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Heathers for all seasons

  16/01/2014 at 13:10 pm

Heathers are one of the best examples of evergreen shrubs, which are totally misunderstood by the general public and gardeners alike. What I am referring to is the amount of people that do not realise you can actually grow heathers in alkaline (lime or chalky) soils. I am amazed by the amount of bad press heathers receive, regarding them been difficult to grow. Providing you pick the correct heather to match your soil type, they are one of the easiest evergreen shrubs to grow. The best way to find out if you have acid (lime or chalk-free) is to carry out a simple soil test. These are inexpensive and available from your local garden centre.

Heathers are classified under three genera that constitute the family heathers: Callunas, Daboecias and Ericas, You are probably wondering do you really need to know what genera your heather belongs to, you do if you want to pick the best heather to suit your soil type! As a general rule Callunas and Daboecias heathers need acid or lime-free soil. Summer flowering ericas also require acid soils. Erica x darleyensis are suitable for all soil types and will even grow in lime or chalky soils.

Spring-flowering Heathers: Erica x darleyensis heathers which flower from February to March, making them perfect for early spring colour. They are as tough as boots and will grow in all soil types and are especially suitable for areas that have lime or chalky soils.

Summer-Flowering Heathers: Daboecia heathers often referred to St Dabeoc’s heath and flower from June to October. They are one of the main culprits for giving heathers bad press, as they must be grown in acid soil and are short lived in lime or chalky soils. Erica cinerea also known as bell heathers must not to be confused with spring and winter flowering Ericas which do not require acid soils.

Autumn-Flowering Heathers: Calluna vulgaris heathers are frequently referred to as bud bloomers because their flowers never open fully, hence their name. Frequently the sprayed heathers that are on sale in the autumn are callunas; the sprayed pots are usually a giveaway. They are always a welcome addition to planted containers as summer blooms fade with autumn frosts. Must be planted in acid soils

Winter-Flowering Heathers: Erica x darleyensis heathers flower from November to April are cared for the same way as spring heathers. They are perfect for winter containers and garden borders. They really are easy to grow.

To do list:

1.Now is the time to give your wisterias a winter pruning. Tip: Prune all the side shoots to promote flower bud formation. During the summer wisteria side shoots are cut back to 20cm (8”) and a second pruning is performed in wimter to further shorten these shoots to 5cm (2”).

2.Plant new trees and hedges now Tip: Many people tend to wait until the weather warms up before they start planting. Now is the best time for planting deciduous trees and shrubs. Great savings can be made by planting bare root trees and hedges now, as they are far cheaper than potted plants. Remember the earlier you plant bare root trees and hedges the faster they will establish in the spring.

3. Prune soft fruit bushes and fruit trees now Tip: Never prune unless you know why you are pruning. The golden rule is you must only prune for a reason, for example removing diseased or crossing branches and dead wood. Autumn fruiting raspberries can now be pruned to soil level.

By Eamonn Wall