Heather can help brighten a winter garden

Winter flowering heathers are one of the best sources of winter colour and they bloom in sequence, says Brian Minter.

Heather can help brighten a winter garden.

Heather can help brighten a winter garden.

The loss of all our lovely fall foliage often makes November seem far more bleak than other winter months.  Winter flowering heathers are one of the best sources of winter colour and they bloom in sequence. The fresh appearance of new heather buds can really transform a dull winter garden into an attractive show place, and with a little careful planning, you can stretch that colour from November until May of the following year.  There are, however, a few secrets to planting and displaying these colourful winter jewels.

One of the finest features of winter heathers is their ability to grow in areas where other plants have some difficulty.  They perform best in well drained soil. Over the years, I have had the most success by preparing the planting hole with a 50 percent mixture of fine fir or hemlock bark mulch.  Heathers will not tolerate heavy clay soils or wet feet, but I’m surprised at how much shade they’ll accept.  Although they are sun loving plants, heathers bloom just as profusely, perhaps a little bit taller, in shady locations. One very important feature to remember is the fact that heathers have hundreds of finely textured roots.    Unless you moisten the rootball thoroughly and ruffle up the root system, your heather will probably get into trouble fairly quickly.  A rootbound plant has difficulty pushing its roots out into new soil unless the outer mat of solid roots has been carefully ruffled and loosened.

Winter heathers are very hardy, but we have always recommended planting them out of the coldest winter winds.  Throw a bit of the new ‘N-Sulate’ fabric over your plants if we get a bitter cold spell without any protective snow covering to keep those precious blossoms looking fresh.

Heathers can be used in many ways.  They make ideal ground covers when planted at 24 inch centres.  They’re a good, compact summer cover that becomes a sea of colour when you need it most in the winter.  They make ideal border plants and just sensational small hedges.  I love to use them in containers, especially in winter colour gardens.  At this time of year, heathers would certainly liven up your outdoor planters.  No rock garden would be complete without a grouping of heather, and blocks of white heather planted among your evergreen beds would create quite a pleasing effect.  However, the most impressive way to use heathers is to plant them as groupings in a bed by themselves.  You may wish to mix in some summer blooming varieties as well.  If you can blend a few colourful dwarf conifers, like ‘Blue Star’ juniper, orange toned ‘Rheingold’ cedars and ‘Sungold’ thread cypress in with the heathers, you have the beginnings of a well textured planting.  Add a few carefully chosen stones and some early flowering shrubs, like viburnum ‘Pink Dawn’, corylopsis and Chinese witch hazel, and you will have created a beautiful winter flowering floral bed around your home.  A few spring blooming bulbs and summer evergreen perennials, blended into the bed, will make an outstanding display during the spring and summer months as well.

Most heather flowers come in shades of white, pink and reds, but you can add a great deal of contrast by using some of the new golden foliage varieties like ‘Golden Starlet’ (white flowers), ‘Mary Helen’ (pink flowers) and ‘Eva Gold’ (dark pink flowers).  Heathers have always been one of my favourite plants, and I sincerely hope you plant some newer varieties now to create more vibrant colour in your winter garden.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia’s (CFSEU-BC) Uniform Gang Enforcement Team (UGET) has arrested a man who was on the run for nearly a decade. (File photo)
9-year search for international drug trafficking suspect ends with arrest at YVR

Khamla Wong, charged in 2012, taken into custody Feb. 24 by BC-CFSEU

The Great Bear Snowshed on the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) in British Columbia. Truck driver Roy McCormack testified in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Feb. 25, 2021 that his brakes started smoking in about this location, and soon after he lost all braking, which led to a multi-vehicle crash further down the road on Aug. 5, 2016. (GoogleMaps)
Truck driver charged with criminal negligence in Coquihalla crash is accused of ignoring smoking brakes

Just before crashing the smoking truck was seen entering Zopkios brake check and leaving shortly after

Shaelene Keeler Bell. (Facebook)
Candlelight vigil Saturday for missing Chilliwack mother

Virtual event to ‘spread some light’ for 23-year-old Shaelene Bell of Chilliwack

Becky Miller, and her daughters Aurora, 5, and Alice, 2, getting the truck ready to help the St. Paul’s Dump Runners fundraiser Feb. 27, 28, March 1 and 2. (Becky Miller)
St. Paul’s Dump Runners of Chilliwack ready to pick up odds and ends for a cause

For a donation to the Nicaragua Feed the Children Fund volunteers haul stuff to the dump

(File Photo)
Crash causes delays on Coquihalla southbound, travel advisory issued

A vehicle incident between Merrit and Hope has caused major delays heading south

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Carolyn Howe, a kindergarten teacher and vice president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, says educators are feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of pressure that comes with it. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Stress leave, tears and insomnia: Island teachers feel the strain of COVID-19

Teachers still adjusting to mask and cleaning rules, pressures from outside and within

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Head of internal medicine at Chilliwack General Hospital Dr. Shari Sajjadi talks about the positive feedback hospital staff have received over this last year in the latest YouTube video about COVID-19 created in partnership with the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice and the Chilliwack Economic Recovery Network. (YouTube)
VIDEO: Dr. Shari Sajjadi says a simple ‘thank you’ helps keep up spirits of healthcare workers

‘We are so thankful for the positive feedback we are getting from our patients’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Most Read