My Healther is sick

Mvespa(Z6 NJ)April 9, 2004

Wow, so lucky to be the first post on the new forum (really the second, but the first informational one).

I planted two heathers last year and they seemed to be doing wonderfully. But this year, after the winter, one of them looks like it is dead or dying on one side. All of the stems are dried up and there isn't any green or pink flowers on it.

Is there anything I can do to help the plant back to health? Are there any "heather diseases" that I need to know about?



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Mine are still under snow! I planted a number of heather plants in the fall and I am waiting to see how they will do once the spring comes...if it does. THe place where I planted them happened to be the same place where the snow plow guy dumped the mountains of snow that fell this year. I bought them from Rock Spray which I see advertised on this site. I think I recall that they had alot of information on their website about growing them so you might check them out until this new forum gets going.... good luck and please report anything you find as I am new at these too!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2004 at 4:33PM
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yjtj(5/6 NY)

i planted a dozen or so erica carnea last summer, some lavender colored some white. they looked good all fall. now they are brown and look dead. a couple green branches on some of them but not much. i cut them back, now i just have to see if they will regrow. we have real bad winds were i am and im sure that didnt help them. im hoping they come back, i really like heaths and heathers and was looking foward to growing them, but i will prolly have to do without.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2004 at 6:39PM
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My heathers are brown. I read somewhere on here that you should cut them back in early spring. Two weeks ago I moved them to another spot and cut them back. I scratched a branch with my fingernail this afternoon and underneath is green. So I think that's a good sign. I'm now waiting to see if I get any new growth. Hope this was of some help to you.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2004 at 7:20PM
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gardenfaerie(z5b Michigan)

One of my heathers is blooming, the other is the same as yours (about 9/10 brown and brittle, 1/10 blooming). So far I've removed the dried foliage. I'm waiting to see what happens.

Monica in Ann Arbor

    Bookmark   April 9, 2004 at 7:51PM
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I have two that are doing well but the rest, look like it was a hard winter. I never knew that you cut them back in spring. I thought that you would cut off the blooms that way. BBBBut I will give it a try. I know that Heather doesn't like to be dominated, had to move all my plants. lol

    Bookmark   April 9, 2004 at 10:42PM
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I have the same problem .... I do not know what affected the heather but it died .... I thought they were easy plants to grow....Wish to find the reason why they die suddenly like that ....

    Bookmark   April 10, 2004 at 1:19AM
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juliebw(z5 NY)

I'm wondering about your soil. I think they demand sandy, well-drained soil.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2004 at 4:10PM
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Several years ago, I planted 4 heath/heather plants (I'm still not sure what the difference is!) Two didn't survive the first year, but the other two come back to life each spring. While they look dead, both are currently blooming.
I cut off the dead stems (the ones that are brittle) each spring after they bloom. I also grow Mexican Heather that are not hardy in Indiana. I dig them up in the fall, put them in large pots, and bring them inside near a sunny window all winter. They usually rebloom, then start dropping leaves and start looking ugly. I now have the pots sitting on a porch railing outside, and new leaves are beginning to sprout on dead-looking stems. In a couple more weeks, I'll replant them in the ground where they were last year. I've found that just about the time I think the plants are dead, new life appears. So don't give up on yours too soon! Possibly a bit of plant fertilizer will help also.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2004 at 10:48PM
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Different varieties have different degrees of hardiness, so if the soil requirements are met, then maybe some of you had plants that weren't suited to your temperatures. Also, because they keep their foliage all winter, they are subject to drying out if they are exposed to cold winds while the ground is frozen. A good use of old Christmas trees (or any evergreen branches) is to cut the branches an lay them over heaths and heathers that don't have enough snow cover. It helps protect them from drying winter winds and sun without trapping too much moisture. Around here, the old Christmas trees are available at just the right time to put over them. Usually, however, I don't bother since it's a rare winter that we don't have at least a couple of feet on the ground by the time early January rolls around, and we almost always keep that until mid-March or early April. It might be something that those of you in less snowy places can use to help your heathers along in future winters.

