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Erica x darleyensis

Ericaceae

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 x darleyensis

This hybrid grows to 1 ft. tall 2 ft. wide, and is covered with pink or white flowers in winter and spring and has medium green foliage. It is represented by several excellent varieties. 

‘Darley Dale’

Bushy grower to 1 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide. Medium green foliage. Shell pink to light rosy purple flowers cover this plant from fall through mid spring, darkening with age. This is a tough, hardy plant that takes both heat and cold surprisingly well. Tolerates neutral soils. In Northern California, it’s the most foolproof heath.

‘Kramer’s Rote’

Spreading vigorous plant that grows to 14 in. high and 2 ft. wide; has dark bronze-green foliage. Magenta flowers appear in winter and early spring.

‘Silberschmelze’

Grows to 1 1/2–2 ft. high, 2 1/2 ft. wide. Medium green foliage. White, fragrant winter and spring flowers. Easy to maintain.

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