How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Wintergreen

Have you ever wondered where wintergreen flavoring comes from? This popular minty flavor actually comes from the ornamental wintergreen plant. If you have a shade garden, wintergreen will make a wonderfully attractive addition to your landscape! In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen introduces the wintergreen plant and how you can best grow it in your home garden.

A close-up of a Wintergreen plant showcases vibrant red berries, gleaming like miniature rubies against the green foliage. The glossy leaves of Wintergreen appear smooth, with veins delicately etched upon them. Branches stretch gracefully, adorned with clusters of berries and lush foliage.

Contents

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), also known as eastern teaberry, is a member of the heather family (Ericaceae), which also includes heaths and blueberry plants. The genus Gaultheria contains over 200 different species of flowering shrubs, including a variety of plants native to North and South America, Asia, and Oceania.

American wintergreen is one of the most widespread species in North America. There are a few other species native to different regions of both eastern and western North America. You can also find some wonderful cultivars of this easy-to-grow ground cover. 

These plants are compact and showy. Since they love the shade, a wintergreen shrub makes the perfect addition to your woodland garden. Their evergreen foliage will provide year-round interest and beauty. With their relatively slow growth rate, they make an ideal and low-competition companion plant for any of your shade garden trees, shrubs, and flowers. 

Keep reading for more details about growing this fragrant and handsome plant, and see if the American wintergreen or perhaps another fabulous wintergreen variety is right for your garden!

Overview

Amidst a blurred background of a brown wood surface, a Wintergreen plant reveals its scarlet berries, adding bursts of color to the scene. The leaves of Wintergreen, glossy and evergreen, provide a contrast against the woody backdrop. Branches intertwine elegantly, bearing the weight of nature's bounty.
Wintergreen plants attract birds, mammals, and pollinators.
Plant Type Broadleaf evergreen
Family Ericaceae
Genus Gaultheria
Species procumbens
Native Area Eastern United States
USDA Hardiness Zone 3 – 7
Sun Exposure Partial to full shade
Soil Type Rich, moist, well-drained
Watering Requirements Medium
Maintenance Low
Suggested Uses Ground cover, shade garden, native plant garden
Height 4 – 8 inches
Bloom Season Summer
Flower Color White, Pink
Attracts Birds, small mammals, pollinators
Problems Aphids, thrips, powdery mildew, leaf spot
Resistant To Shade, deer, rabbits
Plant Spacing 12 inches

Plant Natural History

A close-up reveals vibrant red berries nestled among glossy green leaves on a Wintergreen plant, adding a pop of color to the scene. The berries, resembling tiny jewels, provide a visual treat and attract attention. In the background, dried brown leaves scattered on the ground, contrasting with the plant's lively hues.
Different species have distinct growing needs and fragrant foliage

American wintergreen is native to eastern North America, from Canada south to Georgia, and as far west as Minnesota. This wintergreen species prefers cooler climates, and in the southern reaches of its range, it is mostly found only in higher-elevation mountainous areas. In more northern climates, wintergreen is a common understory plant in moist woodlands. 

Wintergreens are a valuable part of the natural ecosystem. Pollinators visit the flowers, while birds and other small animals eat the berries. Humans use wintergreen as a flavoring for candies and toothpaste. These plants each have fragrant leaves and stems, and each species has slightly different growing requirements. 

There are several different species of wintergreen native to North America. You can find some interesting and colorful cultivars as well. As a general rule, wintergreens prefer cooler climates and shaded growing conditions and are familiar, although somewhat subtle, members of many forested landscapes.

Characteristics

In the radiant sunlight, a Wintergreen plant takes center stage. Its glossy leaves shimmer, capturing the essence of vitality. Among the verdant foliage, bright red berries add a burst of color, enhancing the plant's natural beauty and allure.
Keep an eye out for bright red berries after flowering.

