Heather Gardening

By careful planning, a new heather garden can give a colourful display in 3 to 4 years, which will require little maintenance and will last 15 to 25 years. Heathers are best planted in beds totally devoted to themselves, except for the addition of a few conifers or small evergreen shrubs to provide contrast in height and form.

Heather bedA heather bed should be positioned in full sun, away from deciduous trees, and if possible, sited so that the main view is from the south, as foliage heathers always colour better on their southern side.

On heavy clay soils, break up any panned subsoils and incorporate generous amounts of well soaked organic soil conditioner. Sand, pea grit, or perlite can also be added to improve soil texture but avoid the use of sedge peat or spent mushroom compost as these can be too alkaline.


Estimate the planting area in square metres, deducting one square metre for each conifer or shrub included. Then multiply by five to obtain the number of heathers required.
Use no more than one conifer or shrub per five square metres and use those attaining a height of one to three metres in ten years. Plan to use about ten different heather varieties but reduce this number if necessary to ensure that the minimum number of plants of a particular cultivar is three.

Choice of species for various soil types

Some species of heather require acid soil conditions to thrive, whereas others will grow in most soils.

The unique colour coded Kingfisher Nursery labels and posters will help identify the best varieties for the type of soil available.

The degree of alkalinity or acidity of your soil is measured on a scale of 0 to 14 known as the pH scale. Very acidic soil has a pH scale of 3.5, very alkaline soil has a pH just over 8. Ericaceous plants require significant quantities of iron, which in soils with a pH above 6.5 is rendered virtually insoluble and hence iron deficiency sets in, causing the plant to yellow and then die.

If you do not know your soil pH, purchase a soil testing kit, available at all good Garden Centres.

For soils with a pH greater than 6.5, the best advice is to restrict your choice to Erica carnea, Erica x darleyensis, Erica erigena, Erica manipuliflora, Erica vagans and any of the tree heaths with the exception of Erica arborea.

Plant heathers deeply with the lower foliage resting on the soil surface.

Keep the bed free of weeds, a bark mulch will assist this task. Heathers benefit from an annual pruning and the following schedule may be of assistance.
For more information on heather gardening we suggest The Heather Society website