Cold Hardy Heather

 

 

Hillside of Heather
Hillside of Heather

Cold Hardy Heather and Heaths can be an interesting addition to your garden. People think of the windswept highlands of Scotland when they think of Heather but there are actually many species of Heathers from different parts of the world. All heathers are part of the family Ericaceae. There is a genus Calluna with just one species Calluna vulgaris which is the common heather. There is also the genus Cassiope which has a small number of species in it. The vast majority of plants people think of as heather are in the genus Erica. This genus has hundreds of species in it. These species can vary greatly in cold hardiness. Heathers and Heaths are known for their small flowers that bloom at different times of the years for different species and their spiky evergreen foliage. Most Heathers and Heaths are low growing plants but some species can grow 6 feet high or more.

Closeup of Heather flowers.
Closeup of Heather flowers.

The Common Heather Calluna vulgaris is the lone member of the genus Calluna and is native to Europe and associated Atlantic Islands and Turkey. It usually grows from a little under one foot to a little under two feet in height but in some cases it can grow taller. It is a perennial shrub with small evergreen leaves and flowers from mid summer to late fall depending on the climate it is grown in. It prefers acidic soil and sunny conditions to moderate shade. This is the famous Heather of the British Isles and the windswept moors of Scotland. It normally grows from less than one foot tall to around three feet tall. In some exceptional cases it can get taller. It is a frequent food for sheep and it also is managed in some cases by burns. The leaves are very small evergreen and scaly almost like conifer leaves. The flowers are usually a light pink but they can also be other colors.

Heather is a source of food for wildlife especially in the colder months. Besides decorative uses Heather has had various uses in the past and present. In the past it was used in gruit which was a mixture of herbs and spices used before the widespread introduction of hops to flavor beer. It was used in the past for thatching of roofs and stuffing mattresses. It was also used in medicine and continues today to be used in aromatherapy.

If you want to grow Common Heather it is generally considered hardy from USDA Zones 5-7 but it can be found growing in much colder Zones 3-4 in areas with persistent snow cover to protect it from the extreme cold of winter.

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Heaths are close relatives of Common Heather but are in the genus Erica.

Erica Tetralix also called Cross Leafed Heath is native to western and central Europe like other Heathers and Heaths it requires a sandy soil. It is a small plant not growing much more than 20-50 cm in height depending on the cultivar. It has small scale like leaves and pink to white flowers. From my research it appears to be hardy to Zone 4.

Eric Carnea commonly known as Winter Heath or Winter Flowering Heather is native to higher elevations in central and southern Europe. It is hardy to Zone 5 and like all heaths and heathers likes a sandy acidic soil but it can tolerate more aklaline conditions than other heaths and heathers.. it is a small plant growing 4-12 inches tall. It flowers very early in the late winter or early spring. The flowers usually are pink or close in color but can be other colors. There are many different cultivars of this plant and it is widely planted.

Here is a link if you wish to purchase this plant from Amazon. Please be aware that I  receive a small commission if you make a purchase which helps support the costs of running this website.

 

Erica terminalis is also called Corsican Heath. It is native to the Western Mediterranean region It can grow up to six feet in height and not quite as wide. It has pink flowers in the summer and fall and can get some fall/winter color in the leaves. I have seen listings anywhere from Zone 5A to  Zone 7A for this plant. This is probably a Zone 7A-6B  Shrub but it might be possible to grow it in 6A or 5B with favorable conditions or a little bit of winter protection.

Erica spiculifolia also called Balkan Heath is another Heath to check out. In researching this plant I have read widely varying claims of cold hardiness everywhere from zone 7 to zone 3. It blooms early in the season with pink flowers. Sometimes it will bloom again in the fall. 20-50 cm in height. It is native to South Eastern Europe. I would guess that this is a solid Zone 5 plant.

Erica x darleyensis is a hybrid of Erica carnea and Erica erigena. It is a vigorous spreading plant with pink flowers that can flower from early fall through spring. There are many cultivars with different growth habits and it can vary from 8″to 20″ inches in height. From my research this appears to be a Zone 6 plant.

Here is a link if you wish to purchase this plant from Amazon. Please be aware that I  receive a small commission if you make a purchase which helps support the costs of running this website.

 

Heathers and Heaths can have a place in the Cold Hardy Tropical Garden. They are evergreen and some species flower in the off-season even into the winter. Also they are good if you are going for a Mediterranean inspired look. They can be the low shrubs to go with the larger broad leafed evergreen shrubs/trees and palms. If you don’t have the right soil/drainage you may have more luck building a raised bed for these plants. An ideal soil mixture for Heathers/Heaths in a raised bed would be a sandy loam heavy on the sand with a compost and peat moss for acidity. Go light on any supplemental fertilizer as over fertilizing can hurt the plants.

Winter protection for Heathers/Heaths. If they can be protected from drying winds it can be a help. Some gardeners have had success with a loose mulch of pine needles/branches, hay or straw have had success. Whatever you use don’t allow the plants to get smothered that could cause damage and mold/rotting issues.

 

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