Stunning summer-blooming heathers

Garden column by Brian Minter

It’s time to plant heather now

It’s time to plant heather now

It must be the Irish in me that makes me think summer-blooming heathers are some of our most beautiful summer garden plants.

Their colours are so rich and vibrant that, massed together, they are simply stunning.

Heathers are drought-tolerant, and during hot, stressful days, they add fresh new life and colour to any garden.

Over the years, I have found that the odd winter is severe enough to be tough on summer-blooming callunas. Part of the winter loss problem is due to cold winds and little snow protection.

This problem can be alleviated by planting your heathers in a sheltered location or by using insulating cloth (looks a lot like Remay) as a quick and easy protective covering.

But in fact, far more heathers are lost due to improper planting and care than to frost.

If you’re like me and are determined to grow and enjoy these beautiful plants, then here’s the game plan.

Drainage is the key. Heathers do not like wet feet, so they must be in a location that has porous soil. A one third each mixture of peat moss, bark mulch and sand seems to be ideal.

Always make certain the plants are moist before planting by giving them a 30-second soaking in a pail of warm water.

Telltale bubbles will rise out of the rootball if the plant was too dry.

Before planting, be sure you gently massage the rootball of each plant to loosen all the root hairs, freeing them to pick up moisture.

Keep summer heathers moist at all times, especially during the warm days of summer.

Plant your summer heather in a sunny area, well protected from any severe winter winds.  Banks with a southern exposure are ideal, and raised beds are always preferable because of their warmer soil temperatures and better drainage.

It is also surprising how much shade callunas will tolerate, although they tend to become a little more leggy, which can be handled by proper pruning.

A wide selection of summer-blooming heathers that suit all kinds of landscape situations are available today. Low, compact varieties, such as the new double white ‘Kinlochcruel’, the double pink ‘County Wicklow’, the crimson red ‘Darkness’ and ‘Velvet Knight’, are gorgeous as ground covers. Don’t forget, they also make terrific cut and dried flowers for arrangements.

Nothing quite matches a bouquet of fresh cut heather in a glass vase. The old variety, ‘H.E. Beale’, is still one of the most known for cuts, but ‘Jana’ is a new double red that is also ideal. Other varieties, like the silver foliaged ‘Silver Knight’ and ‘Velvet Fascination’ are great too.  Today, there is a wide selection of summer flowering varieties that blend beautifully with annuals, perennials and ornamental grasses.

I like planting heathers in groupings of three or five and combining them with winter-flowering varieties for a green contrast now and gorgeous colour all winter long.  A few well chosen dwarf conifers, especially the blue and gold varieties, blend in nicely too.

If you haven’t seen just how beautiful summer-blooming heathers can be, visit your favourite garden shop this week. The colour range is superb. For a bit of contrast, pay close attention to the orange and gold foliage varieties. It’s time to plant them now and with the proper planting care and a little winter protection, they will add a wonderful touch of colour to your summer garden for years to come.

Brian Minter owns and operates Minter Gardens just outside of Chilliwack.