A heather garden brings joy all year round. Discover how to create this low-maintenance garden at home.
Heathlands are noted for their expansive and minimalist qualities, evoking feelings of tranquillity and solitude. The predominant vegetation is usually plants from the heather family (Ericaceae). The heather family includes the many species of Erica and Calluna, such as Calluna vulgaris, commonly known as ling. These heather plants form the basis of a heather garden and can be complemented with many lovely companion plants, making it possible to create your own heather garden based on your personal taste.
Heathlands have developed in nature through the permanent grazing of areas, leading to the robust heath plants becoming well established. Heathlands can be found from northern Germany to Scandinavia and here in the UK too, of course, particularly in Scotland. Heather plants prefer acidic soils. With a few key considerations, you too can grow a heather garden at home, creating a tranquil place that is also popular with birds. As long as the location is suitable and you opt for the right plants, a heather garden is easy to care for and can be enjoyed all year round. The important thing is to choose a sunny and open spot where the heather plants can thrive.
Heather companion plants
The plants for a heather garden should be chosen carefully. One of the most important factors is to choose plants with different flowering periods to ensure there are flowers throughout the whole year. Some other heather garden ideas are to break up the carpets of heathers with other plants to keep things interesting and to create both horizontal and vertical lines to accentuate the feeling of tranquillity and seclusion. The vertical lines of upright growing shrubs, bushes and small trees complement the flat heath terrain.
The following dwarf conifers like the same poor and acidic soils as heather plants, making them great heather companion plants:
- Common juniper (Juniperus communis)
- Alberta spruce (Picea glauca var. albertiana ‘Conica’)
- Dwarf Siberian pine (Pinus pumila)
Small deciduous trees are also perfect heather companion plants:
The following shrubs also make lovely heather companion plants and produce attractive flowers:
- Broom (Genista)
- Blueberry (Vaccinium)
- Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)
- Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)
- Rhododendron (Rhododendron)
Rhododendrons in particular bear splendid flowers. While the cranberry and lingonberry plants produce edible fruit, it should be noted that Pieris, broom and most rhododendron species are poisonous.
You can also add colour accents by planting flowering plants. The following are particularly suitable for heather gardens:
- Columbine or Granny’s bonnets (Aquilegia)
- Maiden pink (Dianthus deltoides)
- Rugosa roses (Rosa rugosa)
- Cat’s ears (Antennaria)
- Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
These bulbs can provide spring flowers:
- Crocus (Crocus)
- Snowdrops (Galanthus)
- Wild tulip (Tulipa sylvestris)
Suitable ornamental grasses include:
- Chinese silver grass or elephant grass (Miscanthus)
- Indian grass (Molinia)
- Sedge (Cyperaceae)
- Quaking grass (Briza)
Tips for creating a heather garden
Heather gardens are very extensive in the wild. They also come into their own in man-made gardens if you have a lot of space. Whilst spacious areas upwards of 100m² are particularly good, heather gardens are also possible in smaller areas. It is also possible to grow heather plants in pots. If you have plenty of space, you can even integrate paths or a pond into the landscape of the heather garden to emphasise the horizontal lines. Erratic blocks make the overall picture even more interesting, and hills create an effect of depth. If the latter are not naturally present, you can create them with mounds of earth.
The robust varieties typical of heather gardens feel most at home in open, unprotected areas with plenty of sunlight and wind. Consequently, it is important that the area does not have shade-providing trees. In addition, the ericaceous plants desperately need slightly acidic to acidic as well as loose, sandy and humus-rich soils. If the subsoil is neutral or only slightly alkaline, you can amend it by replacing the top 40cm of the subsoil with a suitable acidic soil or working an ericaceous soil into the current soil.
If, on the other hand, the soil is very alkaline, simply adding acidic soil will not do. This is because the soil’s pH will inevitably balance out again within a few years, causing the heather plants to suffer. To prevent this, you can insert a liner between the acidic compost and the alkaline topsoil. However, doing this will limit you to planting only shallow-rooted plants. Alternatively, you can lower the pH value in a bed that is too calcareous sufficiently with a few years of preparation. To do this, keep adding acidic compost or bark mulch to the soil or replacing the soil. As heather plants are not well-suited to alkaline soils, you might want to consider whether the costly artificial creation of a heather garden is worth it.
If you decide it is worth it, then a peat-reduced ericaceous soil such as our Plantura Organic Ericaceous Compost is ideal for this purpose. It meets the requirements of the acid-loving plants perfectly but does not contain unnecessarily large amounts of peat, a valuable raw material.
- Perfect for acid-loving plants such as hydrangeas, rhododendrons, blueberry bushes, azaleas & more
- Ensures all-round healthy plants with lush blooms and aromatic berries
- Peat-reduced & organic soil: CO2-saving composition
Creating a heather garden should ideally be done in autumn, from September to October, so that the plants can take root before the first frost. First, remove all unwanted weeds. Think carefully about how the garden should look later on in order to achieve a harmonious landscape. Pay attention to the expected size of the plants so that no plants unintentionally cover their neighbours. As a rule, space smaller plants 20 to 50cm apart and leave considerably more space between shrubs and trees, depending on their size.
Tip: to create a beautiful heather garden, it can be helpful to make a plan before planting. Place out all the individual plants in their chosen locations before planting to make sure you like the look of the design.
Both Darley Dale heath (Erica x darleyensis) and winter heath (Erica carnea) flower in winter until April and are well-suited as ground covers. On the other hand, Cornish heath (Erica vagans), Irish heath (Daboecia cantabrica), bell heather (Erica cinera) and bell heath (Erica tetralix) flower from summer into autumn. Bell heath is not completely hardy and requires a thick layer of mulch to survive winter. Cornish heath stands out with the beautiful colouring of its foliage.
Once you are happy with the design of your heather garden, you can start planting. First, dig a planting hole of a suitable size. Carefully loosen the root ball with your hands to allow the roots to grow well. Then, place the plant in the hole and water it well. Backfill the soil into any gaps and place bark chippings around the plants and all over the bed to keep unwanted weeds at bay. Once the heath carpets completely close, weeds will not stand a chance. Bark mulch is also acidic, so it will help to lower or stabilise the pH value as it decomposes.
Then come spring, cut back the perennial heather plants vigorously and fertilise them. This is done once a year in spring so that they develop well. For shrubs, a maintenance cut is usually sufficient. A fertiliser specially designed for acid-loving plants, such as our Plantura Hydrangea Food, is a great choice for feeding heather plants. Our hydrangea food is long lasting, supplying your ericaceous plants with nutrients for 3 months.
- For beautiful hydrangeas with lush blooms in pots & flower beds
- Prevents common deficiency symptoms & supports healthy plant growth
- Long-lasting fertiliser that is free from animal products - child & pet friendly
Are you unsure whether heathers will thrive in your garden? Then a bed with perennials could be a suitable alternative.