Is mexican heather perennial

Mexican Heather

(October 2005)

I have several plants that I would like to keep over the winter. Mosquito plant, Mexican heather and begonias. Are any of these winter hardy in central Arkansas? If so, what can I do to get them through? If not, how can I over winter them inside? Also, do I need to cover my gardenia bush for the winter and if so what is the best material to use for cover?

Except for the gardenia, none of the plants you mentioned are reliably winter hardy in central Arkansas. Mexican heather and some begonias have managed to survive a few of our winters, but you shouldn’t count on it. To guarantee these plants back in your garden next season, you will need to either move them indoors or take cuttings for new starts. I would advocate the latter, if these plants are in the ground. The mosquito plant—a scented geranium is not going to make it, even with extra mulch, so move it indoors or store it in your garage. For the Mexican heather and begonias, after taking some cuttings, add extra mulch when the weather turns cool and see what you have next spring. Gardenias only need protection if the weather gets below 15 – 20 degrees. If needed, cover with something porous—a sheet, blanket, or cardboard box.

Can you tell me if I’ve killed my Mexican Heather? I pruned it back during the winter, and now I see no signs of life whatsoever. Will it come back anyway this summer? Also, can you recommend some good annuals for this area (LR) that can tolerate the extreme hot/humid conditions we see here in the summer? I’ve found that most of the annuals I can find at local discount stores are not really suitable for the Arkansas summers, especially impatiens. I’ve never had any luck with them. It seems that when it starts to get really hot, they die. I usually plant them on the north side of our house in deep shade.

Mexican heather is really not a perennial in Arkansas. We have had some survive the past two winters, but we haven’t had much of a winter. I would consider it an annual, and if you see signs of life in the spring, count yourself lucky. As to other heat loving annuals, there are many. Melampodium, lantana, Mexican heather (as you know), the new petunias, tithonia, Mexican zinnias, and begonias to name a few. Impatiens normally do great in Arkansas, they tolerate heat fine, provided they get some water. Other shade lovers include torenia and the wax leaf begonias, caladiums and coleus.


My daughter gifted me with a lovely Mexican Heather a few weeks ago. I planted it in the ground and took good care of it and it has rewarded me with countless blooms and has new growth in the center. Can I leave it outside through the winter? If so should I mulch it? And if freezing precipitation is forecast can I cover it with a cardboard box for the duration? It is my first plant of this kind and I don’t want to move it nor lose it.

I am surprised they are still selling Mexican heather, as we see it more frequently in the spring and early summer. Mexican heather – Cuphea hyssopifolia is a summer annual plant that normally does not overwinter in Arkansas. The past two winters have been mild, and a few gardeners have reported it coming back from the root system, but that is not something you should count on. Your best bet would be to buy a new plant next season. Plants are readily available in the spring and would probably give you quicker and healthier results, but due to the sentimentality, you may want to try and overwinter your plant. You can overwinter it indoors or under your house–protecting it from freezing. Do so soon, as some areas have already had frosts.


I have several plants that I would like to keep over the winter. Mosquito plant, Mexican heather and begonias. Are any othese winter hardy in central Arkansas? If so, what can I do to get them through? If not, how can I over winter them inside? Also, do I need to cover my gardenia bush for the winter and if so what is the best material to use for cover?

Except for the gardenia, none of the plants you mentioned are reliably winter hardy in central Arkansas. Mexican heather and some begonias have managed to survive a few of our winters, but you shouldn’t count on it. To guarantee these plants back in your garden next season, you will need to either move them indoors or take cuttings for new starts. I would advocate the latter, if these plants are in the ground. The mosquito plant — a scented geranium is not going to make it, even with extra mulch, so move it indoors or store it in your garage. For the Mexican heather and begonias, after taking some cuttings, add extra mulch when the weather turns cool and see what you have next spring. Gardenias only need protection if the weather gets below 15 to 20 degrees. If needed, cover with something porous — a sheet, blanket, or cardboard box.

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Q: A couple of years ago I bought some Mexican heather and planted it in front of some shrubs. Although the tag said it was perennial, it died over the winter and never came back. I loved the shape and size of the plant and the fact that it bloomed all summer but I don’t care to re-plant it each year. Can you recommend a perennial that would be similar?

