To grow Heather, or not to grow Heather?

Apart from the flower colour, heathers have wonderful, flat leaves which change colour throughout the year. They deepen and intensify as the year goes on and sometimes russets and browns take over. Their habit is like any plant used to growing in harsh conditions, squat but defiant and almost dome-shaped.

It is the variety of flower colours that makes us love them so much – and their names are wonderful! From single malt Scotch, such as ‘Glenfiddich’ and ‘Glenlivit’, to the historic ‘Macdonald of Glencoe’ (for which my family on my mother’s side comes from) and the fun and fanciful ‘Milky Way’ and ‘Velvet Fascination’.

In Canada I have only been able to source two nurseries that offer home owners and collectors source material:

The Heather Farm / Classic Miniature Roses from the Fraser Valley in British Columbia. They have been growing heathers for over 30 years and have approximately 40 cultivars available. which is run by Jill Covill an OAC University of Guelph graduate out of Upper Clements, Nova Scotia.

So hopefully over the course of the next few years I can add to my personal collection, and other’s.

How will your garden grow?

Heathers grow well in peat. We are talking, rhododendron and azalea maintenance. And not for the fair-weather gardener. Indeed their slowly decaying stems make a good portion of peat. Peat and water make a very acidic solution, which is ideal for these plants. If you want to grow them, you need to replicate this and use special compost – ericaceous compost. You can get it without peat these days, so we don’t wreck whatever is left of this special habitat for the sake of our gardens.

Unlike the UK, there is not a moratorium on using peat a our horticultural industry tries to harvest as sustainably as possible and works at reclaiming boreal forest farmers fields to create new bogs. Now this is not to say that this happens everywhere – so let’s contrast two practices:.


Music says it all, but I digress this post is not about horticultural sustainability, or lack there of but growing heathers.

The United Nations understands the importance of soil and has named 2015 the International Year of Soils


Heathers require good drainage.

1 part sphagnum moss / peat moss

1 part sheep manure

1 part potting soil (we use PRO-MIX BX Mycorrhizae)

1 part perlite

Adding a wee bit of grit to the compost will allow for this drainage.

My formula uses pure peat , and PRO-MIX BX which includes peat and vermiculite. These together ensure a good formulation for growing a medium that has a well balanced environment for heathers.  Peat has an amazing water retention value, and adding in perlite (which is a volcanic mineral) just ensures that the soil will not dry out.

Perlite rock boulders with Fireweed in foreground.

Heathers make great path liners, or rockery plants, and will cling on to life in very little compost. I give them a feed in the spring but apart from a little water they need little care, save pruning. Remove older stems to bring out new ones, so your heather doesn’t become thin and woody. This way the plant is constantly renewed.

Take cuttings

These take easily, simply take one of your prunings and remove the lower (last year’s) leaves then place the shoot into some ericaceous compost. Of ten cuttings, expect five or six to take, and you have new plants for next year!

How much?

They do not grow well from seed for most gardeners, so we are building a collection of heathers for you to purchase next year. A 4″ pot, depending on cultivar, will cost approximately $12 for these gorgeous little beauties.

That said, after about a year growing, you can take cuttings and grow your own stock.


One thought on “To grow Heather, or not to grow Heather?

  1. Pingback: To grow Heather, or not to grow Heather? | Heath, Heather & Herb Blog | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

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