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Plant Profile: Winter Heather (Erica carnea)

Winter heather is a low growing compact evergreen shrub that gets up to 12” tall and up to 24” wide so makes a very good ground cover. It grows slowly and may assume and irregular shape but is easily pruned. Unlike most heathers, Erica carnea will tolerate neutral or slightly alkaline soil, so can be grown where other heathers may fail. The red to pink flowers that appear during winter into spring brighten up even the most dreary landscape and are especially attractive in a rock garden or in the front of a border where they can be enjoyed close up. Numerous cultivars are available, providing a choice of white and various shades of pink so an interesting mosaic of color can be achieved using just this one species of heather. The famous British gardener Christopher Lloyd recommends this heather for use in a cottage garden.

Type: Evergreen shrub

Bloom: Small, pink, tubular flowers are borne on one sided racemes in late winter into early spring.

Foliage: Bright green, .2-.3” needle-like leaves with margins turned under borne in whorls of four.

Size: 12” H x 24” W

Light: Full sun to part shade.

Soil: Organically rich, low in fertility, evenly moist, well-drained, acid (tolerates neutral and slight alkalinity).

Fertilizer: Avoid fertilizer; plants need soil low in fertility for best growth

Hardiness: Zones 5-7

Care: Cut back immediately after flowering if necessary to maintain size of tidiness.

Pests and Diseases: None of significance but rot can occur if soil is poorly drained; susceptible to mildew, rust and wilt.

Propagation: Seed, cuttings

Companion plants: Other heathers, dwarf conifers.

Outstanding Selections: N>B. the species is rarely grown but these cultivars are usually available:

    ‘Springwood Pink’ – (light pink; 8″ tall)
    ‘Springwood White’ – ( white, 8″ tall;)
    ‘King George’ (crimson, 12” tall)

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