American wintergreen is a small perennial shrub. It is a low-growing plant with woody stems and evergreen foliage. The leaves are smooth and rounded, glossy and dark green, growing in small bunches on short stems. These plants slowly spread by root suckers, eventually forming large colonies. 

In early to mid-summer, watch for the small, white, nodding, bell-like flowers. Each flower looks like a small inflated sac with a tiny round opening at the lower end. Wintergreen plants produce just a few flowers at the top of each mature stem. These flowers last for just a few weeks before either withering away or giving way to fruits. 

After flowering, keep an eye out for the little round berries that turn bright red in late summer and fall. Some of these berries may persist late in the season and still be present in the winter. Also, in the fall, the leaves will turn from dark green to a beautiful and extremely showy burgundy color. As an evergreen plant, the leaves then persist throughout the winter months for reliable, year-round interest.

Propagation

The easiest way to acquire a new wintergreen plant is to buy one from a nursery specializing in native plants. If you already have your own wintergreen plant, however, you can easily propagate it by digging out a young root-sprouted plant to start a new colony. New plants can also be grown from root cuttings.

Cuttings

A close-up captures vibrant red berries nestled amidst glossy green leaves of the Wintergreen plant, adding a pop of color to the scene. The leaves exhibit a rich, deep green hue, with subtle veins running through them, enhancing their visual texture. In the blurred background, brown dried leaves and branches litter the ground, providing context to the plant's woodland habitat.
Choose a healthy stem touching ground, preferably with root development.

Some varieties of wintergreen, including the American wintergreen, creep along the ground with sprawling stems. If you are growing one of these creeping varieties, choose a healthy stem section that already touches the ground. If the stem has started some root development, this is ideal. 

After you select a healthy stem section with some roots attached, dig out this section of the plant. Carefully cut off a healthy stem section with sharp pruners and transfer it to a pot filled with fresh potting soil. Keep your cutting moist until it starts to grow a firm new rooting. Then you can safely transplant it to a permanent outdoor location.

Division

A close-up of the delicate white flower of the American Wintergreen plant bloom gracefully amidst lush green foliage. The leaves of the American Wintergreen are glossy and vibrant, showcasing their health and vitality, with droplets of water clinging to their surface, indicating recent moisture.
Divide larger colonies by carefully transplanting plants.

The division of larger colonies is the easiest way to propagate wintergreen plants. Once you have an established colony, choose some of the plants towards the edge of the colony to remove.

Carefully dig them out with a shovel, trying to keep the roots intact. Then, immediately transplant them into a new location. Back-fill any holes you leave behind and water the plants well to help them re-adjust. 

Transplanting

A close-up of a Wintergreen plant reveals vibrant red berries, gleaming like tiny rubies amidst lush green foliage. The berries, small and round, contrast beautifully against the glossy dark green leaves, hinting at their sweet yet slightly bitter taste. Surrounding the plant, brown dried leaves and branches litter the ground, adding a rustic charm to the scene.
Use mulch to preserve soil moisture and deter weeds.

The best time to transplant wintergreen will be in the cooler months of the year. Try to avoid transplanting projects during the heat of summer, as this will add unnecessary stress to your plants. 

First, identify where you would like to grow your plants. Next, dig and prepare a new hole that will fully accommodate the roots of the plant. If you are working with a potted plant, gently remove it from the pot and transfer it into the new hole. Fill in the gaps around the roots with fresh soil, pat the soil down around it, and water it well.

Keep your plant well-watered for the first several days after transplanting to make sure it has some time to adjust to its new location. Add some mulch around your new transplant to help preserve soil moisture and deter weed growth. 

How to Grow

Wintergreen is easy to grow, provided you have favorable growing conditions. The most important thing to remember is to choose a site with adequate shade and moist soil.

Sunlight

Bathed in sunlight, a Wintergreen plant stands proud, its glossy leaves shimmering with vitality. Clusters of vivid red berries dot the foliage, offering a striking visual contrast against the verdant backdrop. Each leaf, vibrant and glossy, exudes an aura of freshness and resilience under the golden rays of the sun.
American wintergreen thrives in shaded woodlands but burns in direct sunlight.

