Heather (botanical name Calluna) is a flowering shrub native to northern and western Europe that usually grows to less than 25 inches. There are well over 500 varieties of heather, including winter-blooming, spreading and upright varieties---available in a wide range of colours. Heathers are popular for their dark green foliage which often turns red or purple in the winter. The plants are relatively hardy, transplant well and can be easily grown from seed.
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Things you need
- Acidic soil or pH-adjusted soil
- Site protected from hard freezes and high wind
- Young heather plants
- Pruning tools
Choose heather varieties according to the bloom colour and bloom season. Buy heather, if possible, when it's in bloom and note whether the plants are of the spreading or upright variety. Good winter-flowering varieties include Vivellii and Ruby Glow. If you want an extended summer blooming season, Alba Jae begins blooming in July and Guinea Gold will bloom into October.
Choose a site with full sun and good drainage; heathers do not tolerate strong winds, so pick a site that's protected. Choose a site with acidic soil or test and adjust your soil; you can buy a soil test kit from your garden centre. Add elemental sulphur or gypsum if necessary to adjust your pH level to less than 7. Heathers will tolerate temperatures to 28°F but may also grow back in the spring after a hard freeze.
Plant heather any time the ground is not frozen. Mix peat moss, manure or compost into the soil before planting. Set the plants with the top of the root ball at the soil's surface. Heather does not survive well if the roots are set too deep.
Prune your heather right after the plants are done flowering. Shear them off just below the spent flowers, which will help increase blooming. According to the University of Connecticut Plant Database, old heathers without pruning will become untidy and irregular.
Don't use fertiliser unless your heather colour fades and the plants look raggedy. If this happens, rhododendron fertiliser is best used, but sparingly. Add chelated iron to the soil around your heather in early spring and early fall. Protect heather from harsh sun in the very early spring.
Cut heather in bunches for striking flower arrangements in large vases or containers. Monitor soil moisture in the fall and keep it moist but not wet. Allow the seeds to dry on the heather plants, then collect them for sowing in the spring.
Tips and warnings
- Heather will transplant easily. Dig them up and move them during the winter.
- Do not overwater or over-fertilise heather.
- Some people are allergic to heather pollen.
- Heathers do not grow well planted next to deciduous trees.
- Do not plant heather too deep.
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