Heathers - Care Guide

Growing Tree Heathers - Erica

Tree heaths

There are two species which Burncoose offers which have very differing degrees of hardiness – Erica arborea, the Tree heath, and Erica canaliculata, the Channelled heath. Tree heathers make excellent specimen plants on hot dry banks in the garden in full sun.

Erica arborea is an upright shrub growing to perhaps 12-15ft tall in maturity with a spread of about half this. It is native to cliffs and mountains in SW Europe and the Mediterranean and is fully hardy in the UK although it may only grow to these sorts of heights in milder coastal districts. It can readily be cut down nearly to ground level and will still reshoot vigorously and it will readily self-seed itself and spread on dry banks. It grows best in full sun and will readily tolerate strong winds. It flowers in Cornwall in February and on through most of the spring. The white bell shaped flowers are borne in long, upright, pyramidical leafy racemes of flowers. The flowers have a honey scent which wafts on the wind and attracts bees on sunny spring days.

E. arborea ‘Albert’s Gold’ grows to only about half the size and has lovely golden foliage but does not often produce many flowers especially as a young plant. Its foliage does need some protection from cold east winds which can cause scorching.

E. arborea ’Estrella Gold’ is smaller growing again and achieves a height of perhaps only 4ft or so. It has lime-green foliage tipped with bright yellow. White flowers appear in spring from the upright leafy stems.

Erica canaliculata can grow to around 6ft in height and has been very happy growing on a low wall by the propagation houses at the nursery for at least 40 years where it is only 3-4ft tall. It has linear dark green leaves which are paler beneath. In winter and spring it produces panicles of cup shaped pink or pale-pink flowers with dark brown anthers. This species of tree heather originates from South Africa and is certainly half hardy in colder parts of the country but it does make an attractive conservatory or greenhouse plant when grown in a large pot.

Tree heathers are most easily propagated from early summer softwood new growths.

Pruning tree heathers in spring - Video Tip

Winter & Summer Flowering Heathers

For ease of reference we have included Erica, Calluna and Daboecia all together in one section of the website entitled ‘heathers’. Heaths, Ling or Scots heather and Irish heath all grow and perform in exactly the same way and all require the same sort of conditions and attention as each other. Indeed they are commonly intermixed together in large groups in heather gardens/borders or rockeries.

The large range of foliage colours and flower colours can be seen in the photographs below this article. Autumn, winter and spring all have their own particular varieties of ‘heather’ which flower then and it obviously takes a bit of planning when laying out and designing a heather bed of your own to think this all through carefully. We offer discounts for the purchase of large quantities of one or more variety and all young heathers (except tree heathers) are offered as small plants in 7 or 9cm square pots.

Heathers are very attractive to bees and make wonderful groundcover plants that will, in time, completely cover all the bare soil in a border. They like a well prepared bed with firmly acidic soil in a well-drained site in full sun. Incorporating peat or acidic compost is important and pine needles can do the job well. A light mulch right over the bed after planting will preserve moisture and reduce weed growth until the plants develop and spread. Then there will not be very much weed growth at all.

Different varieties of Erica, Calluna and Daboecia can have different lifespans. In wetter areas, where all these plants grow quickly, individual varieties will begin to die of old age after say 10 to 15 years. Sometimes you can simply replace an individual clump with new plants but, even in hotter drier conditions, where growth rates are slower, many of your heathers will start to look ragged, leggy and a bit woody with dead non flowering patches after perhaps 25 or so years. It is then necessary to rip out what is left and start the bed again having re-dug it and incorporated more humus.

All heather varieties are easily propagated from semi ripe new growth cuttings in mid-summer. Heathers can also easily be layered to produce new plants.


Images to be added.

Pruning summer flowering Heathers - Video Tip


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