Checker Berry/Gaultheria Procumbens
This North American member of the Ericaceae family – to which the heathers also belong – is a useful and attractive dwarf shrub that will not tolerate alkaline (lime-rich) soils,or water; this low-growing evergreen is an excellent ground-cover plant when it spreads by means of its underground roots – but is happy as a container-grown plant for the patio. The white um-shaped flowers are gently flushed with pale pink and appear from late Spring to early Summer; they are followed in early Autumn by attractive scarlet fruits.
Even out of bloom or berry, the Checker Berry has nice glossy green foliage, which is a welcome sight all year through, and in the cold of Winter each leaf takes on a reddish hue. This plant’s other, less-often-used, common name of Wintergreen alludes to days past when Caultheria procumbens was the source of the oil of the same name. Wintergreen is now obtained from Betula lenta.
The Checker Berry is fully frost-hardy and will withstand the coldest of Winter weather, the scarlet fruits being unharmed. In Summer, ensure that this plant is kept well moistened at all times in hot weather; in some parts of the country, it may be wise to move the container to a cooler site.
This plant prefers to be grown in part shade; sun will be tolerated as long as the plant’s rootball is kept moist at all times.
Water the Checker Berry thoroughly throughout the growing period: in the Winter months, keep the compost moist, but not wet. If prolonged periods of frost are expected, reduce the moisture level of the compost. Always use lime-free water.
This hardy outdoor North American plant has no need of increased humidity levels.
If not regularly repotted, feed Gaultheria procumbens about three times during the growing period, using a proprietary houseplant feed which contains potash (K).
The Checker Berry requires either a peat-based compost, or a lime-free, loam-based compost with added peat (to improve the acidity) and horticultural sand to aid drainage. Pot-grown Gaultheria should either be repotted every other year, or top-dressed: once the rootball fills the container, the plant should be repotted.
Older plants can be replaced by younger parts of the plant, which will grow from the ever-spreading root system. Consider replanting the Checker Berry every 3-4 years.
Yellow leaves are a classic indication of iron-induced chlorosis, caused by watering with alkaline water. Correct the water used (rainwater will help) and treat the affected plants with iron sequestrene. This is a short-term remedy, which can be expensive if it proves necessary on a regular basis.