Also, Rock Spray Nursery, which is advertised in the sidebar on this page, has some great information on raising heaths and heathers, and I've been very happy with them when I've ordered from them.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2004 at 7:30AM
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Mvespa(Z6 NJ)

I think I remember the tag saying it was Meditteranean Heather. And I planted it in a new bed that is raised. I have clay soil, but the bed was amended with lots of peat and good organic soil.

I think Ol' Man Winter got to it, but I will try to shear both of them down a bit and do like everyone says and wait and see what happens. Really that's all I can do right now!

Hope for the best, they really do have pretty pink little flowers right now and the foliage is really pretty too.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2004 at 6:06PM
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You got this forum off to a great start with your posting! Happy to see so many helpful responses. Here's my two cents worth.

I wonder if any cultivar called "Mediterranean" would be hardy under your Zone 6 conditions? Sounds like Old Man Winter could indeed be the perp of your plant's demise. Or maybe it isn't dead yet, despite appearances, as someone else suggested.

Regarding soil conditions for general, acidic is best, crucial for some cultivars. Others tolerate neutral soil. You need to strike a touchy balance between moisture-retentive and well-draining conditions. The addition of sand can open up clayey, poorly-draining soils. Milled peat is a good soil conditioner especially since it boosts soil acidity. If dug in well it helps keep in moisture. Callunas can tolerate drying winds to some extent but not dried out roots. Again, though, "Mediteranean" implies it's tougher in that regard. Mulch is helpful, but care is needed to keep the crown and especially the lower branches slightly above it; they should just rest lightly on top of the mulch.

Concerning pruning (did someone mention pruning?), in general (lots of "in generals" with heaths and heathers), heathers don't need much. The plant can be trimmed lightly in early spring to prevent legginess and encourage new growth. This gives both summer and winter blooming types enough time to form new wood for flowering that year. Dwarf varieties don't usually benefit much from pruning. Any long shoots that might appear on dwarf varieties can be cut back to maintain the desired appearance. The only other pruning that may be needed is when a plant shows signs of disease, which brings me to...diseases of heathers.

The good news is that they are plagued by few, and they are pest-free as well. It seems the key to growing them successfully lies more in getting the cultural conditions right than preventing diseases. There are a few, though. Most are fungal diseases borne in the soil. Botrytis affects many plants besides Callunas. When it appears in Callunas, it shows in the growing tips, which start to die back. Another fungal disease is Rhizoctonia which causes browning of foliage starting at ground level, usually spreading upward a few centimeters. Pythium causes reddening of the foliage (keep in mind though that many Callunas naturally change foliage color with the seasons). Pytophthera is the most serious disease, but the least common. It speads in the manner of Rhizoctonia, but is more likely to kill the plant. Fortuntely, all of these fungal organisms require high soil temperatures and humid conditions which rarely occur in garden soil.

Rx. for diseased plants.... If only part of a plant is affected, trim off the diseased foliage and give a light foliar feeding to promote more rapid recovery. If the whole plant is affected, pull it up and burn it. Replace the spore-infected soil with new soil before replanting.

Heaths and heathers should not be heavily fertilized. They don't need it, and too much fertilizer will harm them. A light spring top-dressing of fish, bone and blood meal can be applied, but forego any treatment in the fall. Bone meal tends to turn the soil toward alkaline, and heathers (in general!) like it acidic.

