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Article 17

Growing Winter Heather

It's time to be thinking about your winter garden! What can you use that will provide colour and interest during the cloudy dark days of winter? I think the perfect solution is heather! The beauty of winter flowering heather is that they not only flower at that time of year, but most flower for several months.

During the cool, dark days of late fall and early winter, the garden often tends to look a bit drab. Winter flowering heather can be counted on to change this situation in a very colourful way. The wide colour range of this fascinating plant family includes shades of pink, rose to red, light purple, lilac, lavender and orchid.


Winter heathers offer quite a bit of versatility too, because they grow in either spreading or upright forms. The lower, spreading types are grown as ground covers, in rockeries, containers or for spot colour in flower and shrub beds. While the upright varieties are best suited for borders, spot colour, massing or as container plants. The flowers of both types are ideal for small winter arrangements.


Because colour varies by variety, it's best to select them when they are in bloom. Then you can determine the flower colour and select them for the desired growth habit. Heathers are often available in a range of plant sizes. Many garden outlets feature small plants in four inch pots, as well as larger ones in one and two gallon containers. Some varieties of winter heather will begin flowering now, while other do not start blooming until January or later, so you may want to select ones that flower at different times during the fall and winter. Since they start flowering now, this is generally when you will find the best selection of plants.


What I like about heather is that they are easy to grow, providing you observe a few cultural requirements. First, they must be planted so the root-ball is level with the soil surface. They will not tolerate being planted too deep. Second, be careful not to pile mulch up over the root system. In fact, it is best not to mulch them at all. Third, heather must be planted in soil that is well drained; they will not tolerate continual wet feet.

They can be planted anytime the ground is not frozen. As you prepare the soil for planting, mix peat moss, compost or processed manure with your existing soil. The addition of a little bone meal, mixed into the planting soil, will encourage new root growth. Then be sure to set the plant at ground level. Firm the soil around the plant and water-in.


In order to keep heather looking really nice, the plants should be pruned each year immediately after they have finished flowering. For the winter flowering varieties, that generally means pruning in late April to mid-May. Prune or shear just below the old spent flowers. Pruning is essential if you want to keep the plants bushy and compact, otherwise they tend to open-up in the centre and look rather ragged. The biggest advantage in pruning is that it will result in additional flowers the following year.


My experience is that heathers do not need a lot of fertilizer. If the soil is prepared properly to begin and the plants are kept groomed and provided good drainage they seldom require feeding. Poor foliage colour, or stunted growth would indicate the need for feeding. So if either occurs, feed heather with a rhododendron type fertilizer. The best time to feed them is in late winter or late spring. Apply the fertilizer at the drip-line of the plant, then water-in thoroughly.


Heathers have a compact, fibrous root system, so small to average sized plants are quite easy to move. Large, old well-established plants are more of challenge to move. If a plant needs to be moved the best time is during the winter dormant season months of November through March.


Heather can be started from cuttings or by layering outer branches in the soil. Cuttings are taken from new, mature tip growth. Take only two inches of the tip growth; dip the cut-end in a rooting hormone and start in a media of 50% sand and 50% peat moss. Cuttings are best taken in July and August.

The method used to layer outer branches, is to simply scrape the lower stem of an outer branch, rub a little rooting hormone on the cut, and bury that part of the branch in soil. It should root in 3 to 6 months.

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› A Checklist of Things To Do in the November Garden
› Poinsettia Care in the Home
› Fall Clean-up
› Fall Planting of Trees, Shrubs and Perennials
› Planting Perennials
› A Checklist of Things To Do in the December Garden
› January To Do List
› Fall Planting
› Growing Aloe Plants
› Pruning your Clematis
› Hedges
› Growing Jade Plants
› Planting and Growing Bulbs
› Pleione Formosana
› Caring for Sarracenia - North American Pitcher Plants
› Caring for the Venus Fly Trap - Dionaea muscipula
› Growing Winter Heather
and many more
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