Calluna vulgaris, heather, is a low growing evergreen shrub that is also used as a groundcover. Growing heather plants is a great adventure that will reward the gardener with multitudes of blooms to enjoy. Find facts on heather plants and what growing conditions you will need to have them thrive in your yard and garden.
Facts on Heather Plants
Calluna vulgaris is in the Heath family, Ericaceae. It includes the popular and familiar heather plant that is also known as Scotch heather. The shrubs are rather small and grow from 6-24” tall by up to 3’ wide. They have erect branches that form dense compact mats of white, pink, purple, or lavender blooms (species is rose-pink).
Heather has a fairly long seasonal interest, depending on the cultivar, because the leaves turn to yellows, bronze, silver, and reddish casts in winter. Heather has leaves in four rows and has simple, opposite, scalelike leaves in green, gray, or yellow. They are less than 1/10” long. The bark is dark orangish-red and not decorative. It has four separate petals that make up the late season flowers, unlike spring-blooming heaths such as ‘Erica’ which have fused petals.
Heather plants have flowers that appear as spikes in late summer and early fall, but the individual flowers are bell-shaped. The fruits, which are yellow-orange capsules, are also not decorative. There are over 1000 selections available for the choosing.
This is a beautiful, mounding groundcover that can be used easily on banks, slopes, and terraces, as an edging plant or accent in a perennial border or mixed border, and for fresh or dried cut flowers. It originates from heaths, bogs, woodlands, and moist dunes in Europe.
Growing Calluna vulgaris
Calluna vulgaris is hardy in Zones 4-6 and requires full sun to do its best, but will also take a little shade. The soil should be moist, acidic soils that are high in organic matter and with sharp drainage capabilities. It prefers a humid atmosphere away from strong drying winds. It will also tolerate some salt.
Pruning can be done to cut off dead branches that died in the winter months, as well as when necessary to maintain the tight habit of heather. Some growers will prune their plants to within a few inches of the ground each spring. To protect them from drying out in winter, especially if no snow cover, try to shield the plants with evergreen boughs are something you have on hand to protect them.
Mulch can also be used to help to maintain moisture levels. Water them regularly in any drought conditions. The most important fact to remember is to be careful of where heather is planted. It must be in a location where there is no strong winds, nor wet soils.
Heather Plant Varieties
Calluna vulagaris ‘Aurea’ has pink flowers in August-October and yellow leaves. 18” h and w.
Calluna vulgaris ‘Flamingo’ has red growth tips against dark green leaves, with purple flowers in August and October. 12” h x 20” w.
C.vulgaris ‘H. E. Beale’ has silvery pink blooms from August to October. 24”h and w.
C.vulgaris ‘J.H. Hamilton’ is an excellent plant with double pink blooms. 6”h and w.
C.vulgaris ‘Mrs. Ronald Gray’ has reddish flowers from July to September.
C.vulgaris ‘October White’ has white flowers against dark green leaves on erect stems in October. They are good for cutting and reach 16” h x 18” w.
C.vulgaris ‘Silver Knight’ has silvery gray leaves year round with lavender blooms in late summer. 15” h x 24” w.
C.vulgaris ‘Sister Anne’ blooms with pink flowers against grayish green leaves from July to September. It forms a dense, mounding groundcover reaching 6” h x 18” w.