Q. Can you tell me how to grow heathers and heaths?
Heaths and heathers are members of the Ericaceae family, to which rhododendrons and azaleas also belong. Members considered heaths or heathers but of three different genera are grown in gardens - Calluna vulgaris (heather), Erica spp.(heaths) and Daboecia cantabrica (an Irish heath). Numerous cultivars have also been developed. Species and varieties in a wide range of size, form and color are available.
Heather can be grown in Zone 3-7, whereas heaths do not tolerate cold as well. Most heathers and heaths require acidic soils and a sunny location. If your soil is alkaline then the acidity can be achieved by incorporating lots of compost into the ground before planting. A layer of mulch after planting is also helpful. These plants prefer well-drained soil but, in fact, will tolerate a wide range of conditions.
Heaths and heathers are usually purchased as container-grown plants. Their roots are delicate and should be handled with care while planting. Spring or early fall are both good times to plant. Smaller species should be planted about 12 inches apart and larger species, such as C. vulgaris, about 20 inches apart.
The plants should be well watered after planting and during dry spells for the first few years. Fertilizing heaths and heathers is not recommended as they prefer poorer soils. Pruning is not usually required but a light pruning (in spring for late-blooming species and after flowering for spring-flowering species) will encourage new growth. Heaths and heathers are relatively deer-resistant.
T. Underhill. Heaths and Heathers. David and Charles Publishers, plc. (Newton Abbey) 1990 is a more detailed book with extensive information on the different species and varieties of heaths and heathers.
Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Service
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