A: It is not typically the nature of perennials to “bloom all summer”. Most bloom for a couple of weeks or a month, then turn to gathering energy for next year. Many annuals do bloom continuously….but they have to be replaced each year. Mexican heather is perennial in Florida, blooming constantly on new growth, but it is killed in Atlanta winters.

My friend Erica Glasener says she’s gotten a long bloom season from perennials by mixing Erigeron karvinskianus ‘Profusion’, Veronica x ‘Georgia Blue’ and Veronica x ‘Waterperry Blue’ plus Geranium x ‘Rozanne’. Although these plants don’t look quite like Mexican heather they would give a long season of bloom in front of your shrubs.

Tags For This Article: geraniums, Summer, Winter

Allyson Mexican Heather

Small, freely branching shrub or subshrub with dainty purple-pink tubular flowers; grown as an annual in cooler climates; great for bedding, shrub borders, and containers in warm climates.

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Species: hyssopifolia

Other Species Names: False Heather

Plant Height: 24 in.

Spread: 24 in.

Evergreen: Yes

Plant Form: upright spreading

Emergent Foliage Color: light green

Summer Foliage Color: green

Minimum Sunlight: partial shade

Maximum Sunlight: full sun

Ornamental Features

Allyson Mexican Heather features dainty purple tubular flowers with pink throats along the branches from early summer to early fall. It has attractive green foliage which emerges light green in spring. The glossy oval leaves are highly ornamental and remain green throughout the winter. The fruit is not ornamentally significant.

Landscape Attributes

Allyson Mexican Heather is a multi-stemmed evergreen shrub often grown as an annual, with an upright spreading habit of growth. Its average texture blends into the landscape, but can be balanced by one or two finer or coarser trees or shrubs for an effective composition. This is a relatively low maintenance shrub, and is best cleaned up in early spring before it resumes active growth for the season. It is a good choice for attracting butterflies to your yard. It has no significant negative characteristics. Allyson Mexican Heather is recommended for the following landscape applications; Mass Planting General Garden Use Container Planting

Planting & Growing

Allyson Mexican Heather will grow to be about 24 inches tall at maturity, with a spread of 24 inches. It tends to fill out right to the ground and therefore doesn’t necessarily require facer plants in front. It grows at a fast rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 10 years. This shrub does best in full sun to partial shade. It does best in average to evenly moist conditions, but will not tolerate standing water. It is not particular as to soil pH, but grows best in rich soils. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. Consider applying a thick mulch around the root zone in winter to protect it in exposed locations or colder microclimates. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America. Allyson Mexican Heather makes a fine choice for the outdoor landscape, but it is also well-suited for use in outdoor pots and containers. With its upright habit of growth, it is best suited for use as a ‘thriller’ in the ‘spiller-thriller-filler’ container combination; plant it near the center of the pot, surrounded by smaller plants and those that spill over the edges. Note that when grown in a container, it may not perform exactly as indicated on the tag – this is to be expected. Also note that when growing plants in outdoor containers and baskets, they may require more frequent waterings than they would in the yard or garden.

What Is A Mexican Heather Plant: Tips On Growing Mexican Heather Plants

What is a Mexican heather plant? Also known as false heather, Mexican heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia) is a flowering groundcover that produces masses of bright green leaves. Small pink, white or lavender flowers decorate the plant throughout most of the year.

Mexican heather plants, which actually aren’t members of the heather family, are suitable for growing in the warm climates of USDA plant hardiness zones 9 to 11. You can grow Mexican heather as an annual if you live in a chillier climate.

How to Plant Mexican Heather

Planting Mexican heather is uninvolved, although the plant benefits from a little added compost or manure

if soil is poor. Allow at least 18 inches (46 cm.) between each plant.

This tough, drought-tolerant plant loves direct sunlight and thrives in intense heat. Remember that although Mexican heather plants grow in a wide range of soils, good drainage is critical.

Care of Mexican Heather

Water Mexican heather plants deeply about once every week, then allow the soil to dry slightly before watering again. Container plants will need water more often, especially during the summer months.

