Plant Taxonomy of Heather Plants:
Plant taxonomy classifies the heather plants I deal with in this article as Erica x darleyensis 'Mediterranean Pink'. 'Mediterranean Pink' is the cultivar name.
Erica x darleyensis 'Mediterranean Pink' is more precisely termed one of the "heaths" (and to be even more specific, winter heath). Technically, the true heather plants are classified as Calluna vulgaris. But the various types of Erica, which are closely related to Calluna vulgaris, are grouped with the latter and also loosely referred to as "heather plants." I use the two terms interchangeably in this article.
Winter heaths are broadleaf evergreen
, displaying a mounding growth habit with dense foliage. Erica x darleyensis
'Mediterranean Pink' is a hybrid
, its parents being Erica carnea
and Erica erigena
. For a picture of the former, click "More Images" under the photo at right.
Erica carnea is native to central and southern Europe, Erica erigena to Ireland.
Despite the broadleaf classification for the foliage of Erica x darleyensis
'Mediterranean Pink', the leaves are needle-like (as opposed to the scale-like leaves of Calluna vulgaris
). The pink flowers
are bell-shaped and almost totally cover the shrubs when these heather plants are in bloom. The common name "winter heath" alludes to the earliness of the blossoming period. But exact flowering time will depend on your location. Gardeners in the Pacific Northwest (U.S.) may enjoy winter flowers, but here in New England it's an early-spring bloomer, vying with Adonis
and witch hazel
for Most Precocious honors.
Scotch heather (Calluna vulgaris
to northern Eurasia, can be grown as far north as planting zone
4, but Erica x darleyensis
'Mediterranean Pink' isn't quite so cold-hardy: Zone 6 is listed as its limit, although it can be grown in zone 5 if provided with optimal soil conditions and protection.
Sun and Soil Requirements for Winter Heaths:
As small shrubs with dense foliage, heather plants can be massed together to form a ground cover
that will suppress weeds
. Because they require good drainage, they are a candidate for rock gardens
, but they do not tolerate dry soil as well as many other rock-garden plants
, so choose their companions wisely.
Care: Pruning, Fertilizing, Watering, Mulching:
Prune (in this case, "shear lightly" is a better way of putting it) after flowering. When you fertilize, do so with the type of fertilizer you would use for azaleas and other acid-loving plants, or else use compost
. But there's no need to fertilize every year. Irrigate in the absence of rain. Apply mulch
to retain moisture in the soil.
Outstanding Features of Heather Plants:
With their evergreen foliage and a profusion of flowers at a time of year when few other things may be blooming, these heather plants are valued by homeowners seeking year-round interest
in the yard.
There is also a cultivar with white flowers
called Erica x darleyensis