The beauty of the heron’s bill only becomes apparent when you look closely. This is how to plant and care for the delicate shrub for rock gardens.
Profile of heron’s bill:
Scientific name: Erodium x variabile
Plant family: cranesbill or geranium family (Geraniaceae)
Other names: filarees, storksbills (Br.)
Planting time: spring
Flowering period: May to September
Location: sunny to partially shaded
Soil quality: stony to sandy, calcipholous
These information are for temperate climate!
Use in: groundcover, planters, dry stone walls, rock garden, potted garden
Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 7 (-15 °C / +5 °F)
Bee and insect friendly: Yes
Plant characteristics and classification of heron’s bill
Plant order, origin and occurrence of heron’s bill
The heron’s bill (Erodium x variabile) belongs like the geranium to the large cranesbill family (Geraniaceae). The dainty perennial is a hybrid, which presumably originated from crossing Erodium corsicum and Erodium reichardii. The parent species come from Corsica and Sardinia or from Corsica and the Balearic Islands.
Characteristics of heron’s bill
The polster dwarf perennial grows more in width than in height: at 5 to a maximum of 15 centimeters (2 to 6 in), it remains very low, but can become twice as wide.
The lobed leaves grow close to the ground and are dark green and glabrous on the top, hairy on the underside. Their shape is oval to slightly triangular. The heron’s bill is wintergreen.
The simple pink cup-like blossoms make up the special charm of the heron’s bill: they are traversed by dark veins and hover above the foliage. The flowering time is from May to September.
Erodium x variabile develops the genus-typical schizocarp fruits. They contain the seeds.
Heron’s bill – cultivation and care
The heron’s bill prefers bright locations and can even be exposed to blazing sun. Then it needs plenty of water. It is better to give it at least a partially shaded spot. For this, it should be planted near a wall, a house wall, taller shrubs, bushes or trees. It also makes sense to plant it a little sheltered. Due to its low height, it rarely suffers from wind.
Heron’s bill is very frugal when it comes to the substrate. If the soil is loose and permeable, no problems can be expected here. So the existing garden soil can be used, which may well be calcareous. But if you want to avoid fertilizing in the first time, you should rather choose fresh soil or mix garden soil with compost. If the existing soil tend to compaction, it is advisable to add sand, gravel or coconut fibers. This combination remains loose even in heavy rain and ensures good drainage. It also stimulates root growth.
Because the plant forms full-coverage polster, it should primarily be ensured that there is sufficient distance between the individual plants. However, this does not have to be too large if a continuous polster is required. The planting distance can vary depending on the variety and ranges from just under 10 centimeters to about 30 centimeters (4 to 12 in). Up to 25 plants can be placed per square meter (10 sq ft.). The root axes should be at the same level as the ground, so neither look out nor sit too deep. If they are too high, they are prone to damage from drought. Too deep and the stems have an increased risk of mold.
The heron’s bill prefers dry or only slightly damp soils, waterlogging must be avoided, especially in autumn and winter. Getting along with a little water means on the one hand that Erodium reichardii really only needs to be watered when necessary. For example, in persistent dry periods. Since the plant has only flat roots, it cannot take care of itself for too long. It is not a problem if it wilts somehow, because it usually recovers very quickly after watering. Normal tap water is sufficient for watering, since the Erodium reichardii requires lime for its growth. However, care must be taken to ensure that the water does not stand. The heron’s bill responds quickly to this and becomes susceptible to fungal infections. This applies especially to the colder months.
Anyone who has enriched the soil with compost before planting, can save on fertilizing in the first few years. This usually applies even if fresh soil has been used. However, once the soil has been used up, flowering decreases and growth is limited. Two measures can help in this case. Firstly, light fertilization with heavily diluted agents or nettle manure (ratio 1:10 in water). Mineral, lime-based fertilizers are also suitable. On the other hand, renewing the substrate. If the plants are dug up and the used soil is replaced with fresh soil – this opportunity can be used for propagation.
The heron’s bill does not require a prune, but does not mind it. After the numerous flowers have faded, they can also be removed. The ground cover can withstand a lot, so you don’t have to be too carefully.
The propagation of heron’s bill is just as easy as the rest of the care, because it can be done by division. For this, the plants are dug out, which can be combined with replacing the soil. The plant is divided as centrally as possible. The two plants created in this way are then simply replanted again and watered a little. They grow to the original size of old plant within a very short time. Spring is suitable for this.
After planting, you should water the heron’s bill soaking and regularly, so that the plant grows well and forms roots deep into the earth. Once established, hardly any maintenance is required in the bed – except in long dry periods. The perennial in the pot must be watered consistently. In addition, Erodium x variabile is somewhat more sensitive to frost than the wild species: a light winter protection made from spruce twigs or fir branches cannot hurt. In the spring, the dead or withered shoots are cut off.
Diseases and pests
Plant diseases and pests almost never occur on Erodium x variabile, only the weevil can cause serious damage.
The wintering of the Erodium reichardii is in itself extremely easy. Because the plant is frost hardy and does not need additional protection, at least when it is snowing. However, caution should be exercised in the case of black frost. Then temperatures and winter sun can do some damage. A simple layer of straw and brushwood or garden fleece is sufficient as protection. These provide shade without completely shielding the light and also keep the wind from being too cold.
If the plant was cultivated in a bucket, it can also be protected outside during the winter or it can be brought into a bright and frost-free place in-house. The advantage of the bucket is that waterlogging is easy to avoid. Planted freely in the garden can prove to be more difficult. The best measure against this is to prepare a very well drained soil when planting. The easiest way to do this is to add a large amount of sand or gravel. If this has not been done, rain protection should be provided in autumn to keep most of the water away. If there is waterlogging in the cold season, the otherwise robust heron’s bill will quickly get root rot and can then hardly be saved.
Use in the garden
The beauty of the filigree perennial is often only revealed at second glance, but then the easy-care and long-lasting heron’s bill wins the heart of every gardener. In the rock garden or in the Alpinum, the delicate plant with the beautifully drawn petals has been appreciated for some time and is used for gravel beds as well as for plant trays and pots.
Some varieties of Erodium x variabile are also available.
- The pink ‘Bishop’s shape’ is particularly well known.
- The ‘County Park’ variety blooms pink-violet and grows to an impressive 15 centimeters high (6 in).
- The flowers of ‘Roseum’ goes more into violet.
- The foliage of the variety is very dark. ‘Album’ convinces with white flowers and pink veins.