Wintergreen: What a Wee Charmer!

Though not the easiest ground cover to grow, this wee charmer offers great ornamental value. Native to woods in eastern North America, wintergreen forms a creeping mat of short, upright woody stems.

The small, oval, evergreen leaves of wintergreen are glossy dark green, often taking on reddish to purplish tones in the winter. When crushed, the foliage emits a distinctive sweet-spicy scent. Small, white urn-shaped flowers appear in spring, followed by berrylike scarlet fruits that often persist well into winter. Wintergreen makes a lovely addition to shady woodland gardens; plant it near a path so you can enjoy an up-close view.

Common name: Wintergreen, teaberry, checkerberry

Botanical name: Gaultheria procumbens

Plant type: Evergreen ground cover

Zones: 3 to 7

Height: 3 to 6 inches

Family: Ericaceae


Growing conditions

  • Sun: Partial to full shade
  • Soil: Loamy or sandy, acidic, with ample organic matter
  • Moisture: Moist yet well-drained

Care

  • Mulch: 1-inch layer of fine organic matter, such as pine needles or shredded leaves
  • Pruning: None
  • Fertilizer: Apply compost or balanced fertilizer annually if needed.


Propagation

  • Seeds
  • Division of rooted sections

Pests and diseases

  • No major problems

Cultivars

  • ‘Very Berry’ is a seed strain that has especially heavy fruit production.

Garden notes

  • Wintergreen has long been used medicinally and as a flavoring. Oil of wintergreen was once extracted from this plant but wintergreen flavoring now comes either from other plants or as a synthetic compound
  • Grow wintergreen with other heath family members that require similar soil conditions (acidic, moist yet well-drained), such as azaleas, rhododendrons and blueberries.

All in the family

  • Wintergreen is a member of the heath family (Ericaceae), a large family that contains many garden ornamentals.
  • Some popular heath family plants include rhododendrons, azaleas, mountain laurel, pieris, blueberries, heaths and heathers
  • Most members of this family require acidic (low pH) soil for best growth.


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