How to plant, grow and care for heather plants

 

When to Plant
Heather plants supplied in pots can be planted at any time of the year when the ground is not frozen or waterlogged.

 

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Where to Plant
Heathers are best planted in beds totally devoted to themselves, except for the addition of a few conifers or small evergreen shrubs to provide contrast in height and form. Plant heathers in open areas, along pathways or up hillsides. They are suitable for coastal gardens as they will tolerate the salt spray and work well in
rock gardens
as they require similar acidic soil conditions to dwarf conifers. Avoid planting in dry sites, under trees or in areas exposed to harsh winter winds because, as evergreens, heathers will suffer dehydration. Heathers do not become drought tolerant immediately, so if your garden is very dry, they may not be the best choice.

 

Pink flower heather

 

Soil
Heathers need an acidic, preferably moist (but not soggy) soil. They are tolerant of very poor, rocky soil, but the acidity is important. If you have a neutral or alkaline soil, work in acidic soil amendments such as damp peat moss. Avoid the use of sedge peat or spent mushroom compost as these can be too alkaline. Yellow leaves are a sign that the pH of the soil lacks enough acidity for the plants. If you have a heavy clay soil, either double-dig the ground (to 2 spades' depth) and incorporate lots of peat or ericaceous compost mixed with one-third of sand or grit to improve drainage, or plant your heathers on a raised bed using an equal mix of compost, composted bark or peat moss and sand. This will create a free-draining, acidic soil. Soggy soil can lead to root and stem rot or fungal diseases.

 

Ericaceous compost

 

Aspect
A
heather garden should be planted in a position where it will be unshaded for all or most of the day. If possible, site your heather plants so the main view is from the south, as foliage heathers always colour better on their southern side. Planting heathers where they will enjoy 6+ hours of sunlight each day is best for foliage effect, with afternoon shade in hotter areas. If they are given too much shade, the blooms will become scarce, foliage colour will be dulled and new growth spindly.
 

Aspect

 

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Spacing
Spacing of
heather plants is important to strike the right balance between allowing good air circulation between plants whilst also ensuring they are close enough for the growth of each plant to join up over time to provide complete ground coverage. A good trick is to multiply the square footage of your planting area by 0.44 to determine how many heather plants you need (e.g. for a 8 foot by 8 foot plot, you'll need 64 x 0.44 = 28 plants). If you work in metres not feet, plan on using 5 plants per square metre (4 per square yard), making allowances for other plants nearby that have not yet reached their mature spread. If planting heathers as part of a rock garden, use no more than 1 conifer or shrub per 5 square metres (50 square feet).

 

Heather plants spacing

 

Planting
Loosen the soil before planting. Dig holes twice as wide as each plant's root ball to encourage roots to spread. After removing each heather plant from its pot, gently tease out the roots and spread them across the planting hole. Heathers like to be planted deeply with the lower foliage resting on the soil surface. The addition of a little non-burning fertiliser, mixed into the planting soil, will encourage new root growth. Mulch around the base of your heathers after planting using an acidic organic matter such as leaf mould, pine straw or peat moss.

 

Heathers in wicker container

 

Growing Heathers in Containers
If growing heathers in a container, use ericaceous compost and/or peat. Keeping the compost moist yet allowing for free drainage is key. We recommend installing a 2.5-5cm (1-2 inch) layer of grit at the base of your planting container to improve drainage. Consider mixing some water retaining gel into your compost to improve moisture retention. As for garden plantings, plant your heathers deep in the compost.

 

Heather in pot

 

Initial Pruning and Watering
Shear newly planted heathers to foster a bushy growth habit. Water fortnightly for the first 3 months to keep the ground moist but not sodden.


 

Garden Care

Watering
Drought tolerance is normally established within 2-3 years from planting, after which time your heather plants will take care of themselves. Until this time, water as required to keep the soil evenly moist, but never soggy.

Weeding and Feeding
Make sure the heather border is kept weed-free. This is best done by hand rather than using a hoe as heathers are shallow rooted. Apply an annual mulch of bark, peat or ericaceous compost to help suppress weeds. Fertilise once with ericaceous plant food at planting time. Further feeding is not typically required thereafter, although if the bloom production is reduced or foliage turns pale, you can re-apply the ericaceous plant food from late winter to mid-spring.

 

Ericaceous plant food

 

Once a 'wave' of heather plants have become established and filled the gaps between them, they will act as an effective weed suppressant, so little weeding is typically required once the plants have become established.
 

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Annual Shearing
In early spring (before any buds have set) shear off the top third of foliage growth from your heathers, removing any remaining dead flowers from the previous year as you do so. Removing old stems will encourage your heathers to develop fresh new growth, maintain a bushy habit and prevent them from becoming thin and woody. This way the plant is constantly renewed.

 

Shearing heathers

Heathers being sheared in early spring

 

Pests and Diseases

Heathers have few pests but can be susceptible to powdery mildew if they are planted too close together and air flow is impaired. The best way to tackle powdery mildew is with a fungus killer spray. Heathers can also be damaged by large animals such as dogs or deer trampling on them, so consider the planting spot carefully to keep them out of harms way.

 

Dogs may damage heather plants

 

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Comments

Hi all, we have well established Heathers in our garden all white. We have the buds/flowers on them with what looks like a white hair attached to a brown seed. Do these resend then? Thanks in advance x
Hello. I planted Heather's in a window box last October. Is it possible to repot these and replant them in the same window boxes next October. They still have colour in them and look very much alive
How do I plant small heathers which are described as a 'cell' ie it appears the roots are contained in a compostable mesh?
When Heather's have grown and spread can cutting be taken and replanted elsewhere in the garden , any help would be good
Hi there,

I recently got a few new common heather plants, and planted them in garden. Sadly, our 2 pups decided to to tear them up - one of which is down to the stalk that just comes out of the pot soil i.e. no leaves or stems left although could I use the torn off branches (not sure if that's the correct term) and repot? The other - they've tore a few of the stems off and half of the pot roots have come loose. Are they salvageable? I hate throwing out plants, or not giving them a chance to survive / grow.

Best - James
Very informative
i'm only a learner but enjoy potting and experimenting with pots and placement of plants. just bought a new white heather and planting it in acidic soil and lots of grit for drainage. I have chosen a low dark green chinese style pot to display on an island of golden stone. i do hope it survives.

@ Marjorie - Thanks for sharing. It sounds like you're doing all the right things. Hope the heather is doing well. Please don't hesitate to give us a call if you need any help and advice.
Excellent advice on this site.

@ Les - thanks very much for the feedback, that's really appreciated.
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