Erica (Heather family)

Erica x darleyensis

A large genus of useful evergreen perennials. Ericas vary in growth habit, from low spreading and ground-cover to taller more bushy plants. A wide range of flower colours are available, from white through to all shades of pink and red to mauve. With careful selection heathers can be used to provide long-lasting colour in the garden, from spring to late winter.

General height and spread 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm), depending on variety, soil and growing conditions.

Uses in the garden include, sunny border plants (if soil is suitable), evergreen ground cover, heather garden or a large rock garden.

Planting and Growing Erica

Plant in a sunny position in well-drained acidic soil. Most heathers prefer acid soils but several varieties, including E. carnea, E. darleyensis, E. medditerranea and E. terminalis, will tolerate alkaline conditions.

Most varieties are fully hardy with a few exceptions, such as Erica gracilis and Erica x hyemalis (Cape heaths). Treat these as winter-flowering heathers for the greenhouse. Both require lime-free soil and regular watering. Dead head regularly and stand outside in summer.

Taking Care of Heathers

Trim back to base of flowering spikes as soon as the flowers have faded to rejuvenate plants. Top-dress with ericaceous compost. Water well in first season then water as necessary particularly in dry weather. Do not let soil dry out in summer.

Pruning Heather

Cut back after flowering by trimming off all flowering spikes.

Propagating Heather

Propagate by layering in autumn (allowing 12 months to root fully) or by taking short side-shoot cuttings in mid to late summer and root them in well drained soil in a cold frame. Do not remove the lower leaves but simply insert to about half their depth in free draining ericaceous compost.

Popular Varieties of Erica Grown in the UK

The following varieties of Erica are very popular in English gardens:

erica herbacea

Erica carnea (herbacea)

erica x darleyensis

Erica x darleyensis

calluna vulgaris

Calluna vulgaris 'Dark Beauty'


Erica arhorea alpina (tree heath)

Tall shrubby form with needle-like leaves flowers spring. Honey scented grey-white flowers early in spring. Hardy evergreen. Height: up to 6ft (2m) Spread: 3ft (1m). Requires a lime-free, moist but well-drained soil.

Erica carnea (herbacea)

Spring flowering variety with a mainly prostrate habit that makes for excellent evergreen ground cover. Most forms are hardy in the UK. Foliage is usually light green but some varieties have bronze or golden yellow leaves. Flowers appear from late autumn through to late spring, in a wide range of shades, from deep purple to red, pink and white. Best in full sun but will tolerate semi-shade. Most forms of erica carnea will tolerate lime and neutral soils.

General height and spread: up to 1 ft (30cm) by 2ft (60cm).

Erica carnea 'Aurea' : Lime green to pale yellow foliage. Pink flowers from mid-winter to spring.

Erica carnea 'Foxglove' : Yellow-green foliage. White/pink flowers late winter to early spring.

Erica carnea 'King George' : Very early winter flowering. Dark pink blooms. Height and spread: 10in (25cm)

Erica carnea 'Loughrigg' : Dark green foliage that turns bronze. Pink-purple flowers

Erica carnea 'Sunshine Rambler' : Bright yellow foliage. Pink flowers from winter to early spring.

Erica carnea 'Springwood White' (Winter heath) : Spreading habit. Prolific white flowers midwinter.

Erica carnea 'Vivellii' : Compact form with bronze-red foliage and deep carmine flowers in winter.
Height: 6in (15cm) Spread: 14in (35cm)

Erica ciliaris (Dorset heath)

Pale evergreen green foliage. Flowers vary in colour from white through to pink and red (July to September).
Height: 6-12 in (15 to 30cm).

Erica cinerea (scotch heather or bell heather)

Dwarf evergreen variety. Deep green leaves, masses of flowers in summer.
Height: 6-12 in (15 to 30cm).

Erica x darleyensis (Darley dale heath)

Deep green leaves and deep pink flowers. Long flowering period, from late autumn to mid-spring.
Height: 12in (30cm), Spread: 2ft (60cm)

Erica x darleyensis 'White Perfection'
Bright green foliage with large pure white flowers.
Height: 16in (40cm), Spread: 2ft 6in (75cm)

Erica erigena 'Brightness'

Dense purple tinted foliage. Honey-scented, deep pink flowers. Long flowering period. Not fully hardy. Height: 4ft (1.2m) Spread: 3ft (1m)

Erica mediterranea

Bushy evergreen variety. Small evergreen leaves covered with white, pink or deep purple flowers from late winter to spring. Height 2 to 8 ft depending
on variety. Lime tolerant. Shelter from cold winds.

Erica terminalis (Tree heather)

Tall bushy variety, flowers late summer. Bright green leaves fading to dark green
Pink flowers, from July to December. Height 3-6 ft. Will tolerate lime. Best in an open, sunny position.

Erica tetralix (cross-leaved heath)

Evergreen variety with white to crimson flowers from June to October. Height 9-12 in. Requires lime-free soil.

Erica vagans (Cornish heath)

Vigorous evergreen variety. Very hardy. Produces pink bell-shaped flowers from late summer to autumn. Height: 2ft 6in (75cm) Spread: 3ft (1m). Tolerates mildly alkaline soils.

Calluna vulgaris

Woody evergreen variety. Flowers from July to October. Good range of flower colours available.
Height 10-14 in (25 to 35cm). Lime free soils. Full sun or partial shade.