Why heather ?
Brilliant fall winter color (especially the Callunas’ foliage)
Long winter blooming varieties (particularly Erica carnea and Erica x darleyensis)
Almost no pests or disease
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
· 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:
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"
Erica x darleyensis (Winter-blooming)
Other species, not as common or easy but worth cultivating.
E. vagans "Cornish Heath"
Erica X watsonii: "Watson's Heath"
E. X williamsii "Williams' Heath"
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
E. cinerea - Bell or Twisted Heath
E. tetralix -"Cross Leaved Heath"
E. arborea and E. x veitchii - Tree Heath