Heather is a cute perennial very well suited to acidic soils.
Key Heather facts:
Name – Erica or Calluna
Family – Ericaceae
Type – heath plant
Height – ½ to 5 feet (15 to 150 cm)
Exposure – full sun, part sun
Soil – heath soil
Foliage: evergreen – Flowering: January-December (depends on species)
It grows so well in old marshy land, that it gave its name to that soil type: heath soil and heathland. It does great in normal soil and pots, too.
What makes heather special is that it grows best in soil that is too acid for other plants. It’s difficult to grow it on limestone and chalk. A typical good soil is heath or peat.
There are 2 different classes of heather, erica and calluna, but they’re very similar. Plant them in exactly the same manner.
- Heather loves full sun. It will grow well in shade, but won’t bloom as much.
- Well-draining soil is essential. Soggy soil will kill the plant in weeks.
- Dig a hole large enough to add lots of extra heath soil around the root clump.
- Consider adding peat or peat substitutes if your soil isn’t acidic enough.
- Follow our tips on how to plant heath plants.
Recently, new alternatives to peat are appearing on the market. Using substitutes avoids peat bog mining and preserves those fragile ecosystems. Favor these renewable options if they’re available.
Pay attention to which type you’re about to purchase: Calluna will bloom in summer/fall, and Erica will bloom in fall/winter.
Pruning and caring for heather
Heather can grow without any pruning.
Nonetheless, as years go by, the plant may need to be pruned to a more harmonious silhouette.
- If so, it is best to prune lightly in spring, without cutting old wood which can’t produce buds anymore.
- Cut just below flower stems to give your heather a nice, round shape.
Remember to fertilize from time to time (once a fortnight during the growing phase).
Home-made fertilizer is fine, simply toss your heather clippings in a plastic pail of rainwater with a lid and let it rot. Eventually, add in plant material from other heath plants.
Use it after 2-3 months, adding half a cup for every quart of water (about 1:8 or 1:10 ratio).
This fertilizer contains exactly what heather needs, since it’s made from heather! Other heath plant fertilizers are fine, too.
All there is to know about heath and heather
Heather is generally very hardy and doesn’t require any care. Just mind our planting tips and avoid chalky or limestone soil.
An entire set of plants from many families is now included under the generic name “heath plants” like rhododendron, camellia and azalea.
You can plant heather along edges, in rocky beds and create beds together with other heath plants .
Heather is famous for its ground-covering properties.
Types of heather
There are two types of heather:
- Summer heather, also called “Common heather“. It blooms in summer. The species is called Calluna.
- Winter heather, simply called also “heather”, blooms in winter. The species in this category are the Erica species. For instance, Erica carnea is among the hardiest.
There are also special cultivars and varieties that bloom in fall and spring. When planting a bed of heather, try alternating varieties and you’ll have flowers all year round!
Although “heath” and “heather” share the same root, they’re pronounced quite differently:
- pronunciation of “heather” is /ˈhɛðɚ/ as in “feather” from a bird.
- pronunciation of “heath” is /hiːθ/ as in “teeth”, the plural of tooth.
Smart tip about heather
Add special heath plant fertilizer to spectacularly boost flower-bearing.
freestock: Joanna Malinowska
Pixabay: Teodor, nirolfix, Olga Fil
shutterstock: New Africa
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