Prune Mexican heather lightly during the spring if the plant looks scraggly or overgrown. Otherwise, no pruning is required.

Surround the plant with a thin layer of mulch in spring to minimize moisture evaporation and keep weeds in check.

Feed the plant in spring, summer and fall, using a balanced, general-purpose fertilizer.

Healthy Mexican heather plants are seldom bothered by insects. However, if you notice spider mites during hot, dry weather, treat the pests with insecticidal soap spray on a day when the sun isn’t directly on the plant.

Insecticidal soap spray with a few drops of rubbing alcohol will also take care of flea beetles.

December 05, 2012

I confess: I used to be disdainful of Mexican heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia), that sturdy, prolifically blooming sub-shrub offered on the summer-color tables at the big-box stores and plugged into many a planter at local shopping centers. I often saw plants that were leggy and a bit sun-crisped. But Mexican heather is so darned eager to please that it finally won me over.

I inherited a single plant with the house, and I ignored it, expecting that the first freeze that year would take it out. It’s often sold as an annual here in Austin, and experts differ on whether it’s safely a zone 9 or zone 8 plant. I thought it likely that it would be an annual for me. But then it came back the next year, and the next, and even after our really cold winter in 2011.

And then it spread out so neatly (about 15 inches wide and 12 inches tall) beneath a ‘Twinkle Pink’ cuphea and a potted ‘Color Guard’ yucca and bloomed so prettily all spring, summer, and fall. Heck, why had I given it the cold shoulder? I no longer remember. All I know is that I planted a few more in the fall and look forward to more purple blooms next year.

If you decide to carpet a portion of your garden with Mexican heather too, I suggest waiting until spring to plant unless you live in a frost-free zone. Warm-climate gardeners in zone 8b might see it return most years, especially with our increasingly warm winters. Farther north, it’s an annual. But it loves the heat and thrives in my part-sun garden, blooming nonstop spring through fall. That makes it a winner in my book.

Update 2019: A reader just asked about my experience with Mexican heather, which made me revisit this post. Unfortunately, a cold winter eventually did kill this plant in my garden, and I haven’t replanted it since. I consider it a good annual with a long season of blooming, and in a mild winter it might return in the spring.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

  • How to Grow and Properly Care for the Mexican Heather

    Mexican Heather is a tropical shrub that can be grown in a container, indoors or outdoors, in warm climates. It produces pink and purple flowers. What more can be the reason to plant these ornamental plants in your garden? Moreover, planting and taking care of them is easy!

    Identity Crisis!

    Mexican Heather is also known as False Heather to differentiate it from genuine plants. It only looks like a heather plant, but it is not a true one.

    Mexican Heather is a densely branched shrub belonging to the Lythraceae family, and is native to Mexico and Guatemala. It is also known as False heather, Artificial heather, Elfin herb with and Cuphea hyssopifolia being the botanical name. It grows best in warm climates, although it can also be planted indoors in a colder environment.

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    It has a fern-like structure, and exhibits an abundant bloom of small trumpet-shaped flowers with pink, lavender, or white petals. It produces green foliage, and blooms almost all the year round. This small shrub takes up a substantial portion of the garden and adds vibrant color to it. Its compact size makes it an excellent choice as a houseplant.

    Read further to know more about growing and caring for your plant.

    More About Mexican Heather

    Common Name: Mexican Heather, False Heather
    Botanical Name: Cuphea hyssopifolia
    Family: Lythraceae
    Origin: Mexico, Guatemala
    Plant type: Shrub
    Growth Rate: Fast
    Height: 2 feet tall
    Spread: 3 feet wide
    Foliage: Green
    Color: Pink, Lavender, White
    Blooms: All year
    Attributes: Showy, Ornamental

    ► Although Mexican heather looks delicate, it is a fairly sturdy and evergreen shrub.

    ► In zones 7 and 8, it acts like a perennial, and in colder zones, it acts like an annual plant. In zones 8 and lower where the climate is colder, it is best to grow this plant indoors or in a greenhouse.

