Text Box: Honey Bees and Heather Farm

In the beautiful southern Appalachian Mountains
of Western North Carolina
Text Box: Heathers

Why heather ?
Heather, a versatile evergreen with literally hundreds of varieties, is cousin to azaleas, rhododendron and blueberries with much to offer many gardeners outside the tradition Pacific Northwest and New England/Northeast. Desirable qualities or characteristics of many heathers:

  

Brilliant fall winter color (especially the Callunas’ foliage)

Long winter blooming varieties (particularly Erica carnea and Erica x darleyensis)

Almost no pests or disease

Minimal weeding/mulching

Little or no fertilizer

Little or no pruning

Drought tolerant once established

Compatible with the Scots-Irish heritage here

 

WHERE TO USE HEATHER IN YOUR YARD

· Hillside Drifts or Masses

· Rock Gardens

· Perennial Beds

· Specimen Plantings

· Borders

· Containers—Year-round

· Winter Hanging Baskets

· Erosion Control on Slopes

· Weed Suppression

· Companion Plants with your Dwarf Conifers, Miniature Rose, etc.

HOW TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH HEATHERS

Sun—Most heathers must have at least 6 hours of sun. Especially for Callunas, less sun means leggy plants, few flowers and drab rather than brilliant foliage.  The easier to grow Ericas can get by with more shade, but prefer sun. Ideal exposure is southeast.

Soil—All heathers do well in acidic soil (pH of 4.5 - 5.5) with humus. Callunas and some of the Ericas absolutely require acidity (Winter-bloomers are least fussy.) The soil MUST be well drained. CLICK to learn how to amend clay soil.

Water - New plants MUST NOT be allowed to dry out. Water them as needed for at least the first several months; ideally for the first year. Once established they are drought-tolerant.

Fertilizer - Heathers do NOT tolerate highly fertile soil. If you want to add nutrients, mulch with compost, or gently scratch in a little Hollytone (or other organic fertilizer for acid-lovers) in the spring (be SURE it’s spring!) Some growers use a foliar spray during the growing season.

Mulch—Mulch not only looks good, prevents weeds, and retains moisture, it more importantly keeps the fine, shallow root system cool. Be sure to use pine bark, pine straw or other acidic material; hardwood mulch will raise the pH. Mulch should be no more than 3 inches deep and should not be pushed right up against stems.

Pruning—Most heathers need an annual ‘haircut’. In some areas, all pruning is done in the spring. Here in the mountains, it is best to prune all heathers just after they finish blooming. Cut to just below point where flowers grew and NEVER cut beneath green foliage/wood. The lowest, most prostrate varieties can do without pruning, but most others will get leggy and fall over, to expose browned out centers or bottom areas. Keep it simple—you can use a hedge shears or hand clippers.

WHAT ELSE TO KNOW AND/OR DO?

It would be foolish to try to improve upon the fine and extensive information available from:

The Heather Society (England)

The North American Heather Society

Heaths and Heathers

 

 

 

Text Box: Heather . . . 
Did You Know ?Historically, heather has been harvested in the wild and used for many purposes:
thatched roofing
brooms
fuel
packing materials (seeds from heather used as packing material germinated, grew and naturalized in east Canada)
Animal forage/fodder
Heather reputedly has many medicinal uses; heather ale and heather honey are delicacies.
The scientific name, Calluna vulgaris, in general, came from Calluna from the Greek Kallune - to clean or brush, as the twigs were used for making brooms and vulgaris from Latin, meaning common.
Heather flowers are a traditional remedy in Swedish herbal medicine.
The Heather plant is sometimes also referred to as Ling derived either from the old Norse Lyng or from the Anglo Saxon Lig meaning fire and referring to use as a fuel.
In Scotland, white heather is much rarer in the wild and has become a symbol of good luck.

Heather generally refers to a group of evergreen plants in the Ericaceae family, most often: Calluna (Scotch heather or ling), Erica (heath) and Daboecia (Irish Heath). While not native to North America, many heathers are well suited to large parts of the country especially the Atlantic seaboard, pacific northwest and here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. We’ll call them all ‘heather’. (NOTE: Mexican Heather, (Cuphea hyssopifolia) a is in the Loosestrife family and NOT related.)

