Common heather grows relatively slowly and is 10 to 15 years old on average. Particularly long-lasting specimens even celebrate their 40th “birthday”. The botanical generic name of the heather – “Calluna” – is derived from the Greek and means something like “I clean, sweep”. Common heather is naturally widespread across the continent as far as Western Siberia – but particularly in Central and Northern Europe. Germany is also home to some landscapes that shine in the colors of the heather: For example, it adorns the Lüneburg Heath in the north of the Federal Republic. Whether flat land or 2700 meters altitude – the summer heather occurs in all locations. Common heather pollinators are mainly bees and butterflies. The heather is even used as a forage plant for rare butterflies.
Table of Contents
Sowing the bush
To sow the common heather, you need appropriate seeds. The seed needs an open soil without competition; an acidic sand surface is best. Sow the grains between March and April – without covering them. Since common heather is a slow-growing plant species, it takes a few years before it takes on a handsome appearance. If this takes too long for you, we recommend tubs from the nursery: These specimens have been “on the grain” for 4 to 6 years or come from cuttings. A cutting refers to the part of a plant that is put into a growing medium in order to put down its own roots and develop into a new, independent plant. According to this, propagation of cuttings is a type of cloning.
Common heather has extremely deep roots: the root system forms a symbiosis with a fungus that supplies the plant with water and nutrients.
Planting the heather
Common heather is usually planted in groups. In this case, the individual bushes can be relatively close together. A distance of about 10 to 15 centimeters between the individual plants is sufficient. However, this must be strictly observed; otherwise the air cannot circulate well and a fungal attack is more likely.
Thanks to its sunken branches, which especially take root in sandy soils, the small shrub can just as easily be used as slope or embankment planting. In addition, the common heather is recommended as a lovely gap filler in beds and creates a gorgeous picture in combination with heather, juniper, rhododendron, pseudo-berries or ornamental grasses.
Location for the common heather
- moderately nutrient-rich, moist soil
- pH around 4.5
- Heath garden or bog bed
- Sun or light penumbra
The ideal location for the common heather is moderately nutrient-rich, moist soil with a pH of around 4.5. Waterlogging, lime and too much nitrogen are completely incompatible. Planting the common heather in heavy clay soil is not advisable. Optimal natural habitats are, for example, moors, dunes, heaths and open forests. In your own “green area”, it is therefore advisable to plant in a heather garden or a bog bed. These locations ensure that the summer heather flourishes. The plant feels most comfortable in the sun or in very light partial shade. While the shrub grows vigorously in fertile soils, it tends to be compact in poor soils.
Water the plant sensibly
Basically, common heather is a very easy to care for plant. The shrub tolerates short periods of drought largely well. Water as soon as the top layer of soil has dried out. But do not use too much water, because waterlogging does not affect the heather at all. Do not leave any water in the planter or saucer and pour away any spilled liquid immediately. Otherwise it can quickly lead to root rot, which quickly causes your plant to die. Also note that you should not water your plant with hard water – so avoid tap water and use rainwater instead. If the heather in the pot dries out completely, you must immediately immerse the whole pot in a bucket filled with water – until no more air bubbles appear.
Fertilizing the common heather
You don’t necessarily need to fertilize your heather. If it should be necessary, provide the plant with some fertilizer or compost in the spring. In this way, the growth of summer heather can be positively influenced. Make sure, however, to use a fertilizer suitable for the sour-loving small shrub, i.e. bog bed or rhododendron fertilizer.
Trim the plant
- very important maintenance measure
- in the spring
- cut back about hand-high
- with sharp household scissors
After flowering or in early spring at the start of budding, i.e. from around the beginning of March to mid-April, prune your common heather about hand high – this corresponds to half of last year’s new shoot. To do this, take the heather bundles in your hand and cut this tuft below last year’s flowers. It is best to use sharp household scissors. Be sure to cut only in the leafy area; If you include non-leafed areas, this usually leads to parts of the plant drying out. In addition, the common heather sparsely sprout from older branches. After the cut, the “heather heads” ideally show a semicircular shape. You should definitely pursue cutting. If you do not prune, the plant could become bald from below.
Repotting the common heather
As soon as the roots penetrate the drainage holes, it is high time to put the heather in a new container. It is best to do this work outdoors to avoid dirt in the house or apartment.
The diameter of the new pot should be about 2 to 3 centimeters larger than the old one. If you would rather use the old pot again, it is advisable to reduce the root mass along the edge by about a quarter. This creates space for new substrate. Also cut and trim old and diseased roots.
Hibernate in a species-appropriate manner
- bright place without direct sunlight
- Water moderately on frost-free days
Common heather is frost hardy – even those plants that are grown in pots do not need winter protection. During the cold winter months, the heather should be given a light spot without direct sunlight. This will prevent the heather from being damaged by freezing and then rapid thawing: the cell walls in the leaves and roots could tear, which would cause the plant to die.
Common heather also evaporates water from its leaves in winter. You should therefore water your shrub moderately on frost-free days so that the root ball does not dry out.
Opportunities for Propagation
Propagation in your own garden is extremely difficult. It is usually done by sticking 3 to 4 centimeter long shoot tips or semi-hard “whorls” in a well-drained substrate, for example a mixture of white peat and sand. The container is then wrapped in foil. The process occurs in August or September of each year. The rooting time is around 3 to 6 weeks before overwintering in the unheated foil house. From around the beginning of June, the cuttings are pruned with the aim of branching out. 2 to 4 weeks later they are planted in the “young plant bed”.
Diseases and pests of common heather
The heather leaf beetle and its larvae can cause severe damage in wet years. The beetle eats shoot tips and leaves, while the larvae mine in the leaves and eat them up. As a result, the leaves look dry.
The gray mold is a weak parasite. In unfavorable weather or poor cultivation, it occurs as a fungal attack. It particularly concerns the propagation of cuttings.
In winter, common heather is only conditionally resistant to fungal attack. Temperatures of 2 degrees or more favor the infection of younger shoots. Dense stands are particularly easily infested. As a preventive measure, make your heather garden airy and sunny!
Interesting facts about the life of the plant
During its lifespan, the shrub goes through four phases:
- Build-up phase
- Maturity phase
In the pioneering phase, common heather stays low and blooms only a little. Only as soon as its roots have reached the necessary depth to develop moisture and nutrients does the small shrub enter the development phase. It grows, becomes more luxuriant and appears more closed in its abundant flowering. During their wedding, the common heather blooms from late summer to autumn in white or pink to purple-red. For many observers, the nodding single flowers look like little bells. These are numerous in a dense, racemose inflorescence that is 5 to 15 centimeters long. Abundant nectar forms in the flowers. The valuable heather honey is extracted from this. The ripening phase is characterized by the lignification of the heather. It grows in height and becomes lighter again. Finally, in the degeneration phase, the plant dies starting from the center. However, it takes root on prostrate shoots.
The bud bloomers are a specialty of the common heather range. Their buds never fully open; they remain in the bud stage. Because of this, bees and other insects are unable to pollinate the bud bloomers. The advantage is that they do not wither and present perfectly colored buds well into winter.
The common heather is a relatively easy-care plant that rarely needs watering and hardly any fertilization. Just make sure to assign it a species-appropriate light location in a moderately nutrient-rich, moist soil and don’t forget to prune your shrub in spring! In addition, repotting must be carried out in due course. Propagation is not recommended.