The best winter-flowering heathers
Winter heathers provide colour in the coldest months. Shrub expert Andy McIndoe recommends 20 of the best winter-flowering heathers to grow in your garden. Photographs Dianna Jazwinski
Evergreen, easy to grow, small, manageable and long-flowering, heathers are the ideal low-maintenance plant, although their image suffered after their rise in popularity in the 1960s when they became associated with dwarf conifers and dull grasses.
Winter-flowering heathers have another great attribute: they are bee-friendly plants. They are a lifeline for bumblebees and solitary bees, which do not store food and emerge in mild spells in winter and early spring.
Some cultivars have gold or bronze foliage that add colour at ground level, although the combination of pink flowers and yellow foliage is not pleasing to everyone. Some heathers produce compact heads of blooms at the tips of the shoots; in others the blooms crowd a length of the stems. These cultivars make excellent cut flowers, and lend themselves to informal garden and wedding posies.
Erica carnea cultivars tend to be low growing, with a spreading habit.
Erica carnea f. aureifolia 'Bell's Extra Special'
A compact heather with sparse, whisky-coloured foliage. Heliotrope, almost-red blooms from late winter to mid-spring. Bred from Erica carnea 'Myretoun Ruby'. Height/spread 15cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.
Erica carnea 'Clare Wilkinson'
A vigorous and trailing heather with long shots clothed in mid-green foliage. Shell-pink flowers in long spikes in late winter through to late spring. A long season of nectar and pollen. Height/spread 10cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.
E. carnea f. alba 'Isabell'
Spreading mats of short, upright stems carry bright-green foliage. Pure-white flowers with brown stamens from late winter until early spring. An excellent heather for pots and containers. Height/spread 15cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.
Erica carnea 'Nathalie'
Compact and bristling with dark-green foliage and jewel-like, glowing flowers from midwinter to mid-spring. This heather originated from seedlings of 'Myretoun Ruby'. Height/spread 15cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 9a-9b.
Erica carnea 'Corinna'
A compact, bushy winter heather with abundant, dark-green foliage. Cerise-pink flowers in late winter to mid-spring. A good ground cover plant bred by Kurt Kramer in Germany. Height/spread 15cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.
Erica carnea 'December Red'
A vigorous and spreading winter-flowering heather with mid-green foliage that forms low, loose mats. Pink flowers darken to red-pink as they age, opening in midwinter and lasting to early spring. Height/spread 10cm x 30cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.
Erica carnea 'Eva'
A neat and compact heather with dark-green foliage turning bronze in winter. Light-red flowers from late winter to mid- spring. It is one of the earliest red-flowering heathers to bloom. Height/spread 10cm x 30cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b. AGM.
Erica carnea 'Saskia'
Unusual colouring with rose-pink flowers, darker toward the tips and clustered at the end of the shoots from late winter to mid spring. A lovely winter heather against mid-green foliage. 20cm x 30cm. RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.
Erica carnea 'Winter Rubin'
Formely called 'Kramer's Rubin', this compact cultivar has dark-green foliage and clear-pink flowers from late winter to mid-spring. Selected from seedlings of 'Myretoun Ruby'. Height/spread 10cm x 30cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.
Erica carnea f. alba 'Whitehall'
With pure white flowers and a similar habit to 'Isabell', this heather starts to bloom earlier, in midwinter. The flower spikes are less dense and the brown stamens less prominent. Height/spread 10cm x 30cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b.
Erica x darleyensis
Erica x darleyensis heathers are a cross between Erica carnea and Erica erigena. They form clumps or small bush shapes.
Erica x darleyensis 'Arthur Johnson'
Long spikes of magenta-pink flowers, darkening from midwinter to mid-spring. Spreading habit with mid-green foliage, the spring shoots are tipped with cream. Height/spread 45cm x 60cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H6, USDDA 6a-8b.
Erica x darleyensis 'Aurélie Brégeon'
Comparatively large, lilac-pink heather flowers from late autumn to spring on compact plants with mid-green foliage. A sport of 'Darley Dale', it's not as hardy as other cultivars. Great in pots. Height/spread 30cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H5, USDA 7a-9b.
Erica x darleyensis 'Darley Dale'
A popular winter heather with profuse pale-pink flowers, darkening with age from early winter to mid-spring. Mid-green foliage with cream and pink tips to the shoots in spring. Height/spread 30cm x 45cm. Hardiness rating USDA 6a-8b.
Erica x darleyensis f. aureifolia 'Mary Helen'
Mid-pink heather blooms open in late winter to mid spring. The new yellow-gold foliage lasts all summer, turning bronze in winter. Height/spread 20cm x 30cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H6, USDA 6a-8b.
Erica x darleyensis f. aurefolia 'Moonshine'
A bushy heather with yellowish-green foliage that does not darken in winter. The pale-pink flowers open from early winter to mid spring. Height/spread 30cm x 45cm. RHS H6, USDA 6a-8b.
Erica x darleyensis 'Phoebe'
A compact and free-flowering cultivar with profuse, rose-pink flowers from autumn to midwinter. Excellent ground cover, this heather has dark-green foliage and a dense, bushy habit. Height/spread 15cm x 20cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H6, USDA 6a-8b.
Erica x darleyensis 'Katia'
A bushy, compact heather with mid-green foliage, large, pure-white flowers and prominent brown stamens from early to late winter. Excellent with hellebores. Height/spread 30cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H6, USDA 6a-8b.
Erica x darleyensis 'Lucie'
A sport of 'Kramer's Rote', with large, showy, magenta flowers on spikes of dark-green foliage in spring. This heather blooms later than many cultivars, so is less damaged by frost and rain. Height/spread 45cm x 60cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H6, USDA 6a-8b.
Erica x darleyensis f. aureifolia 'Tweety'
A striking heather with bright, golden-yellow foliage that turns orange in winter. The sparse magenta flowers contrast with the foliage from early winter to mid-spring. Height/spread 30cm x 45cm. Hardiness ratings RHS 6G, USDA 6a-8b.
Erica x darleyensis f. albiflora 'White Perfection'
Left unpruned, this heather produces long spikes of pure-white flowers with brown stamens from midwinter to mid-spring. Height/spread 45cm x 75cm. Hardiness ratings H6, USDA 6a-8b.
You can find more information in our guide to plant hardiness ratings.
Where to see heather
Where to buy heather
• The Heather Garden, Woodlands, Wimborne, Dorset BH21 8LJ
Heathers are widely available from garden centres and nurseries. Heather World, the former Heather Society website, is a good source of information for choosing and growing heathers.
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