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Heather Plant - Calluna vulgaris

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Flowers of the Scotch heather plant are formed in racemes. Image by foxypar4 via Flickr

Overview of the Heather Plant:

Recreate a scene from Wuthering Heights by growing heather, the iconic shrub found in the moors and heaths of the United Kingdom.

Latin Name:

Calluna vulgaris. It was previously included in the genus Erica, and the plants in that genus may also be called heather.

Common Names:

Heather, Scotch heather, ling, Scottish heather

Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones:

The general range for many heathers is Zones 4-6. There are varieties of heather that can grow in Zones 3-10.

Size & Shape of the Heather Plant:

Depending on the variety chosen, these shrubs are anywhere from a few inches to three feet tall. They create an oval mound or mat.

Some Varieties Under One Foot:

  • Alba Jae
  • Branchy Anne
  • Dark Beauty
  • Foxii Nana
  • J.H. Hamilton
  • Mrs. Pat
  • Mrs. Ronald Gray
  • Multicolor
  • Pygmaea
  • Winter Chocolate

Some Varieties That Are 12-24 Inches

  • Allegro
  • August Beauty
  • Boeley Gold
  • County Wicklow
  • Easter Bonfire
  • Firefly
  • Orange Queen
  • Red Fred
  • Robert Chapman
  • Ruby Glow
  • Spring Torch>

Some Varieties Over 24 Inches Tall

  • Allegretto
  • Battle of Arnhem
  • Grizzly
  • Hollandia
  • H.E. Beale
  • Mairs Variety
  • Raket
  • Ralph Purnell

Exposure:

Plant heather in a location that receives full sun to part shade.

Foliage/Flowers/Fruit of the Heather Plant:

Heather leaves are reminiscent of scales. They are approximately 1/8" long and can change colors throughout the seasons.

The small flowers are formed into long racemes and appear from summer to fall. They can come in shades of white, pink or purple.

The fruit is a dehiscent capsule.

Design Tips For the Heather Plant:

Heather works well in rock gardens.

After a year of regular watering for establishment, heather will be at least somewhat drought-tolerant.

This shrub will struggle in heavy clay, so choose another location/plant or amend the soil with organic matter.

Heather has many uses - as a groundcover, in borders, and as background plants. Varieties can be chosen based on the effect desired.

Growing Tips For the Heather Plant:

Heather is an ericaceous plant and should be planted in acidic soil. There are ways to make soil more acidic, though it will not be a one time process.

Choose a location that features moist, well-drained soil. Add in organic matter if the current levels are low.

Maintenance/Pruning

Only fertilize when needed. Too much can harm the plant, as the plants evolved to live in harsh conditions and fertilizing may actually give heather too many nutrients.

Prune after flowering so that the flower buds are not removed before they have had a chance to bloom. Only light pruning is usually needed.

Propagation is done through seeds, cuttings and layering.

Pests & Diseases of the Heather Plant

Root & crown roots, rust and powdery mildew can attack heather, especially if the drainage is poor.

Pests include scales, weevils and spider mites.

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