I often hear folks say that they hate heaths (Erica spp. and cvs., Zones 5–8) and heathers (Calluna vulgaris and cvs., Zones 5–8), their earlier blooming cousins. The most common complaints are the woody, leggy shape they develop (mostly after years of neglect) and how they outgrow the space they’ve been provided rather quickly. The same people who complain about heaths and heathers admit they have no knowledge of how to care for them. But while these plants do need certain conditions and annual care, they are not divas.
These deer-resistant and salt-resistant evergreens create a beautiful tapestry for every season, with a wide variety of colored foliage and little bell-shape flowers that range from white to deep pinks and purples. They are also an attractive, evergreen ground cover that excels at shading out weeds.
Heaths provide that winter pop of bright color when few other plants are in bloom. I like to use them in ribbons throughout the garden whenever possible, which creates more interest and can make a garden seem a lot larger.
Heathers provide any garden with a blast of glowing colors from late spring into midsummer. They also display stunning winter foliage colors of chartreuse, coppery oranges, and burgundy.
How can I tell the difference?
In general, heathers bloom in summer and heaths bloom in winter. If you are looking at foliage, remember that “heathers have feathers but heath have teeth.” The foliage of heathers slightly overlaps, giving it the look of feathers. Heath foliage, however, is linear and needlelike.
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