Often mistaken for one another, heath (Erica) and heather (Calluna) look amazingly similar. To confuse things further, heath is frequently referred to as “spring heather” and some landscapers, garden centers and nurseries may use the names interchangeably. Both types of plants belong to the Ericaceae family, and they share many similarities.
Which is Which?
The key difference between these two popular landscaping plants is that heath blooms from winter to early spring while heather blooms from mid-summer to early fall. Heath features slim, needle-like foliage, while heather’s foliage is flatter and more scale-like. Heath generally only grows to 12 inches tall, while different heather cultivars can range from 8-20 inches tall. With their many similarities for location, soil type and sunlight, however, it is easy to grow these two shrubs together for a much longer and more brilliant flowering season.
Heath and Heather in the Landscape
Both heath and heather are low maintenance, low growing, perennial shrubs that love well-drained, acidic soil, but do not plant them too deeply or their shallow root systems may rot or smother. Heath, or spring heather, has tiny, urn shaped flowers in white, rose or fuchsia and is readily available in early spring. Heather will be more popular later in the season and into early summer, and its bell-like mauve, rose or lavender flowers provide lovely color to the landscape later in the season. Depending on the cultivar, heather’s foliage can range from bright green to golden yellow, reddish or even silvery-gray.
Both plants should be watered well, and mulching around the shrubs will help inhibit weeds and conserve moisture without overwatering. Pruning should be done just after blooming is finished to maintain and shape the plant mounds and discourage overgrowth and legginess.
Heath and heather look terrific planted en masse on a sunny hillside or in the shrub border with other acid-loving plants like azaleas and rhododendrons. They are a welcome addition to the rock garden and can brighten up a dwarf conifer grouping or container garden. Their mounding habit makes the plants easily spill over edges for a naturalized, graceful organic look ideal for cottage gardens and flowing landscape design.
It is important to note, however, that deer can be very attracted to both heath and heather. If these backyard visitors are a problem in your garden or pester your landscape, you may want to take a variety of steps to keep them away from your beautiful shrubs.
Planted together, heath and heather will provide you with a succession of dainty blooms to take you through the entire growing season.