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Erica vagans ‘Mrs. D. F. Maxwell’

Ericaceae
Ground covers, Shrubs, Flowers

ERICA

Heaths are grown for small, needlelike leaves and abundant, usually small flowers that may be bell-shaped, urn-shaped, or tubular. By choosing varieties of both heaths and their close relative heather (Calluna) carefully, you can have color year-round.

The hardiest heaths, native to northern and western Europe, are widely used as shrubs or groundcover plants in cool-summer, humid regions of California and the Pacific Northwest. Fanciers sometimes plant the shortest types in masses for a multicolored Persian-carpet effect. Good on slopes.

South African species are tender to frost and about as hardy as fuchsias; where temperatures dip below 28°F/–2°C, it is safest to grow them in containers and provide shelter.

A third group of heaths, native to the Mediterranean and southern Europe, is intermediate in hardiness.

Taller heaths can be used as screens. All attract bees.

Heaths demand excellent drainage, and most need acid soil. Sandy soil amended with organic matter such as peat moss and compost is ideal; heavy clay is usually fatal. Feeding with an annual sifting of compost is usually sufficient, but if plants lose color, feed lightly with acid plant food in early spring. When it comes to watering, be careful and consistent. Heaths will not tolerate standing water or absolute dryness. To keep plants looking neat, shear or cut off faded flower spikes. Don’t cut back into leafless wood; new growth may not resprout.

Erica vagans

Bushy and open, this heath grows to 2–3 ft. high and wide and has bright green foliage. Summer flowers come in white, shell pink, or rose. Robust and hardy.

‘Mrs. D. F. Maxwell’

This is a bushy, rounded subshrub that grows to 1 1/2 ft. high and wide. Foliage is dark green, and gives rise to cherry pink or red flowers in summer and early fall. Outstanding for color and heavy bloom; widely grown.

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