors.
Wintergreen grows best in a moist, peaty soil that is acidic (pH 5.5 to 7.0) and never floods. Choose a partially shaded garden location, where it receives no more than two to five hours of direct sun through the shifting shade from trees or shrubs above. If the soil remains consistently moist, wintergreen plants handle as much as five to seven hours of direct sunshine daily in the growing season. This species successfully grows for years in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 8.
Excellent in woodland settings, wintergreen spreads as ground cover on the forest floor or upon a moist, shaded hillside. Rock gardens with moist soils that also support the growth of heath and heathers make great habitats for wintergreen. Although ingesting leaves or stems of wintergreen leads to a stomach ache, the red berries are fully edible. Their mealy texture and minty flavor help freshen breath or season desserts like ice cream, cakes or sweet icings.
How to Plant a Wintergreen Boxwood Hedge
The wintergreen boxwood is an evergreen shrub that is native to Korea and produces a round shape and has delicate foliage. Wintergreen boxwood is commonly grown as a hedge as it reaches a height of 2 to 4 feet and will spread to a width of 3 to 5 feet when left to grow naturally. The shrub winters well and complements flowering plants when planted in the background of flower beds.
Choose a planting location for the wintergreen boxwood that has well-draining soil and full sun to partial shade light conditions. Boxwood plants prefer a sandy loam soil.
Test the soil pH with a home test kit as the wintergreen boxwood prefers a pH of 6.5 to 7.0 on the pH scale. Add limestone to the soil to raise the pH number or ground rock sulfur to lower the pH number.
- The wintergreen boxwood is an evergreen shrub that is native to Korea and produces a round shape and has delicate foliage.
- Wintergreen boxwood is commonly grown as a hedge as it reaches a height of 2 to 4 feet and will spread to a width of 3 to 5 feet when left to grow naturally.
Dig a hole that is twice the width of the root ball and the same depth. Place the root ball in the hole, making sure the plant sits at the same depth as it was in the container or nursery. Gently pack soil around the root ball to set in place. Space the plants 3 to 4 feet apart to create a hedge.
Water the newly planted boxwood immediately after planting. Continue to water weekly to keep the soil moist during the warm summer months. Yellowing leaves is a sign the plant is not receiving enough water.
- Dig a hole that is twice the width of the root ball and the same depth.
- Place the root ball in the hole, making sure the plant sits at the same depth as it was in the container or nursery.
Apply a 2- to 3-inch deep layer of mulch around the planted hedge to assist with water retention and weed control. Mulch the plants to a minimum of 12 inches in diameter from the stem base.
Fertilize the wintergreen boxwood in the spring season with a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer before the start of new growth. Keep the fertilizer application 6 inches from the stem of the plant to prevent damage.
Boxwood plants do not grow well in areas that are not protected from wind.
Wintergreen boxwood is winter hardy and grows well in USDA growing zones 5 through 8.
How to Grow Wintergreen | Guide to Growing Wintergreen
Binomial Name: Gultheria procumbens
Slightly acidic, humus-rich
Wintergreen is often used as a ground cover and will grow to a height of approximately 6 inches, showing fragrant pink blossoms in early summer.
Wintergreen will do best with partial shade. It is somewhat tolerant of increased sunlight, but should not be planted in a location that receives full sun for prolonged lengths of time.
Wintergreen seeds require a period of cold, moist stratification to germinate. In late winter, seeds can be placed onto a moistened paper towel, which is then folded over to ensure that seeds have consistent access to moisture and will not dry out. The towel should be placed into a ziploc bag, which is then placed under refrigeration.
Check back often to ensure that towel remains moist, and to see if any seeds have started to germinate. Remain patient as Wintergreen is typically slow to germinate, often requiring 2-3 months or more.
Upon germinate, you will start to see small root tips start to grow out from the seed. Carefully remove seed from towel and sow in small pots, approximately 1/8" deep or 3 times the thickness of the seed. Keep indoors, and provide ample moisture as the germinated seed begins to grow through the surface of the soil. Once this occurs, scale back watering slightly but do not allow soil to dry out.
As start continues to grow, gradually harden plant for upcoming transplant outdoors by exposing to increasing amounts of sunlight daily. Transplant after the final frost of the year, once the plants are stable and show their first true leaves.
Heirloom seeds are the gardeners choice for seed-saving from year-to-year. Learning to save seeds is easy and fun with these books. Before you harvest, consider which varieties you might want to save seeds from so that your harvesting practice includes plants chosen for seed saving. Be sure to check out our newest seed packs, available now from Heirloom Organics. The Super Food Garden is the most nutrient dense garden you can build and everything you need is right here in one pack. The Genesis Garden s a very popular Bible Garden collection. The Three Sisters Garden was the first example of companion planting in Native American culture. See all of our brand-new seed pack offerings in our store.