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Color Up Your Winter Garden with Heather

Heathers are some of the easiest plants to grow for year round color and foliage interest.

Heather, which commonly is meant to include both Calluna (heather) and Erica (heath), like acid soil similarly to rhododendrons, azaleas, and blueberries. Excellent drainage is critical. If your soil is heavy clay, then it is best to plant in raised beds using a mix of soil, peat, compost, and sand.

There are so many varieties of heather, that you will find it challenging to choose among them. Since Ericas bloom in winter and spring, while Callunas bloom in summer and fall, I like to have a mix of the two.

Plant heaths and heathers in open areas, up hillsides, or along pathways. They pair especially well with dwarf conifers, which require similar acidic soil conditions. They tolerate poor, rocky soil and even salt spray, so they're particularly well suited to coastal hillsides where little else will grow.

Although heaths and heathers are not native to PNW, they have many of the same advantages:

  • Not invasive

  • Drought tolerant once established

  • No fertilizer required

  • Year long color in the garden

Planting and Caring for Heaths and Heathers

  1. Prepare the soil. These plants want to have very acidic soil, preferring ph of 4.5-5.5. If your soil is ph neutral, work in peat moss or other acidic soil amendments.

  2. Provide drainage. These plants need good drainage. If you have clay soil, use raised beds.

  3. Plant. You can plant any time the soil is not frozen, waterlogged, or in the middle of summer drought. Trim the new plants to encourage a busier plant. Water a few times a week for the first few months, but make sure the soil does not get soggy. Mulch between plants to keep weeds at bay. After 2-3 years, heathers are generally drought tolerant and will need minimal supplemental water. Make sure you space the plants out to accommodate the spread of mature plants.

  4. Sunny exposure. Plant in a site that has at least 6 hours a day for best foliage color effect.

  5. Plan for winter exposure. Avoid planting in areas that get strong winter winds which can cause dehydration or provide some protection.

  6. Enjoy. You won't need to do much once the plants get established. Don't over fertilize which can be fatal to heathers. Shear the tops annually and cut back any branches that stick out.

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