Don't give up. All this might make heathers sound too difficult to deal with. They're not, and they're so beautiful its worth any tinkering that may be required to get them to grow well for you. And once they're happy, they really are indestructible.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2004 at 10:19AM
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This is my 2nd or 3rd season with my mediteranian heather. I planted 3. Two are in part shade (half the day) and raised up somewhat and one is in full sun, at the bottom of the slight slope. The first year I was sure they were all gone, dead. But they all came back late with some of the growth apparently dead. I cut that off. This year, and I think it is the third year, maybe second, the part shade, sloped ones are looking great. Nice purple flowers, they are also growing larger. One of them however does have some dead branches I will trim off. Overall it looks great and grew to twice its size. The third one which was planted in full sun, towards the bottom of a slight slope, is half the size of the others. It looks the same as when I bought it and I think I will relocate it this year. They are all growing in soil that I cover with seaweed/old manure over the winter. In the spring I mulch. It seems to be taking off this 2nd or 3rd year with the exception of the one. Which is a shame because its one of the best looking plants and I want to plant more around the other side to balance out the garden but that side of my garden is full sun. Maybe I'll give it a try anyway and hope it just doesn't like the bottom of the slope. Karn

    Bookmark   April 13, 2004 at 1:07PM
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Only one of my nine specimens is looking like it's in questionable health, and it happens to be the one at the bottom of a slope. Poor drainage? I'm sticking with it, though, as it seems from what others have said that the thing can look quite dead and still come back.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2004 at 9:30AM
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Yes, I was thinking that has to be it, poor drainage. If that's the case and not the full sun issue, I am going to purchase a few more for the sunny part of the bed. It has good drainage. They're alot more expensive at Franks this year than they were when I first purchased them! Karen

    Bookmark   April 17, 2004 at 9:36AM
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Congratulations on posting this forum's first post. I have been meaning to respond to it, because I think I can diagnose what is wrong with your heathers.

In a word, sunburn. Late winter/early spring, as the sun strengthens, is when it happens. Remedy: in late fall/early winter (after the ground freezes, if possiblebefore, if not) shelter heathers and heaths with evergreen (i.e., Christmas tree) boughs to shield them from strong sunÂespecially on their west- and southwest-facing sides. Before the ground freezes, make sure they have been well-watered. Spraying with a mix of an anti-dessicant (like Wilt-Pruf) and water doesn't seem to hurt them at all.

They should come back, but it will take most of the growing season. I had this happen last year to a 'Robert Chapman.' (I called Rock Spray for advice, but they had no idea what caused the browning of one side.) I trimmed it back hard, and it greened up and flowered well.

But there's worse. Due to an accident last fall, I was unable to shelter a large group of Callunas. They're brown and crispy. Now I, too, am holding my breath to see if my diagnosis is correct and if the plants respond well this growing season.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2004 at 3:03PM
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Thanks for the insight. Sunburn makes sense, and it's surprising that none of the references I examined discuss it. When would plants tend to be most affected by strong sun? My guess is late winter/early spring. That's when some of my plants started to show some browning of foliage.


    Bookmark   May 14, 2004 at 8:36AM
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I planted a few heathers last spring. All were doing well and flowered recently. Then, a portion of one plant started turning brown at the base. So, now this plant has some brown stems and some new green ones. The heather gets a full day of sun and is planted in quick draining soil. Should I trim off the brown parts now? Or should I wait until spring? I wonder if the whole plant is dying?

    Bookmark   September 9, 2005 at 11:25PM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

Some heaths and heathers are supposed to turn brown or brownish in winter!

Some are very brittle and sudden die offs of just part of a plant can be broken branches.

They do want good drainage.

This site has great information on pruning and everything else about heathers and heaths.

PS. Mexican Heather is NOT a heath or a heather. Should not be treated like one. It is not related to them at all. It is a bedding plant or summer annual in most of the US.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2006 at 2:05PM
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bsdavis(NW Florida)

Heather failed to return this year. Live in the Florida panhandle. Always cut my heather back in the winter after frost and it has come back every year. Not so this spring 2006. Appeared to start coming out and then it looked like slugs or snails were eating the greenery. I put down bait. Plants now look completely dead. Should I dig up and try something else or wait awhile?

    Bookmark   April 19, 2006 at 10:12AM
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