Most varieties of wintergreen plants like partial to full shade. Direct sunlight will be too intense and burn their leaves. American wintergreen needs protection from intense, direct sunlight, but thrives in a well-shaded woodland.

Water

A close-up reveals vibrant red berries nestled amidst lush green foliage, characteristic of American Wintergreen. These berries, small and spherical, add a pop of color against the plant's glossy leaves. When immersed in water, both leaves and berries appear moist and fresh.
For optimal growth, plants require moderate moisture.

These plants appreciate medium moisture soil. They will be most drought-tolerant once they are well-established. But anytime there’s a prolonged dry period, you might want to offer them some supplemental watering. Plants grown in containers will need more regular watering than those growing in a more natural woodland environment.

Soil

A close-up of rich, dark soil held in the hand of a man. The soil teems with life as earthworms wriggle through its fertile depths. Its richness suggests abundant nutrients, promising fertility for plant growth and cultivation.
Wintergreen thrives in organically rich, acidic soil.

The soil should be organically rich and acidic, with a pH ideally less than 6.0. The soil should also be consistently moist and well-drained, as wintergreen likes consistent moisture without sitting in wet or soggy conditions. 

Climate and Temperature

A close-up reveals the vibrant red berries of the Wintergreen plant, adding a pop of color against its glossy green leaves. The leaves, with their distinctive veining and waxy texture, showcase the plant's characteristic charm. Delicate snowflakes rest gracefully on the leaves, enhancing the winter ambiance.
These plants thrive in cool climates, brightening snowy landscapes.

Wintergreen plants prefer cooler climates but will do okay in a cool, shaded woodland in the warmer parts of their range. They will be hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 to 7. You do not need to worry about protecting them from freezing temperatures, and they will even brighten your landscape in the snow!

Fertilizing

A close-up of a hand gently cradles rich compost soil, teeming with nutrients and organic matter. The blurred background reveals a mound of additional compost soil, hinting at a thriving gardening environment. The earthy tones and texture of the soil signify its fertility and potential for nurturing plant life.
Mimic natural conditions with mulch to enrich soil.

Wintergreen plants are well adapted to natural conditions within their native range. You shouldn’t need to give them any extra fertilizers, and they will do just fine. If your local soil conditions are poor or sandy, mix some organic compost into the soil as you plant them because they do need rich soil in which to grow.

You can also add chopped leaf mulch around your plants each fall. This will help mimic natural environmental conditions and slowly enrich the soil around your plants. 

Maintenance

A close-up of a Wintergreen plant, showcasing its vibrant red berries, adding a pop of color against the green foliage. The berries are glossy and round, nestled among the shiny, oval-shaped leaves with wavy edges, characteristic of Wintergreen plants.
Optionally thin overgrown patches, unless naturalizing in a larger area.

Wintergreen is a low-maintenance plant. There aren’t any regular maintenance activities you need to perform. Just keep an eye on your plants to make sure they seem healthy.

Watch for insects and diseases, and keep the soil moist. You can thin overgrown patches unless you are allowing your plants to naturalize in a larger area, in which case it’s not necessary to then them.

Garden Design

A close-up of a Wintergreen plant highlighting its bright red berries nestled among the yellow-green leaves. These leaves are lance-shaped and glossy, featuring prominent veins and a slightly serrated edge, characteristic of the Wintergreen family. This combination of colors and textures defines the Wintergreen's appeal in woodland settings.
Wintergreen plants thrive in shady environments like woodland gardens.

The best place for your wintergreen plants will be a shade garden or woodland garden. These plants like plenty of shade, and their evergreen foliage will look super growing under some taller trees. These plants not only provide year-round greenery, even in the middle of winter. Plus they also display very attractive fall colors!

