Calluna vulgaris: planting, care & overwintering


It was through my love of plants that I came to study plant biotechnology. In everyday life, I deal with plants in all of my surroundings - be it in the garden, in my home or for my master thesis. They are a constant source of joy for me!

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The heather blanketed moorlands of Britain are an iconic sight when they bloom in late summer. Find out how to plant and care for Calluna vulgaris in your garden here.

Pink flowering heather plants
Heather blooms across the moorlands of Britain in late summer [Photo: svf74/]

Calluna vulgaris is easy to care for and extremely popular with gardeners and beneficial insects alike. This very hardy heather plant goes by many names, such as ling, calluna, calluna heather, Scots heather or simply common heather. It is a low-growing plant that is also well suited as a ground cover. This article explains everything about common heather plants, including planting, care and overwintering.

Common heather: flowering time and characteristics

The following table provides a brief overview of the perennial heather flower.

OriginNorthern and Central Europe
Growth HabitEvergreen dwarf shrub, upright habit
Growth HeightBetween 30 and 50cm
Flowering TimeJuly to November, depending on variety
Flower ColourMostly pink to light violet but there are also white varieties
Leaf ShapeNarrow needle-shaped leaves, scale-like along the shoot
Close up of small flowers and even smaller leaves on heather stalk
Compared to heather’s small flowers, the leaves are even tinier [Photo: Eltis Pro/]

The terms ling, heather, bud blooming heather and winter heath are often used synonymously. But strictly speaking, this is not quite correct:

  • What is the difference between ling and bud blooming heather? Bud blooming heathers are varieties of ling that never open their flowers completely but instead only let the colourful petals peek out. This ensures that the flowers are not pollinated and, therefore, last longer. The ‘Garden Girls Series’ heathers are a good example of bud blooming heathers. A series refers to the breeder’s brand name rather than a variety.
  • The difference between winter heath and ling is winter heath (Erica carnea) and ling belong to different heather genera, but both are part of the heather family (Ericaceae). Read our article on winter heath to find out more.

Is heather bee friendly?

Calluna is very bee-friendly and the nectar in the flowers is easily accessible. Insects such as bees and bumblebees as well as butterflies are often found feeding on the valuable food source of heather flowers. Only the bud blooming heathers described above and double flowered varieties of Calluna vulgaris, such as ‘Annabel’, are not suitable for bee flower meadows.

Two butterflies feeding on heather flowers
Butterflies also love to feed on the nutritious nectar of heather flowers [Photo: Igor Podgorny/]

The most beautiful heather varieties

You can find many different types of heather in garden centres. Here are some of the best varieties of calluna:

  • Calluna vulgaris ‘Carmen’: the double crimson flowers bloom in summer and early autumn on long shoots full of flowers. The dark green leaves provide a beautiful contrast. They can grow to a height of between 30 and 40cm.
  • Calluna vulgaris ‘Darkness’: this variety has deep purplish-pink flowers on dense flower stems that bloom from July to October. ‘Darkness’ is relatively small, growing 30 to 40cm tall. The leaves on the dense shoots are light green.
  • Calluna vulgaris ‘Firefly’: the leaves of this variety are pretty special. First appearing red-brown in autumn, they turn bright orange-red in winter. The flowers are dark pink and bloom from August to September. It reaches a maximum height of 45 to 50cm
Ground cover of firefly heather with orange leaves
The leaves of the ‘Firefly’ variety make a beautiful copper-coloured ground cover [Photo: Peter Turner Photography/]
  • Calluna vulgaris ‘Jana’: the Scots heather ‘Jana’ has compact growth and flowers late in the season. The dark pink to red double flowers appear from September to November. This type of heather has light green leaves and grows between 20 and 30cm tall.
  • Calluna vulgaris ‘Kinlochruel’: this heather variety has bright green foliage and its double white flowers bloom between August and October. At 25cm, it is also a very low-growing and compact variety.
  • Calluna Vulgaris ‘Silver Knight’: this widely grown heather produces grey-silver foliage that develops a purple tinge in winter. Lavender-purple flowers develop from August until September. It can grow to a height of around 40cm.

Planting Calluna vulgaris: when, where and how

The best time to plant heather in the UK is in spring, as this will give it time to establish before a potentially cold winter. Ideally, choose a sunny to slightly semi-shady area of your garden. Heather prefers sandy but humus-rich soil, as good water drainage is important for the plant; it does not tolerate waterlogging and dense soil well. On top of this, the soil needs to be acidic. If you have a rather loamy soil, you can alter it to create ideal heather growing conditions. Sand provides a looser structure to the soil. Acidic soil, such as our peat-reduced Plantura Organic Ericaceous Compost, loosens the soil and simultaneously ensures the right pH value for growing conditions best suited for your heather plants. Peat is indeed an ideal basis for many bog plants as it provides a lower pH value and protects against drying out; however, as it is also a valuable finite resource, it is best to opt for a more sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative, such as a peat-reduced compost.

