Heather, Calluna vulgaris, and its closely related cousin heath both grow naturally throughout Europe, and often get confused for each other. Both plants require the same type of growing conditions, but heather has more upright growing habits, while heaths have matting growing habits. Heather plants produce small bell-shaped flowers coloured red, purple, pink or white. Leaves range from dull green to reddish or brown in colour.
Heather blooms from mid to late summer, but gardeners can add colour to their gardens at different times of the year by planting different cultivars of heather. Heather plants offering winter interest include blazeaway and spring torch, according to Michigan State University. Blazeaway has orange-red foliage in the winter, and spring torch has winter foliage red in colour. Spring cream produces new growth in spring. Leaves will be green with cream and yellow tips. Silver queen and the white knight both have grey foliage.
Heather plants grow best in areas with cool and moist summers and temperate winters. They also prefer full sun. Acidic and well-draining soils provide the best growing medium for heather plants. The University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden uses two parts peat moss, one part loam, one part course sand and one part leaf mulch to grow heathers.
Plant heather in spring to allow the roots adequate time to spread before the cold season. These small shrubs have very small and fragile roots, and care is necessary when planting. Gardeners should have the hole ready for the plant before removing the heather from the container. After filling the soil in around the roots, place mulch or compost around the plant to help keep soil moist and cool.
Heathers do not require extra water during the growing season, but during periods longer than one week of dry weather, heavy watering will protect the plant from drying out. Replace mulch or compost around the base of the plant every year. If the gardener does not use compost, fertilisers for acid-loving plants can be applied in spring. Plants can suffer from wind burn during the cold season, and should be sheltered by wind breaks.
Fine Gardening states that heather plants benefit in appearance when pruned once every year. Plants that have been neglected and need regeneration may need heavy pruning. These plants should be cut back almost to the base so that new growth can return. Annual pruning should be done when flowering stops and before new buds form in fall or early winter.
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