Since wintergreen is a spreading, low-growing plant, use it as a ground cover, or plant it along a forested path where you can see it and appreciate it. Allow it to naturalize under a grove of trees for a larger and larger patch of greenery. Grow wintergreen alongside some taller shrubs that like similar conditions, such as azaleas and lowbush blueberries.

You can also grow spring ephemeral wildflowers nearby. These wildflowers will have a short season, and the persistent leaves of your wintergreen will keep the space occupied with attractive vegetation until the spring ephemerals emerge again the following spring.

If you are a fan of container gardening, you know that you can successfully grow a great number of plants in containers and raised beds. American wintergreen stays small and compact, making a good container-grown plant. Just make sure you follow the general cultivation guidelines to keep it happy – grow it in a shaded location and water it regularly to keep the soil slightly moist. 

Varieties

There are a few different species of wintergreen native to different regions of North America. Wherever you live, you’ll want to choose a species of wintergreen that is native to your area. These plants will grow best in the specific climates to which they have adapted

Striped Wintergreen, Gaultheria maculata

A close-up of a Striped Wintergreen plant, showcasing its delicate white flowers in full bloom. Surrounding the plant are small green grasses, adding a vibrant contrast, while dried and brown leaves on the ground enhance the natural setting.
This evergreen perennial wildflower thrives in eastern US forests.

The striped wintergreen, also known as the spotted wintergreen, is an evergreen perennial wildflower. This plant is native to hardwood and mixed forests of the eastern United States. The striped wintergreen is more tolerant of dry conditions than the American wintergreen. It also has distinctly different leaves and flowers than the other varieties.

Striped wintergreen has narrow, dark green leaves with a distinctive silvery stripe down the center. The nodding, white flowers spread wide open with five recurved petals. 

Oregon Wintergreen, Gaultheria shallon

A close-up of Oregon Wintergreen featuring lovely pink flowers, adding a pop of color to the scene. The leaves of Oregon Wintergreen are lush green, complementing the vibrant blooms. Intricate spider webs adorn the plant, highlighting its natural habitat.
Pink-stemmed, bell-shaped white flowers adorn this plant.

Oregon wintergreen, also known as salal, is a small shrub native to the Pacific coast of North America, extending from Alaska south to California. The thick, leathery leaves are evergreen and sometimes used in floral arrangements.

White bell-shaped flowers grow from distinctly pink stems. If you live along the West Coast, this plant would be a great alternative to the American wintergreen.

Western Teaberry, Gaultheria ovatifolia

A close-up of an American Wintergreen plant showcasing its white flowers blooming delicately. The green leaves are prominently displayed, adding to the plant's vibrant appeal. In the background, the rest of the green plant creates a blurred yet soothing backdrop.
Oregon spicy wintergreen is a low-growing shrub with glossy, dark green leaves.

The western teaberry, also sometimes called the Oregon spicy wintergreen, is native to the American West Coast and Pacific Northwest. This low-growing shrub has dark green, glossy leaves with a thickened, leathery texture. Its pink and white bell-like flowers mature into bright pinkish-red fruits. 

Alpine Wintergreen, Gaultheria humifusa

A close-up of an Alpine Wintergreen plant highlighting its spike of white flowers, creating a captivating visual contrast. The delicate white flowers of the Alpine Wintergreen add a touch of elegance to the image. The background features the plant's lush greenery, enhancing its natural beauty.
This low-growing shrub bears bell-like white and pink flowers.

Alpine wintergreen is native to mountainous habitats of western North America. It is a low-growing, sprawling plant with thick, glossy, bright yellowish-green leaves. Bell-like white and pink flowers mature into yellow-green and red berries. This small shrub is tolerant of full sun or partial shade when grown in cooler, high-elevation locations. 

