Heathers and Heaths

Heathers, heaths and related genera

Few plants have more impact on the landscape of Scotland than heather: it carpets much of the high moorland and coastal slopes of the country. Scotland has three native heathers. The commonest is Calluna vulgaris (ling), which turns the hills purple in late summer, but you will also find Erica cinerea (bell heather) in drier sites, and the pink E. tetralix, which likes boggy conditions.

A vast range of heather varieties is now available, many of which have striking coloured foliage, and there are some that flower almost any month of the year.

Heathers belong to the family Ericaceae (which includes rhododendrons and azaleas) and share a liking for acid or peaty soil. Erica carnea and E. darleyensis cultivars will grow in neutral or alkaline soil.

Heathers have traditionally been grown in heather beds with several varieties planted together, so as to contrast the flower and foliage colours. They can also be used in mixed borders and in troughs and containers.

Heathers should be grown in full sun and, if possible, facing south. They are very wind tolerant but salt spray can damage the golden-leaved varieties. Plant in groups of three to five of each cultivar in a large bed, or singly in a small space. The Heather Society recommend using five plants per square metre in order to carpet the ground completely.

The key to good-looking heathers is to shear them after flowering for the spring and summer varieties, cutting back to below the flowering heads. The autumn-flowering ones will need only an occasional tidy-up in spring.

Erica carnea 

Hardiness H4-5 (15-25 x 40-50cm)

Purplish-pink or white flowers in late winter (as early as December) and early spring.

Tough, excellent for early season colour.

Flowers through snow and hard frosts.

Tolerant of some shade and salt spray.

Prune after flowering to keep it compact.

Erica cinerea (Bell heather)

Hardiness H4-5

Size 30-60 x 50-80cm
Large group of summer-flowering heathers.
Flowers June-September.
Compact with dark green leaves.
Pink, white or purple flowers.
Acid soil in sun.
Plant 5 per m2 for a carpet.

Calluna vulgaris (Ling) 

Hardiness H4-5 Height 15-50cm.
The heather of Scotland’s moorland.
Many forms: purple, pink, reddish & white.
Flowering in late summer & autumn.
Plant 5 per m2 for a carpet.
Prune after flowering.
Acid soil in sun.

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