Common name: Erica / Ling / Scotch Heather
Heathers are evergreen branching shrubs that make good all year round* ground-cover and rock gardens plants.
*This is only practical if you plant out a mixture of summer and winter flowering varieties.
The scientific name Calluna vulgaris comes from the greek word 'Kallune' meaning to clean or brush, and 'vulgaris' is Latin for the word common.
The term Ling is derived either from the old Norse word 'Lyng' or from the Anglo Saxon word 'Lig' meaning fire, and refers to its use as a fuel.
The word Heather is of Scottish origin from the Gaelic word 'Haeddre'.
They are native to Ireland, northern North America, Russia, Scandinavia and Scotland.
Erica arborea alpina is a compact tree heather suitable for a wide range of gardens, and in spring is covered in fragrant white flowers set against bright green young foliage.
All heathers prefer full sun and well-drained, acidic soil similar to that found on moor and heathland, plus protection from cold winter winds.
The wild species usually have purple or mauve flowers.
Cultivated varieties can have colours ranging from white, through pink, to a wide range of purples, reds and including grey as can be seen here:
Subject to variety summer flowering varieties will bloom from late July to November, and winter flowering varieties from November to May.
The flowers may turn brown and remain on the plants over winter,which can give interesting effects when covered with frost or snow.
Winter variety covered in snow
Heather plants can be planted at anytime providing the ground is not frozen.
Seeds are produced in very large numbers which self seed, hence its its abundance on moor and heathland.
An annual top-dressing of peat helps to conserve moisture.
Cut back winter and spring-flowering heathers after flowering.
Tidy up around plants by dead heading, weeding, and applying a bark or peat mulch.
Poor foliage colour, and or stunted growth could indicate a need for feeding.
The best time to feed them is in late winter or late spring.
Feed with an ericaceous liquid feed to manufacturers specification.
Watering is essential on all soils during spring and dry spells.
Large plants can be propagated by layering.
Select healthy stems from the outside of the plants, bend these down to soil level, then bury them under the soil with only their tips showing.
Keep the layers in position for a year or so with stones or bent wire pegs.
When rooted they can then be severed from the parent plants and set out in their permanent positions.
Root batches of cuttings anytime from now until September.
Artificial heat is not essential, but they will root more rapidly if given the protection of a cold greenhouse or frame.
Use a well-drained, lime-free (ericaceous) compost, take care not to let it dry out completely, and shade cuttings from hot sun.
Select tip growth, or gently pull off side-shoots about 25mm (1”) long*.
*If you have under soil heating and misting facilities, cuttings up to 50mm (2”) may be used.
Where side-shoots are used, trim back excessively long tails or heels of old wood with a sharp blade.
Removal of lower leaves is not usually necessary.
Fill containers with a lime-free ericaceous compost, or home mix, consisting of two parts sharp sand and one part moss peat.
Insert cuttings to a depth of 12mm (½")
You can root approximately 40-50 cuttings in a 125mm (5”) pan, but for greater numbers use trays.
Enclose the container in a polythene bag, or cover with proprietary plastic propagator lid and place it in a cold frame.
When the cuttings have rooted, grow on in a nursery bed, a cold greenhouse or a cold frame.
Transplant the cuttings to their flowering quarters when they are about 75mm (3") high.
Check the soil pH prior to planting.
Normally heathers are best grown in peaty, acid soils, but they will tolerate many others, providing some preparation is done prior to planting out.
Select an open position in full sun.
Dig the ground thoroughly, and rake bone-meal into the topsoil at the rate of 100gms (4oz) per sq metre, then add a 50mm (2") mulch of peat.
Heavy soils should be lightened with the addition of river sand, peat or well rotted farmyard manure or compost.
Plants will not stand water-logged conditions.
Plant out in groups, setting the plants 300-400mm (12”-15”) apart, up to 600mm (24”) for larger types.
Set them with the lowest shoots at ground level,firm the soil around the plant and water-in,then mulch with peat, or bark chippings.
Be careful not to pile mulch up over the lower branches.
Trim tall-growing varieties lightly with shears before new growth starts, to prevent legginess.