Unlike their summer-flowering counterparts, the winter flowering Ericas (Heaths) are not too fussy about the type of soil they are planted in. They will live quite happily in alkaline (lime) soils, whereas the summer flowering types will only thrive in an acid soil.
As can be seen in the picture, they also make good ground covering plants. There are also many fine coloured foliage types to be obtained.
Winter flowering types are mainly cultivars of Erica carnea or Erica x darleyensis. (Erica vagans types will also thrive in alkaline soil, but are summer flowering)
The flower colours range from white through light pink, into deep pinks reds and cerise or purple. Foliage types are also important and can range from rich gold tinged with red , light yellow, silver and the normal range of greens and bronze/greens.
Heathers flowering in the middle of winter can bring much needed colour to the garden at this time of year. They are also important as ground-covering and foliage effect plants.
A winter flowering heather border - mainly Erica carnea types - with a Witch Hazel in background.
Pruning, Planting & Aftercare.
All types should be pruned immediately after flowering. This can be carried out by lightly trimming with a pair of hedge shears. Simply cut back the flowered stems. This ensures compact bushy plants.
Ericas can often be bought as small plants in 7cm square pots. It is worth paying a little extra for larger plants. Allow at least 45cm between plants, even if it does leave a soil gap. They will need the room to spread, and normally start spreading well during their second year after planting. Although they are happy in alkaline soils, they respond well to an annual dressing of moss peat. In the growing season, water freely, and feed with a half-strength solution of liquid feed monthly.
They have few pests or diseases, however, they can be susceptible to various fungal attacks in warm wet weather. The main culprit is Phytophtora - which rots the roots!
Some popular types - (there are many having different names, that look so similar!)
Winter flowering heather respond well to watering during the dry spring and summer months.. they are often thought of as being for dry areas. Whilst this is true of some of the 'moorland' heathers, the winter flowering types are best if kept moist with regular watering.
Erica carnea types are normally propagated from cuttings. Late summer is the easiest way, and cuttings are normally just a couple of inches long - inserted into a peaty compost of vermiculite. Larger cuttings taken earlier, also root well, but are slightly more difficult.
For just a few plants, division of established clumps can be an easy option - best in early spring after flowering.
A very easy way to get extra plants, is to 'earth up' the plant in situ - holding the foliage erect and scooping light compost in and around the crown of the plant, then shaking it down. This will ensure that many of the shoots will form roots at the base - so easy to remove and grow on.
Larger plants bough as container grown specimens can be knocked out of the container and often prised apart into several plants. The rootball can even be cut through in several places with a sturdy, sharp, knife if it is too difficult to separate by hand.
Some Erical carb=nea types that are worth growing.
Erica carnea Springwood White - vigorous and trailing
Erica carnea White Perfection - Pure white, bright green foliage
Erica darleyensis White Glow - compact and full of flowers.
Erica carnea Silberschmelze - Light foliage in spring, deep green and bronze in autumn
Erica x darleyensis Darleydale - Shell pink - darkening with age.
Erica carnea December Red - Pink, turning darker with age.
Erica carnea Eileen Porter - Magenta pink
Erica carnea Springwood Pink - A good spreader, like its white cousin.
Erica carnea Vivelli - Bronze foliage with deep magenta flowers.
Erica x darleyensis Kramers Red (Rote) - Bronze foliage Magenta flowers.
(There are many deep pinks)
Erica carnea Foxhollow - Bronze tipped yellow - turning red tips in winter.
Erica carnea Altadena - Yellow, tipped pink then bronze.
Erica carnea Ann Sparkes - Dark gold, bronze tips.
Erica carnea Golden Starlet - Lime green foliage turns yellow in summer.
Erica carnea Leslie Sparkes - Pink and gold tips in spring.
Erica x darleyensis Ghost Hills - Light green, tipped cream in spring
By David Hughes