    ► The plant blooms all year round with flat, fern-like leaves and small lavender-colored flowers. The flowers usually appear in spring and last through the summer and sometimes up to early fall.

    ► It thrives in hot and humid climatic conditions under filtered shade to avoid the foliage and bloom from fading. Cold and frosty conditions may damage the roots or actually kill these plants.

    ► Since it is a self-seeder, new seedlings usually surface in spring when the soil is warm.

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    ► It grows up to 2 feet tall and 3 feet in width.

    Growing Mexican Heather

    ► Mexican heather is easy to grow and care for. It has very low maintenance which is why it is a great option for the first time gardeners.

    ► Select a location that has direct sunlight for a few hours and partial shade for the rest of the day.

    ► It can be planted as a seed or transplanted as a larger plant. Since it grows up to 3 feet in width, make sure the space is big enough for it to grow.

    ► It requires sandy-loamy soil with neutral or slightly alkaline pH balance ranging from 5.5 to 7.8. The soil should be moist but not soggy.

    ► Dig an area of about 12 – 15 inches deep. Mix three inches of compost into the tilled soil.

    ► Dig a small hole in it to place the root ball, taking extreme care while doing so.

    ► Water the plant thoroughly after covering all the roots firmly with soil.

    ► The seeds should start germinating in 1 – 2 weeks. If you want to transplant, let the seedlings grow for about 6 – 8 weeks after the last frost.

    Growing in Containers

    ► Use pots or containers that have drainage holes at the bottom.

    ► Slide a Mexican heather plant from its pot and cut the roots enclosing the root ball with a knife.

    ► Place the container in shade for two weeks before you intend to move it indoors.

    ► In winter, place the container in a greenhouse or an enclosed porch protected from cold and frost.

    ► Water it regularly or only when the soil seems dry.

    ► Move the plant outdoors in spring after the last frost. You may the replant it in the garden or keep it in the container itself.

    How to Care?

    ► For it to grow best, make sure to plant your Mexican heather in an area which gets ample or rather full sunlight to partial shade.

    ► The soil should be moist and well-drained. Although, it has good drought tolerance, make sure to water the plant regularly or when the top layer of the soil feels dry to touch.

    ► Mexican heather does not need much pruning which is such a relief for the gardeners. It is compact by nature. However, you may prune it lightly to give it a desired shape and appearance.

    ► Prune the mature plants in spring or winter to enhance growth. Trim the dead leaves and branches.

    ► Fertilize the plant with a balanced, water soluble fertilizer (proportion 10-10-10) once in every four months except during winters.

    ► The plant can be propagated by taking smaller pieces from young stems and rooting them in moist soil.

    ► These pretty flowers often attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

    What You Need to Watch Out For?

    ► They are vulnerable to flea beetles and spider mites. Monitor your plants constantly because the adult flea beetles tend to feed on them with great intensity, especially, during spring. Examine leaves and stems for holes which may be the result of beetles chewing on them. Jerk the branches to remove most of the beetles but using insecticides that contain pyrethrin will eliminate them.

    ► Spider mites often strike Mexican heather in dry and hot weather. Watch out for their webs underneath the leaves. They can be chased away by misting the plant everyday. Another way to get rid of them without hurting the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds is by using insecticidal soap.

    Mexican heather makes for an excellent and charming addition to your landscape or decorations. In addition, it is a visual treat when you plant them in the borders along the sidewalks or when planted indoors. Moreover, it is a low-maintenance plant and perfect for those who are planting it for the first time or those wishing to add a splash of pink and purple colors to your garden or indoors.

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    Mexican Heather Plant Care

    heather image by donkey IA from

    Mexican heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia) is a very popular, fast-growing plant. Gardeners like it because it demands very little maintenance, but provides charming purple flowers and strong green foliage. Mexican heather is also known as false heather, to distinguish it from actual heather plants. Mexican heather does best in warm climates, although in colder environments it can be used as a house plant.


    Plant Mexican heather in full sun or n a partially shaded location. It is native to tropical areas and you will get the best results if you can recreate as much of its natural environment as possible. Mexican heathers may appear more vibrant and intense in dappled or filtered sunlight.


