How to: Care for Heather

Heatherinpot

Heathers were previously planted largely in heather beds and rock gardens, often with dwarf conifers as companions but their popularity started to wane as fashions in planting styles swung towards cottage garden and mixed borders. In recent years though, the resurgence in their popularity is growing once again as more of us come to appreciate the versatility of these hard-working, low-growing plants. Requiring little care, except for a light trim after flowering, these hardy little plants are perfect for the smaller garden and are at long last starting to get the recognition they deserve.

Soil

The type of soil will govern the types of heather you can grow successfully. On the whole heathers prefer acidic soil with a pH of 4.5-5.5, although some heathers are more tolerant of alkaline soil, particularly Irish Heather (Erica Erigena). Winter or spring flowering varieties will grow on acid or slightly alkaline soils whereas, the summer flowering cultivars require a lime free acidic soil. When planting in a container, use ericaceous compost, which is specially formulated for acid loving plants.

Planting

Heather can be planted at anytime, but early autumn and spring are best. Bearing in mind that the root ball will need room to expand, if growing in a container, choose a pot with a diameter 1/3 to 1/2 the height of the plant and line it with a few pieces of broken flower pot, pottery, polystyrene or gravel to help drainage.


Heathercloseup


Drainage

Heather doesn’t grow well without good drainage, so if planting into containers, make sure the pot has holes in the bottom and place some pottery feet under it. When planting straight into the ground, ideally choose a moist but free draining site but if planting on a bank remember that these 
slopes dry out quickly.

Watering

Although, heathers are relatively easy plants to care for, they will need careful watering for the first few months and at frequent intervals after that so that they don’t dry out. You will also need to fertilise them and then apply feed once a year.

Pruning

Heather plants can be given a light trim after flowering, cutting to the base of the flowering spike, which will keep them neat and bushy. Autumn flowering plants can be pruned in the spring by removing older stems to prevent the plant becoming thin and woody.