‘Winter Splash,’ Gaultheria ‘Winter Splash’

A close-up of a Wintergreen plant featuring vibrant red berries. The berries, known as American Wintergreen, add a pop of color against the green foliage. Both the leaves and berries glisten with moisture when exposed to water.
Variegated ‘Winter Splash’ stands out with pink-tinged leaves and red berries.

‘Winter Splash’ is just one of many wintergreen cultivars that have been bred for diverse ornamental value. ‘Winter Splash’ makes a big splash with its variegated green and white leaves with a touch of pink around the edges. Add some bright red berries in the fall, and you have a very showy plant. 

Wildlife Value

A close-up of a Wintergreen plant showcasing its striking red berries. The leaves of Wintergreen are prominently displayed, contrasting beautifully with the dark, rich soil underneath. The environment exudes a sense of lushness and vitality.
Wintergreen plants attract diverse wildlife, enhancing landscapes.

Many different species of wildlife will use wintergreen plants, making these plants a valued addition to your wildlife-friendly landscape. Pollinators come to visit the flowers. Birds and small mammals will come to feast on the fruits when they ripen at the end of the growing season.

Any fruits left on the plants into the winter months will soon be gobbled up by the local winter wildlife. Deer and rabbits don’t generally bother the fragrant leaves of these plants.

Common Problems

Growing wintergreen in your landscape is typically quite trouble-free. As long as you can provide desirable growing conditions, wintergreen is quite hardy and resistant to most pests and diseases. The most common potential issues you might encounter include an occasional infestation of aphids, thrips, powdery mildew, or leaf spot.

Aphids and Thrips

A close-up of small green aphids on a leaf. The aphids appear bright green and are clustered on the surface of the leaf. They are actively infesting the green foliage, showcasing their characteristic coloration and behavior.
Keep an eye out for garden pests, which cluster to feed on plants.

Watch for these common garden pests. Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that gather in large numbers to suck plant juices. They typically congregate along stem junctions and on the undersides of leaves. Thrips are tiny and difficult to see with the naked eye.

Fortunately, aphids and thrips rarely kill plants, but they can be a nuisance. One of the quickest and easiest remedies for both is simply to spray them with a jet of water and dislodge them from their feeding. Repeat this every few days to discourage their return.

Powdery Mildew

 A close-up of Wintergreen leaves covered in powdery mildew. The powdery mildew forms a white, powdery layer on the surface of the leaves. Despite the mildew, the leaves retain their distinct green coloration, highlighting the contrast between the healthy and affected areas.
Maintain good air circulation to prevent powdery mildew on plants.

Powdery mildew is a fungal infection that’s most common in humid environments. Watch for gray or white patches on the leaves of your plants. Light infestations are unsightly but won’t typically cause lasting damage to your plants, while heavy infestations can cause the leaves to dry and shrivel.

The best prevention for powdery mildew is to try to maintain good air circulation and dispose of infected leaves to discourage further spread of the fungal spores.

Leaf Spot

A close-up of Wintergreen foliage with dark green leaves featuring spiky edges. The ground around the plant is spotted with dried leaves and branches, adding to its natural beauty.
Leaf spot’s impact on plant health can be devastating if left untreated.

This common problem causes dead spots to appear on plant leaves. Leaf spot can be caused by either a bacterial or fungal infection and is most frequently seen in humid environments or where water sits on plant leaves for a prolonged period of time.

The best prevention for leaf spot is maintaining good air circulation around your plants. If you water your plants by hand, water at the base rather than sprinkling with water from above. Remove damaged foliage as it crops up.

Final Thoughts

Look no further for a lovely native plant for your woodland garden. All you need is a moist, shaded location, then add a wintergreen plant. Wintergreens provide colorful, year-round gardening interest. Spice up your shade garden with this beautiful creeping ground cover for those hard-to-cultivate shady areas.

Choose a variety of wintergreen that best suits your particular conditions, and you will enjoy the tough evergreen foliage, dainty summer flowers, and long-lasting, brightly colored fruits. You’ll also provide a valuable food source for your local wildlife!

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