    Water Mexican heather regularly to give it the best chance for good foliage and flower growth. Mexican heather can survive short drought periods without suffering much damage, but you will grow healthier plants if you water on a regular schedule. Give your Mexican heather 1 inch of water once a week and observe the plant to assess whether it needs to be watered more or less often. Plants in full sun and fast-draining soil may need to be watered more often than plants in partial shade and slower-draining soil.


    Provide Mexican heather with sandy loam or clay loam soil. Aim for a neutral or slightly alkaline pH balance, in the range between 5.5 and 7.8. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Soil that drains well is the best environment for Mexican heather. Supplement the soil with an organic fertilizer during the growing season.


    You do not have to prune Mexican heather frequently. It is compact by nature. Although it is a fast grower, Mexican heather rarely grows taller than 18 inches high and, more often, will only grow to roughly 12 inches high. Prune Mexican heather to control its overall shape and appearance because it spreads easily. Trim away any dead branches. Remove interior branches to promote air circulation and to allow light into the center for a healthier plant.


    Place Mexican heather towards the front of your planting area because it is a low grower. Mexican heather looks good in mass plantings along a border, as well as single specimen plants.

    Mexican heather blooms throughout the year in warm climates. It is an evergreen and generally provides year-round visual interest. Gardeners in colder climates treat Mexican heather as an annual.

    Mexican heather will attract butterflies and bees.

    The Mexican Heather Plant

    The Mexican Heather Plant – Cuphea hyssopifolia. Also called false heather. A small plant that will bloom in mid-summer until fall. A very hardy plant that produces small but profuse flowers even in the Southwest heat. Mexican Heather plant will go dormant when temperatures dip below 32° degrees Fahrenheit. But will bound back after the last frost in your area.

    Where to plant it?

    Place in a nice container or plant them in the front of other taller evergreen shrubs. Plant several in a row along sidewalks or pathways for a great effect. They are perfect in rock gardens or xeriscape landscape.

    They love being planted in morning sun and afternoon shade. Underneath a large tree with filtered light will work great. Place them in hanging baskets as they will have that overflowing look. Nice dark waxy green color foliage.

    How big will they get?

    Mexican heather will grow to a nice mounding plant about 2-3 ft. wide and tall perfect for that small space in your garden with nothing there. They are considered a perennial in warmer regions but will go dormant during the winter seasons in other colder areas.

    It can take full sun and partial shade. They will do great underneath a large shade tree providing there is filtered light coming through. Provide it with lots of water the first 2-3 years after initial planting. Then cut back to every other day during the summer months.

    The Mexican Heather plant is native to Mexico.

    Grasses for the Southwest.

    Sunset growing zones 16-24

    How to Grow Heathers and Heaths

    When people mention heather, they are almost always talking about two different genera of plants: heaths and heathers. Although both belong to the Ericaceae family, they are botanically different and are divided into the Calluna genus and the Erica genus. For practical purposes, however, they are nearly identical, sharing color, form, and growth habits. They are all evergreen, well-mannered, and low-maintenance plants that thrive in similar conditions of sunlight, water, and soil. Winter hardiness is the only major difference between species.

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    Must-Know Facts About Heather

    The Difference Between Heathers and Heaths

    All true heathers are cultivars of just one species, Calluna vulgaris (which some botanists erroneously classify as Erica vulgaris), and there are easily more than 500 varieties available. Most are summer-blooming, ranging from white to rose to deep purple, and their foliage is green to fire orange; their leaves are small and scalelike. Most form low-growing mounds or spreading mats.

    For the heather lover in the North, these are the plants of choice, as opposed to the true heaths, which offer more colors but are generally less hardy. Calluna are typically hardy in Zones 5-7 but may thrive as far north as Zone 3 with adequate winter protection or snow cover. These low, mounding shrubs are the king of Scotland, the famous heather of the Highlands.

