Winter Flowering Heathers
Winter flowering heathers give tremendous value for money and are arguably the most reliable winter flowering low growing plant.
This is the type of heather that will grow in the gardens overlying limestone hills or with chalky soils. They will grow without addition of lots of peat. In other words, they are lime tolerant.
Winter flowering heathers have evolved in harsh exposed upland areas.
They are able to withstand very low temperatures, bright sunlight and windy positions.
All of the hardy winter heathers are from the Erica family.
Those from the Erica carnea and x darleyensis group are toughest.
There are others that flower in winter and many of those come from South Africa and so need warmer conditions than we have in the UK.
Plants are available in shades from the purest white through pinks to deep ruby red.
Lots of varieties also have coloured foliage which provides an added attraction when they are not in flower.
All heathers are attractive to bumble and honey bees.
The winter flowering ones are especially important since they provide pollen and nectar at a time of year when bees are active but there is very little food for them.
If you plant them in your garden you’ll find that, when they are in flower, both hive and bumblebees quickly find them!
Planting winter flowering heathers
For best effect plant groups of the same variety of heather together.
Let 3, 5 or 7 or more grow together and make a complete weed smothering ground covering mat.
Plant in odd numbers since even ones often end up looking like they have been planted in rows!
Plant these winter flowering heathers at any time of year and get them off to a good start by incorporating some ericaceous compost into the planting hole.
Trimming and after care
Maintain winter flowering [and summer] heathers by trimming them over after flowering with a pair of shears.
This results in several new shoots coming from just below the cut end and as a consequence the plants become even more dense in habit.
The dense growth will smother all but the toughest weeds and for this reason winter flowering heathers require very little maintenance.
Add mulch once a year to keep your winter flowering heathers happy. They have shallow root systems that benefit from this. Use composted bark, leaf mould or garden compost.
Feed your winter flowering heathers with Miracid Ericaceous Liquid feed or Maxicrop but don’t over do it since heathers do not like lots of nutrients.
What to plant with them
Dwarf conifers compliment and look natural with heathers.
Try planting a dwarf juniper, pine or Cryptomeria to add height to your heather border.
There are many suitable conifers but I recommend Abies balsamea ‘Hudsonia’, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Aurea Densa’ and Cryptomeria japonica ‘Vilmoriniana’. You could also plant Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’, Picea glauca albertiana ‘Conica’ and Pinus mugo pumilio.
White stem birch look good with winter flowering heathers. This replicates what you would see when these heathers grow in the wild. I recommend Betula x utilis Jacquemontii [Himalayan Birch] which has snow white bark. I’ve described many other birch trees here.
Winter heathers [and summer flowering heathers too] grow well in containers either on their own or with other plants.
Grow them in Ericaceous lime free compost and ensure that they containers are well drained and in a sunny position.
The winter flowering heathers are a very useful addition to a winter hanging basket.
Mix them in with more conventional flowering plants such as pansies and violas. Add some dwarf spring flowering bulbs to give a seasonal flair to the display.
When the plants get too large in both winter hanging baskets or containers, they can be planted out into the garden borders.