Growing Heaths and Heathers
A perfect plant for coastal gardens!
Our mild maritime climate and sandy, acidic soils create an ideal environment for Heaths and Heathers. These beautiful, undemanding plants require full sun, yet cool soil, and perfect drainage, and will reward you with both colorful foliage and flowers.
The spacing or distance between plants depends upon whether they are to form a solid mass or to stand separately as individual specimens. As a general rule, to fill in an area in about three years, plant three heathers per square yard (about eighteen inches apart). Smaller varieties should be planted about twelve inches apart. Heathers should have at least a half-day of sun. In climates with frequent foggy or overcast days, choose a site that has sun for three-fourths of the day.
Heathers are tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions. However, light, slightly acidic, sandy soil in a cool, moist climate is ideal. Heathers will not grow well in soil with a high clay content or in unammended alkaline soil.
The soil around new plants should be kept moist until roots are well established, but overwatering will harm them. Mature plants are reasonably drought tolerant and require less water than most garden plants. Time between waterings will vary with climate and soil conditions. A cool maritime climate and soil with adequate organic content reduces the frequency of watering. For typical conditions along the northern California coast, mature plants should be watered at three-week intervals during the summer.
A light application of an acid fertilizer may be used to promote growth when rooted cuttings are first potted and again when transplanted into the garden. Mature plants need no fertilizer and maintain a more compact form and may be less prone to front damage if not fertilized.
Pests and Diseases
Heaths and heathers are relatively free of pests and diseases. Even moles and gophers cause little damage. Rabbits and deer may pose some threat to these plants, but severe damage is experienced only when more desirable food is not available. If deer are a problem, greater reliance on varieties grown for foliage color and not flowers will minimize the adverse effects of browsing. The most serious threat to heathers is the fungus, Phytophthora cinnamomi, a root rot spread by water in warm, wet climates. It may be controlled by the application of chemical fungicides.
Pruning and Maintenance
Pruning consists of clipping spent flowers once a year, either in the autumn or early spring. Winter- blooming heathers do not require annual pruning but may be pruned as needed, about every three years, to maintain their compact shape.
Once foliage has grown to cover the soil between plants, there is almost no weeding required. Weed growth around new plants can be greatly reduced by the use of mulch. Heathers, particularly low growing and prostrate forms, make excellent ground covers as a substitute for high maintenance, thirsty grass lawns.
For more information on heaths and heathers, see the website for the North American Heather Society at www.northamericanheathersoc.org, or contact your local Heather Society Chapter.