    The true heaths belong to the Erica genus and include more than 700 species and countless cultivars, such as winter heath (Erica carnea), bell heath (Erica cinerea), Darley Dale heath (Erica x darleyensis), Cornish heath (Erica vagans), and cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix). Hardiness ranges widely; for instance, Erica carnea will bloom under snow, but many of the South African varieties, such as blood-red heath (Erica cruenta), are best left to the greenhouse and florist trades. The true heaths offer an amazing range of foliage and bloom color, well beyond the pinks of the heathers; they also come in taller shrub forms and even some small trees. With hundreds of species and cultivars suitable for Hardiness Zones 7-9 or 10 (and a few, such as Erica carnea, even hardier), the heaths provide a wide variety of colors and bloom times to fill Southern gardens.

    Other than heaths’ greater susceptibility to cold weather, the main difference between heaths and heathers is that heaths have needlelike leaves rather than flat leaves. The scalelike leaves of heather, in fact, feature tiny hairs, which give the foliage a grayish cast. Calluna cultivars also produce blooms where the corolla (or whorl of petals) is completely encased by the calyx (the usually green “leaves” directly beneath a bloom); the Erica species and varieties feature prominent corollas and small calyxes, which often create a two-tone effect to the blooms. However, the bloom shapes are so nearly the same, says Kate Herrick of Rock Spray Nursery in Truro, Massachusetts, “that only a botanist or a true fanatic will know the difference.”

    Why Plant Heathers and Heaths?

    Of course, the real reason to plant heath or heather is the colorful bloom and foliage. Imagine Monet’s palette loaded with hues of blue, yellow, gold, rose, and green. Imagine a painting built from brush strokes of tall shrubs, lush mounds, and spreading mats. Plant different types of heathers and heaths, and you can have a steady play of form and color as new plants come into bloom when others fade. Plant several varieties en masse on a slope, and an Impressionist’s landscape bursts into vivid life.

    As heather fans know, selecting plants by color isn’t as simple as deciding you like pink blooms; selection by bloom color is actually secondary to the foliage display. A heather’s evergreen foliage changes and intensifies in hue during cold weather. For example, Calluna vulgaris ‘Firefly’ has copper foliage in summer that changes to brick red in winter; Erica x watsonii ‘Dawn’ (a Watson’s heath) has red spring growth that turns to gold later in the year. It is this variability that makes heaths and heathers such arresting plants for the landscape.

    “There are so many colors available that selecting plants can be intimidating, and people often make the process more complicated than needed,” Herrick says. The colors are so harmonious, however, that a homeowner should pay more attention to plant sizes and spacing, she advises. Selecting plants that will fill a designated space is easier to achieve than trying to work a plant of every bloom and foliage color into the scheme.

    “They are a fascinating family of plants,” Herrick sums up, “and a lot more fun than red geraniums.” Try painting some into your landscape this fall.

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    Landscaping With Heather

    Heaths and heathers add a low-maintenance jolt of color and interest to the landscape, regardless of the season. Their evergreen foliage (in shades of green, yellow, bronze, and red) sparkles against the weary winter backdrop of tans and browns or the white of snow.

    Plant heaths and heathers in open areas, up hillsides, or along pathways. They pair especially well with dwarf conifers, which require similar acidic soil conditions. They tolerate poor, rocky soil and even salt spray, so they’re marvelous along coastal hillsides where little else will grow.

    Heaths grow about 1 foot tall by 1 1/2 feet wide; heathers about 2 feet tall by 2 to 3 feet wide. Space both about as far apart as their mature width and at least 2 feet away from other shrubs to foster good air circulation. For naturalistic mass plantings, Kate Herrick at Rock Spray Nursery suggests multiplying the square footage of your planting area by 0.44 to determine the number of heaths or heathers you’ll need. (A 10-x-10-foot area would require 44 plants.)

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    How to Plant and Care for Heather

    The growing conditions for these colorful plants are similar. Karla Lortz of Heaths and Heathers Nursery offers these tips.

    Prep the Soil

    Heaths and heathers are acid lovers, preferring a soil pH of 4.5-5.5. Although some heaths are more tolerant of alkaline soil, particularly Irish heath (Erica erigena), most types will struggle. Work in damp peat moss or other acidic soil amendments, particularly if your soil is pH neutral (6.5-7.5). Till or loosen the soil and dig holes twice as wide as each plant’s root ball to encourage roots to spread.

