Italian Heather (Erica ventricosa), also known as Italian ventricosa or wax heath, is a popular ornamental shrub prized for its elegant pink flowers.
Often sold as a potted houseplant, it can also be grown outdoors as a ground cover.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at how to care for your Italian Heather plant, where and when to plant it, as well as answer some of your common questions about this unique species.
Italian Heather Care Guide
The Italian Heather growing conditions are quite similar to those of other heathers and heaths. Yet there are a few specific requirements you’ll need to keep in mind in order to grow a healthy plant with abundant flowers.
Here’s what you need to know.
The clue is in the name: Italian Heather loves the sun. Place the potted plant on a windowsill where it gets plenty of sunshine in the morning or evening, but avoid keeping it in direct sun for too long, as this can dry out the plant and burn the leaves.
Outside, plant your Italian Heather in a part of the garden where it gets plenty of light, but is not exposed to the hot afternoon sun.
Italian Heather grows best in well-draining, acidic soils, with a pH ranging between 5.5 and 5.7. If you’re growing Italian Heather outdoors, it’s best to note that it does not grow well in clay soils. If your garden has heavy clay soil, you will need to add soil amendments such as gypsum, compost, or pine bark, which will also aid with the soil acidity.
For indoor growth, you can keep the Italian Heather in the nursery pot it came in for the first year. If you want to keep it for longer, you will need to repot it in a container about 2 inches wider, using a rhododendron soil mix. Alternatively, you can make your own mix by combining compost and pine bark for acidity, and perlite — or one of our recommended substitutes — to improve drainage and moisture retention.
Italian Heather thrives in moist but not soggy soils, so water your plant regularly and ensure proper drainage. Given the fact that Italian Heather needs plenty of sun to grow, this can cause the soil to dry out during the day.
Keeping an eye on soil moisture is a must, as the plant does not tolerate dry soils and will wilt as a result. Ideally, you should water it in the evening, to prevent the water from evaporating too quickly.
Italian Heather grown indoors in a pot will also benefit from higher air moisture levels, as the air inside your home is typically dryer, especially in winter. You can easily fix this by placing the pot on top of a pebble tray, ensuring that the bottom of the pot does not touch the water level. Check the top of the soil with your finger and only water when it feels dry to the touch, to prevent root rot. Use soft or distilled water if possible.
Italian Heather flowers grow best in temperatures ranging from 10° to 26°C (50° to 80°F). When grown outdoors, Italian Heather can withstand a light frost, and can survive if temperatures drop to 1°C (30°F). However, prolonged exposure to temperatures of -3°C (37°F) or below will damage the plant, causing it to wilt and die.
Italian Heather needs a slow-release fertilizer application once every month during the growth season, from mid-spring through summer. Use organic seaweed fertilizers for the best results. It’s important not to feed the plants too much, especially with nitrogen-rich fertilizers, as this will encourage Italian Heather to produce too many leaves and not enough flowers.
If you’re caring for a recently bought Italian Heather, you don’t need to worry about applying fertilizers in the first year.
In the second year, you can transplant it to a larger pot and apply the feeding guide mentioned above.
Keeping your Italian Heather pruned is essential for healthy growth and abundant flowers. After the flowering season, use scissors or pruning shears to trim the stems down to the base of the dried flower stalks, encouraging further growth next year.
To keep the plant bushy and prevent it from becoming overgrown, trim any leggy stalks after the plant has stopped flowering. Avoid cutting into the woody parts of the plant, as the flowers will not regenerate and your heather will end up with ‘bald spots.
When does Italian Heather bloom?
Italian ventricosa blooms from June until August and can continue to flower until late autumn if conditions are favorable.
If your Italian Heather is not blooming, there may be several reasons for that:
- Not enough sun
- Not enough water
- Too much fertilizer
- Not pruning enough
1. Not enough sun
Italian Heather needs at least 6 hours of sunshine per day in order to produce flowers. Consider moving it to a brighter spot in your home or garden. This will also ensure that the flowers have more vivid colors, and the plant doesn’t become too leggy.