Calluna vulgaris, Ling or Scottish heather is the true heather and perhaps the hardiest and most varied - from small tufts and larger mounds to prostrate or spreading ‘carpeters’ to more upright shrubs up to 3’ tall. Flowers in white and every shade of pink, mauve, lavender and red last for 6-8 weeks beginning late summer/early fall. Foliage is scaly, rather than needle-like and often changes to spectacular shades of yellow, orange, gold, bronze and red during the colder months. Callunas must have full sun, acid soil and good drainage. They must not be allowed to dry out their first year, but after that are drought tolerant. Hardy to zone 5; some to zone 4.

Only a handful of the 800 species of Erica are commonly cultivated. The two easiest to grow also happen to be the two winter-bloomers:

Erica carnea, "Winter Heath"
is a low, fast-growing and spreading plant (4-8” high by up to 3 feet or more wide) with needle-like leaves and bell-shaped flowers. Hardy to Zone 4, its foliage is not as colorful as the
Callunas’. Flowers in shades from white to pink, red, magenta, mauve appear in early to mid-winter and last well into spring. New spring growth often is a lovely contrasting color.  Foliage is yellow green to very deep green. Tolerates more shade and more soil types than other heathers. Easy to grow.

Erica x darleyensis (Winter-blooming)
Another very easy-to-grow species, quite similar to E. carnea, but taller and bushier. The “Mediterranean Pink” and “Mediterranean White” plants seen at so many nurseries are actually E. x darleyensis ‘Darley Dale’ and ‘Silberschmelze’ respectively — excellent cultivars. Most varieties have pink or cream tips in spring and bronze or dark green foliage. Buds form in late summer or very early fall, and some cultivars begin to bloom as early as late September, lasting into mid-spring. Flowers open pale and deepen as the season progresses. Zone 6 with some protection.

Other species, not as common or easy but worth cultivating.

E. vagans "Cornish Heath"
With glossy green foliage, a wide spreading growth habit, masses of bell-shaped flowers July through summer.
E. vagans prefers acid soil, grows up to Zone 5 and is the most drought tolerant heather, once established.

Erica X watsonii: "Watson's Heath"
Low growing, with brightly colored tips in spring a long summer-bloom period
E x watsonii likes acid soil and is hardy to Zone 6 or 7 (borderline in our mountains.)

E. X williamsii "Williams' Heath"
With bright yellow/gold foliage in early spring followed by bell-shaped flowers on the tips that last till early fall
, E. x williamsii is a vigorous, spreading, hardy (Zone 6) species that will tolerate a slightly alkaline soil and rarely suffers cold weather or wind damage.

Daboecia cantabrica (Irish/St. Dabeoc’s Heath)

Flowers are held well above foliage and drop when finished. Tends to bloom in early summer and again in early autumn. Zone 6. Gets leggy if not pruned but  is more tolerant of shade and drought than others.

E. x griffithsii
Zone 6.  Borderline hardy here, but an impressive and vigorous hybrid that grows well even in alkaline soil.

E. cinerea - Bell or Twisted Heath
Flower color varies greatly from white to almost black and foliage from golds to dark green making this the flashiest of heathers. It is difficult to establish (not for the beginner, since most heather losses are in this species.) Bushes are from 6” to 18” tall and covered with many hundreds of flowers. Zone 7 with protection from winds.

E. tetralix -"Cross Leaved Heath"
This smaller, very hardy (zone 5) neat and compact summer-bloomer has gray-green foliage with terminal blossoms. It prefers cool, moist conditions and well-drained acidic soil, but does well in drier gardens.

E. arborea and E. x veitchii - Tree Heath
Native to Africa, some specimen can grow to 10 feet or more.  The flowers are honey-scented and the plants prefer acid soil. Quite drought tolerant, they vary in hardiness from frost tender to Zone 7 (
E. arborea) or Zone 6 (E. veitchii.)