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Calluna vulgaris (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)
Calluna vulgaris (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)

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Zone
Zones 1A, 2-6, 15-17, 34, 36-41
Full Sun
Full
Regular Water
Moderate

Calluna vulgaris

Scotch Heather
Ericaceae
Evergreen, Shrubs

Scotch heather carpets the moors of Britain with finely textured foliage and pink summer flowers, and dots Europe clear to Asia Minor. It often keeps company with similar heaths (Erica) in the wild, as it does in Western gardens.

Horticultural varieties range from dwarf groundcovers only a couple of inches high to kinds reaching 3 ft. tall. Masses of tiny, urn-shaped flowers (actually colored sepals) come in white, shades of pink, lavender, and purple. Most kinds flower in mid- to late summer, but a few bloom into late fall. All are good for cutting. Bud-blooming heathers produce flowers that don’t open; the buds supply the color, which lasts much longer than buds that open. On all heathers, crowded, tiny, scalelike leaves come in paler and deeper greens, chartreuse, yellow, gray, or russet. As colors change or intensify in winter, they can deliver as much visual impact (especially when they contrast with each other) as the flowers they produce in summer.

Nurseries commonly carry several varieties of heather, while specialists stock scores of them.

Heathers thrive in sandy, slightly acid, fast-draining soil. In the Northwest, they require little or no fertilizing. Where watering must be frequent, light feeding with acid plant food—once in late winter, again in early summer—will encourage good growth and bloom. To prune, shear off faded flowers and tip growth immediately after bloom; delay pruning on fall-flowering types until late winter.

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