How to Combine Heathers and Conifers

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One of the biggest challenges for a gardener or landscaper is planting for year-'round interest. Heathers and dwarf conifers are low-maintenance plants that look particularly good together, with conifers providing useful height and variation in shape, and heathers supplying seasonal colour.

Design a planting bed. Although you can make a one-sided border filled with heathers and conifers, an island bed is much more pleasing--and can be viewed from all sides. The heather is also more likely to thrive in a more open position, with plenty of sun all day.

Plan a year-'round design. There are hundreds of suitable heathers and dwarf conifers you can use, so modify the bed to suit the size of your garden and the plants available at your local garden centre.

Consider the cost of heather and conifer planting. Planting a bed like this might initially seem expensive, but bear in mind that it will probably last for decades without any need for replanting. That's a small price to pay for a really interesting, long-term, minimal-maintenance feature.

Position the beds. Arrange the conifers on the bed first, ensuring that they look pleasing from all angles. Heathers look best when they are planted in bold, natural-looking drifts. A group of perhaps 10 or 20 plants of one variety will have far more impact than the same number of different varieties planted in the same area or dotted around a border.

Move them around in their containers if you are not satisfied at first. Unless the bed or border is large, choose perhaps six good varieties--but plant plenty of them. This applies to both foliage and flowering varieties. Space out the heathers around the conifers.

Prepare the ground thoroughly, then plant the conifers, firming them in before watering.

Plant heather and conifers in groups or in drifts of one variety at a time. Avoid planting too close together, as both heather and conifers will spread.

Apply a mulch of chipped bark or gravel around the plants, to hide the bare soil and make the bed look more attractive.

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