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Heaths and Heathers

Posted Nov 21 2008 3:08pm

Heaths and heathers - can you tell them apart? I'm not sure. I've pored over the descriptions and photos in my gardening books and on the net, and I'm still not sure what I've got on the balcony at the moment. They were sold as Erica - that is heath - though the variety wasn't specified. But Erica is supposed to have needle-like leaves, and mine are different - to me they look like the leaves of Calluna vulgaris - the Scottish heather or ling. Some species and varieties of Erica don't flower at this time of year, but others do - so that doesn't help.

Does it make much difference? Not really. Calluna is hardier than Erica, but that's not a problem on the balcony, where I can easily protect against the few really cold spells we have. We're in zone 8, and while it can drop well below freezing outside, the warmth from the house means the balcony is far less at risk. I'm more worried about summer heat, and as many species of Erica are limited to southern Europe and Africa, thought it might be a better bet. But no, Calluna vulgaris is supposed to like full sun and be heat tolerant - suitable for US heat zones 4-7. I'm not sure what our heat zone is, but I suspect it's somewhere in that range. Heat zones are based on the number of days per year the temperature rises above 30°C/86F, and for us that means any time mid-June to early September, with the middle six weeks rarely far below. I have to say though that it surprised me. I wouldn't have thought that a plant which chose to grow so abundantly on the Scottish moors would be a sun-lover.

But apart from hardiness, they both seem to like identical treatment : acid soil, no fertiliser, and constant moisture but good drainage. So from that point of view it doesn't really matter that I'm not sure what I've got.

In any case, they're my choice for this month's Gardeners' Bloom Day post. Yes, I know - late again. I didn't really have much choice this month. It's been a busy period for work and most of the stuff on the balcony is currently dead or dying - I kid myself it's due to the change of the season, but several plants have been looking at me accusingly and muttering under their leaves about neglect and cruelty. I'm sorry - I will get back out to you sooner or later, I promise ...

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