2. Not enough water or moisture
This can cause the flower buds of the Italian Heather to dry and fall off, resulting in no flowers during the blooming season. Keep your plants well-watered but avoid waterlogging the soil. Air moisture is also important for indoor plants, and if the air is too dry, this can also cause the flower buds to fall off. Use a pebble tray to raise the air moisture around your Italian Heather.
3. Too much fertilizer
Using too much fertilizer can cause your Italian Heather to produce too many leaves and not enough flowers. It’s best to use a slow-release organic fertilizer once a month during the growing season.
4. Not pruning enough
The key to getting your Italian to produce lush, plentiful blooms each year is to prune it at the end of the flowering season. Pruning is important especially for plants grown outdoors as a ground cover. If you have too many plants growing together, they will compete for light, water, and nutrients, and will produce fewer flowers as a result.
Keep your Italian Heather trimmed by removing dead flower stalks and cutting the undergrowth for outdoor plants to prevent spreading.
Will Italian Heather die in winter?
Italian Heather is quite hardy and can survive winter even when grown outdoors. Although it’s not a winter heath, it can withstand temperatures of up to -3°C for a few days. Don’t worry if snow is covering your plants: snow is an excellent insulator and can protect outdoor Italian Heather from frost. If exposed to below freezing temperatures for too long, however, Italian Heather will die out.
Does Italian Heather bloom every year?
Italian Heather is a perennial plant that will flower every year. We’re always saddened when we see it thrown out after it has stopped flowering, especially the potted plants. So don’t discard your Italian Heather after its first year. With proper care and growing conditions, you can enjoy it for many years to come.
Can you grow Italian Heather outdoors?
Italian Heather is mostly sold as a potted indoor plant, but it grows just as well outdoors. In its natural habitat (the Hottentots Holland Mountains in South Africa), this plant grows on acidic, nutrient-poor soils, so it can easily survive in your garden as well. Make sure to check our care guide for soil, water, light, and temperature requirements for successful growth.
When to plant Italian Heather outdoors?
Mature Italian Heather plants should be planted outdoors in spring, and when they are at least 10cm (4 inches) tall. This way, they will have plenty of time to establish before the flowering season, which starts in early June.
If you’re growing Italian Heather from seed, sow the seed in a tray in autumn, and allow it to grow during the winter months before transplanting in spring.
What can you plant next to Italian Heather?
Italian Heather grows best in acidic soils, so keep that in mind when picking which flowers to plant nearby. Lavender is perfect for growing next to Italian Heather because both plants thrive in the same conditions.Other plants to consider include hydrangeas, dogwoods, rhododendrons, witch hazel, and even conifer shrubs. In fact, these plants can be used to protect Italian Heather from the hot afternoon sun, especially if your garden only has southern exposure.
How do you propagate Italian Heather?
If you can’t get enough of Italian Heather, we don’t blame you!
Luckily there are a couple of easy ways to propagate this plant so that you can create lush clusters of this Mediterranean pink flower.
Growing Italian Heather from seeds
Save the seeds from the dried flowers and sow them in autumn. In a tray, mix one part loam, two parts river sand (or grit sand) and two parts composted pine bark. Place the seeds on top and lightly cover with the soil mix. Use a spray bottle for watering, and keep the tray in a warm, well lit and ventilated place. Wait until the seedlings are at least 1cm tall before planting in separate pots, and keep them in a moist environment, with frequent watering. Plant outside in spring, when they’re at least 10 cm tall.
Growing Italian Heather from cuttings
In autumn, cut several thin branches, about 6 inches long, and trim half the stem of any leaves or flowers. Place the cuttings in small pots filled with compost and river sand, and water regularly to prevent the soil from drying out. For best results, you will need to mist the cuttings daily, or place them next to a humidifier, and provide them with a rooting hormone as well. Roots should start growing after 2 months, and the new plants can be sown outside in spring.
Let’s do a quick recap of the essentials of growing Italian Heather:
- Italian Heather can easily grow both indoors and outdoors.
- It prefers moist, well-draining, acidic soils.
- It grows best in brightly lit areas but does not tolerate direct sun.
- Prune the dead flower stalks to enjoy a blooming plant next year.
- Italian Heather can survive winter outdoors if temperatures stay above -3°C.
Growing Italian Heather is a lot easier than you’d think and it can really beautify any garden or window sill!