Heathers are indispensable for providing flower and foliage colour all year round, as well as being attractive to bumble and honeybees. It is in wintertime however, that heathers really come into their own as one of the most reliable flowering plants of the season.
Winter-flowering heathers evolved in harsh, exposed, upland areas. As a result, they can withstand windy conditions, low temperatures, and bright sunlight – making them perfect for a Scottish garden in wintertime.
Winter-flowering heathers have flowers that look like dainty bells in wonderful shades of white, pink, and purple. They give a show that is unfazed by wet, windy, and frosty weather but while they can tolerate a little shade, it can make their stems stretch too much. They do, however, thrive in the sun, so try to find them a sunny, winter spot.
Plant in Borders
Many varieties have beautiful foliage colour which intensifies in cold conditions, producing a profusion of flowers as early as November. These last well into spring and on sunny days will come alive with the buzzing of bees.
Plant heathers together to fill gaps in borders for a lovely winter display. They often stretch sideways and the dense growth will act as a weed suppressant, smothering all but the toughest weeds.
Heathers are ideal for container, basket, or window box planting as they require very little maintenance. Winter-flowering heathers make great companions for hellebores, cyclamen, and trailing ivy. They can be underplanted with small spring bulbs like crocus or muscari to extend the season of interest.
In pots, heathers are perfect companions for small shrubs like Skimmia japonica, Japanese azaleas, dwarf rhododendrons, and slow-growing conifers.
Good for Bees
Winter heather flowers are a valuable source of nectar for bees, providing pollen and nectar at a time of year when bees are active but there is very little food for them. They are also a lifeline for bumblebees and solitary bees which do not store food and emerge in mild spells in winter and early spring.
All of the hardy winter heathers are from the Erica family, with those from the Erica carnea and x darleyensis group being the toughest. Unlike acid-loving heathers, winter-flowering Erica carnea and Erica x darleyensis do not need ericaceous compost so they are an easy choice for planting.
For white flowers, try Erica carnea ‘Springwood White’ or Erica x darleyensis ‘White Perfection’.
If you are looking for something rosier, choose Erica carnea ‘Springwood Pink’ or Erica x darleyensis ‘Darleydale’ or Erica carnea ‘December Red’.