Dividing up heather

missleslieann(8bTX)April 21, 2004

Yeah! A heather forum...I have what I think is English heather, looks just like my Mexican Heather, but white flowers. I love em both dearly. Some of it has gotten really thick in some areas and I'd like to help it spread out more quickly and evenly by possibly borrowing some of it to basically transplant nearby and all over the yard. Any advice? Cuttings in water or Perlite or potting soil? Hmmm?

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I'm not really familiar with what kind of plant exactly an "English heather" might be, but I'm assuming it's a Calluna vulgaris variety, as these are the most common on the English isles, especially in Scotland and Ireland. It would also go by "Scotch heather" or "ling" (from the Anglo-Saxon root for "fire"). Maybe someone can set me straight on the English heather I.D.?

Anyway, heather is reputedly easy to propagate from cuttings, but cuttings need to be overwintered in their pots through their first season. Where growing conditions are favorable, they can however be planted out their first spring, but closer together than if they were more established plants. This and the information that follows is based upon instructions in "Heathers" by Andrew Mikolajski.

Cuttings should be taken around or just after mid-summer. They should best include a "heel" - a small piece of bark from the main parent stem. The cuttings should be short, only about one to one-and-a-half inches, non-flowerering side shoots. Strip off the foliage from the lower half of the cutting.

The medium should be about equal parts of milled peat (not the much rougher sphagnum peat) and sharp sand. Pinching the tip of the shoot encourages branching once the cutting roots. Careful use of rooting hormone (not too much) may encourage the cuttings to root. Position the cuttings, water the medium thoroughly, and seal it all in a plastic bag. Inflate the bag enough so that it doesn't touch the cuttings.

They should root by late summer to early autumn. Overwinter them in a protected spot (out of direct sun) with fairly consistent temperatures. Pot them up in spring and grow them on for a season or plant them directly into a garden bed.

The author also discusses another, slower method of propagating by layering. This basically facilitates spread outwards of established plants by severing layered plantlets once they have rooted. This would seem to be useful for filling in gaps in heather bed, but if your heathers are grown in as thickly as you suggest, you'd probably prefer to take cuttings.

I haven't tried propagation yet, but plan to try both of these methods at the proper time.

By the way, there seem to be few books devoted exclusively to heaths and heathers. Mikolajski's is a good basic text that offers a lot of essential information. Although the title is "Heathers", it deals not only with heathers (Calluna vulgaris) but several types of heaths (Ericas), including some non-hardy ones from the southern hemishphere, as well as Daboecias, plants which share a similar moors habitat with Scotch (or English?) heather. Point is, I recommend this book to other beginning heath and heather growers like me.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2004 at 9:52AM
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Cranebill, thanks for the thorough and helpful response. The only way I now it's "English Heather" is bc I found a plastic tag that said that near it...perhaps it was for something else...I dunno. It looks just like the purple stuff commonly known as "mexican" heather around here though.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2004 at 2:14PM
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By the way, missleslieann, "Mexican heather" is not really any kind of heather, which are members of the Calluna genus. Mexican heather is a member of the Cuphea genus, Cuphea hyssopifolia. Easy from stem tip cuttings, too, and from seed. Not a heather, though.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2004 at 2:31PM
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Funny, Cranebill, I was just reading that a little while ago! It was surprising but oh well. So, when you say tip cuttings, do I just literally snip of the tips, remove some of the bottem leaves and stick it a glass of water? Or potting soil? I love the stuff....Must have more...while I wait for my Heaths and Heathers catalog to arrive I can watch for the roots to grow....

    Bookmark   April 23, 2004 at 10:27PM
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lunargoddess36(z5/Central NY)

Has anyone tried to root a Heather in a glass of water?

    Bookmark   September 22, 2004 at 9:47AM
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esw1(z5 MA)

I have not tried it yet, but from what I understand, Heaths and Heathers can be propagated from cuttings in growing medium in spring or summer...there are also instructions in the DK Guide to propagation. Here is one page I found on the web.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to propagate heathers

    Bookmark   November 28, 2004 at 1:08PM
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Last spring I wrote a post concerning widespread winter kill of heaths and heathers in the northeast. I lost only two of my nine plants, but a lot of peoples' collections were devastated by the unusually severe deep freezes and alternating thaws. Many people whose plants made it through the winter relatively intact reported that they'd protected them with pine boughs and the like.

This year I'm going to recycle my Christmas tree by using its branches to cover my heath and heather bed. I haven't ordered any new plants yet, in part because I want to see how the ones I've got make it through this winter. But I hope to expand the bed in the spring.

I really enjoy growing these plants; they have so many wonderful qualities. They're wonderful for their design possibilities, they are beautiful both when flowering and not, and they're exotic in terms of their geographical origins and in terms of their botanical characteristics.

I hate to see all those browning Christmas trees on the sidewalks awaiting pick-up after the holidays. The rational part of my brain makes me feel silly about anthropomorphizing a dying tree, but seeing them still makes me a bit sad. (Does anyone remember the spindly little tree adopted by Charlie Brown and his gang?) In any case, I'm a dedicated composter, and a conscientious recycler of all the glass, metal and paper waste that my household generates. I'm lucky that my city has a really good recycling system in place. In fact, while my tree will be shielding my heaths and heathers from the wind and ice, all those other trees will go into the city compost that I and others will be digging into to fill our buckets and bins in the spring.

Anyway, if you are concerned about winter kill and you also happen to have a post-holiday Christmas tree around, you can put it to good use in protecting your plants.


    Bookmark   January 11, 2005 at 11:06AM
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Apologies. My "response" concerning Christmas trees was intended as an original posting.



    Bookmark   January 11, 2005 at 11:15AM
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