I like heaths and heather and heath (Calluna and Erica). There are hundreds of cultivars that are fairly easy to attain via mail order — but aren’t found locally. My favorite place to buy is Heaths and Heathers. I’ve had good luck with them for warranty and plants arriving alive, and they are helpful on the phone.

Heather and heath are short, evergreen, woody perennials. They will look MUCH better if the spent flowers are sheared off after the bloom. Care should be taken during pruning so as not to cut into old wood as these plants don’t readily break bud from old wood (like most conifers). This means that as your plants approach the ultimate size you want them to be — height and/or spread — you will need to shear them to maintain that size EVERY YEAR until they die. If you let them get larger, then prune them severely (into the old wood), you will be left with ugly sticks and stumps, and little foliage or flowers.

Heather and heath need very well draining, acid soil that is rich in humus; full sun; moderate amounts of water. From my experience, most aren’t truly happy in a drought-tolerant garden. Some do moderately well once well established. Check with the nursery about the cultivar you are considering to be sure. A gentle south-facing slope with moisture retentive soil is good habitat. They must not sit in soggy soil over our wet winters — root rot!

And a word of caution: they are fickle. You may have bought 10 beautiful, perfect plants from the same nursery, planted them all in the same general location in exactly the conditions they desire, watered and fed them as directed, but one of them just dies within 6 months, or a year, or 18 months. C’est la vie. No one has really been able to give me a satisfactory reason for why they just up and die when all conditions are stable. They just do. Just get over it, buy another plant, and keep on gardening.

Of course you can select any varieties that you like, but I recommend choosing a variety rather than all the same cultivar. When you do all the same, you are planting (essentially) a monoculture, and there are issues with any monoculture. I prefer to choose a variety, and plant them into a tapestry along with other types of plants, placing them so their color and/or form works with the other plants nearby.

I’d choose roughly half of the total number of heather and heath to bloom in the summer/fall, and the other half to bloom in winter/spring. Depending on what other evergreen or winter-interest plants you have in your garden (meaning what color their foliage is during winter), choose heath/heather cultivars that keep their foliage green during the winter or ones that turn their foliage orange, yellow or red.

The following cultivars would make a diverse, colorful, textural heather/heath garden:

For SUNNIER Situations

(See photos via Heaths and Heathers website. Also, most heaths and heathers prefer sunnier situations.)

Cultivar Name
Flower Color Bloom Time Foliage Color* Habit
Calluna v. ‘Aztec Gold’
shell pink/purp Jan-Apr yellow (gold/bronze in winter)  bushy compact
Calluna v. ‘Dunreggan’
white Jan-May med. green white
Calluna v. ‘Josi’
purple/red Aug-Sep dk. green upright
Calluna v. ‘Larissa’
rich brick red Aug-Nov dk. green upright
Calluna v. ‘Silver Stream’
lavender Aug-Sep downy silver gray spreading
Calluna v. ‘Sunset Glow’
white Aug-Sep lime green (yellow in winter) upright
Calluna v. ‘Wickwar Flame’
lavender Aug-Oct gold (orange/red in winter) upright
Calluna x watsonii ‘Cherry Turpin’
pale pink Jun-Oct gray green mounding
Erica carnea ‘Christmas Candle’
mauve Nov-Jan med green (gold/red new growth) spreading
Erica x d. ‘Archie Graham’
pink/red purple Dec-Apr med. green bushy
Erica x d. ‘Jack H Brummage’
reddish-purple Jan-May yell-orange (more orange in winter) spreading
Erica x d. ‘Pretty Polly’
lg dk lilac pink Nov-May dk. green bushy

*Alternate foliage color usually during winter (in parentheses).

For information on understanding and using these plant lists see The Guide.

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