Organic Ericaceous Compost, 40L
Organic Ericaceous Compost, 40L
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  • 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

Calluna vulgaris makes an excellent ground cover when planted with a spacing of around 20cm. Especially when planted in groups, heather plants will grow well and form a beautiful carpet of flowers. We do not really recommend planting heather individually as it can no longer act as a ground cover and you lose this beautiful effect. They are also much more sensitive to frost when planted individually.

Top Tip: before planting, it is important to loosen the root ball of the heather plant with your hands to allow the roots to grow into the new soil. Keep the soil moderately dry to moist and avoid waterlogging at all costs.

Heather planted in pot with other plants
Even in a container, heather needs plenty of space to flourish [Photo: Lapa Smile/]

Planting heather in pots: heather can also be grown on terraces, patios and balconies. A sunny spot is ideal for this. Mix two thirds of acidic soil with about a third crushed expanded clay or some perlite so that there is sufficient drainage. If the soil in the pot is completely dry, a quick water bath can be helpful. To do this, simply submerge the pot into water until no air bubbles rise. When planting heather in pots, it is important to consider how many plants you want to have beforehand. Here, too, it is essential to maintain a spacing of 20cm so that you can continue to enjoy your heather plants year after year. Depending on the number of plants, choose a sufficiently large planter to ensure the heather has plenty of space for its roots. Keep the compost of heathers in pots moderately moist.

White and pink flowering heather varieties growing in a balcony box
Different coloured types of heather add some variety [Photo: Sleepyhobbit/]

Calluna vulgaris care

Calluna vulgaris is very hardy and easy to care for. To ensure healthy and beautiful growth, there are a few little things to bear in mind when caring for it.

Watering and fertilising

Water Calluna vulgaris regularly in the first 18 months after planting. Lime-free rainwater is particularly suitable for this. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. After this, ling is generally drought tolerant and will not need regular watering. However, during prolonged dry spells you may need to provide extra moisture, especially when growing heather in pots.

Heather grown in fertile soil will generally not require feeding. However, it is a good idea to mulch your calluna plants with some well-rotted leaf mould annually. For heather in pots, we recommend feeding them with an ericaceous fertiliser annually in March or April. You can use our Plantura Hydrangea Food for this, which is specially formulated for acid-loving plants. For healthy growth, heather in pots require extra nitrogen and potassium. With its specialised nutrient balance, our plant food meets these requirements. Simply, work in some of our long-lasting hydrangea food around the heather plants in spring and watch them thrive and bloom come late summer and autumn.

Hydrangea Food, 1.5kg
Hydrangea Food, 1.5kg
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  • 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

Pruning heather

Pruning heather is essential to maintain healthy growth and abundant flowering. Do this in spring, around March or April, when the weather is cloudy. Cut back last year’s new shoots by about half. The plants are not particularly sensitive to pruning and, for large areas, it can also be done with hedge shears or a brush cutter.

Heather in winter

Generally speaking, calluna heather is a hardy plant and has a hardiness rating of H7, meaning it can withstand even the coldest of winters (<-20 °C). However, you should mulch your heather plants before their first winter, as they are not yet fully established. After the first year, frosty temperatures will no longer harm Calluna vulgaris.

Pink heather flowers covered in snow
Neither frost nor snow can harm Calluna vulgaris [Photo: Faraonvideo/]

Heather propagation

The easiest way of propagating heather is through the technique of layering. To do this, simply press the shoot (still attached to the parent plant) into the ground in autumn, cover it with a little soil and weigh it down to keep it under the soil. With sufficient moisture and contact with the soil, roots will form and by next autumn, or even as early as next spring, a new independent plant will have developed. Once well rooted, cut this off the main plant and transplant to its new spot in your garden.

Transplanting newly propagated heather plant
Heather is easy to propagate with a little patience [Photo: aRTI01/]


Heather plants were used in medicine as early as the 19th century. Respiratory tract and urinary tract diseases alike were treated with an infusion made from heather. Skin irritations of all kinds could also be alleviated with heather. Today, it is mainly used for the production of heather honey.

Honeybee feeding on purple heather flowers
When bees collect nectar from heather flowers, it makes delicious heather honey [Photo: Chamois huntress/]

Is Calluna vulgaris poisonous?

Neither the flowers nor the leaves of heather are poisonous to cats, dogs or humans. So, there is no need to worry about planting calluna in your garden or in pots on the balcony.

Are you interested in autumn flowers? Read our article on the most beautiful autumn flowers to discover more.