    Provide Drainage

    Without good drainage, these plants just won’t grow. For clay soil (which provides neither the right pH nor proper drainage), build a raised bed with equal parts topsoil, sand, and composted bark or peat moss, which will create acidic soil that properly drains. For boggy soil (which may be the right pH but too wet), make a modest berm.

    Planting Tips

    Shear newly purchased plants to encourage bushiness, and plant in spring or early autumn. Water twice a week for the first several months so the ground is moist but not soggy. This will encourage rapid, vigorous growth to get plants established. Apply a mulch of your choice, preferably an acidic one (such as pine straw, peat moss, or leaf mold). After two or three years, heathers and heaths are generally drought-tolerant and can take care of themselves.

    Allow for Spacing

    Space the plants about as far apart as the plant’s mature width to allow air circulation, which is important for good foliage growth and color but close enough so the plants will eventually mound together. If you are planting in Zones 7-9, Lortz recommends whorled heath (Erica manipuliflora; ‘Korcula’ is a good cultivar).

    Consider Sun Exposure

    Allow for a minimum of six hours of sun a day for best foliage effect. The foliage will be best on the south side of the plant, especially for red varieties. Six or more hours of sun are also recommended with afternoon shade in hotter areas. Too much shade makes the plants leggy and dulls the brilliance of those that have colorful foliage.

    Consider Winter Exposure

    Avoid situating plants in areas that receive harsh winter winds; as evergreens, they suffer severe dehydration. Or apply a winter mulch such as evergreen boughs. In areas with deep snow cover, plants will be fine.

    Don’t Fuss

    Heaths and heathers actually like poor soil. Giving annual doses of fertilizer is deadlier than not giving any at all. Fertilize once with rhododendron feed upon planting—then leave your plants alone. About the only work you need to do is give them a yearly shearing. This is best done in the spring before any buds have set or, for winter bloomers, after the flowers have faded. Calluna vulgaris should be cut back below the old flowers; the Erica spp. can be lightly pruned to encourage bushiness.

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    Our Favorite Heathers

    Unless otherwise noted, heathers (Calluna vulgaris) are hardy in Zones 5-7 and are no more than 2 feet high and slightly more as wide.

    • Cultivar: ‘Alba Rigida’ Flowers: White Foliage: Bright green Characteristics: Spreading, very hardy in Maine trials (Zone 4)
    • Cultivar: ‘Firefly’ Flowers: Mauve Foliage: Brick red Characteristics: Excellent for foliage, upright growth
    • Cultivar: ‘H.E. Beale’ Flowers: Silver-pink Foliage: Bronze Characteristics: Double flower, upright growth
    • Cultivar: ‘J.H. Hamilton’ Flowers: Pink Foliage: Dark green Characteristics: Outstanding pink variety, double flower, dwarf habit
    • Cultivar: ‘Mrs. Pat’ Flowers: Light purple Foliage: Pink-tipped Characteristics: Good foliage all year, more difficult to establish than most
    • Cultivar: ‘Spring Torch’ Flowers: Mauve Foliage: Midgreen with yellow-orange to pinkish cream tips Characteristics: Upright growth, excellent foliage color
    • Cultivar:’Tenuis’ Flowers: Lilac Foliage: Dark green Characteristics: Hardiest in Maine trials (Zone 4), early flowering, low growing
    • Cultivar: ‘Tib’ Flowers: Dark pink to purple Foliage: Dark green Characteristics: Double flower variety with long bloom time, bushy habit
    • Cultivar: ‘Velvet Fascination’ Flowers: White Foliage: Downy silver-gray Characteristics: Upright growth, excellent foliage quality
    • Cultivar: ‘Winter Chocolate’ Flowers: Lavender Foliage: Gold-pink to bronze-yellow Characteristics: Provides year-round color, compact plant

    Our Favorite Heaths

    Heaths tolerate more heat than do heathers and are generally good choices for Southern regions, though they dislike extremely humid areas. Most species grow about 1 foot tall by 1 1/2 feet wide.

    • By BH&G Garden Editors

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