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Starting a new heath/heather bed

Posted by SHWGeek z6NJ (My Page) on
Wed, May 26, 04 at 11:07

I'm going to replace a piece of lawn near my property
border with a bed of heathers. My plan is to cover the
existing grass with newspaper and then overlaid with
fresh woodchips. The heathers will be planted right into
the bed at the same time by digging holes right into the
underlying soil. From reading up on the posts in this
forum it sounds like I shouldn't have to add too much
supplement to the bed? The woodchip should bring the pH
down and will provide some nutrients down the road.

Will the heather bed reduce water usage and maintance
needs as compared to a lawn?

I haven't started digging into the future bed yet but a
nearby dig revealed fairly heavy soil. I hope heathers
will do well in it.

Oh and my backyard is on the deer trail. Plus I have
a rabbit and a groundhog that visit from time to

Any advice for this first time gardener will be greatly

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Starting a new heath/heather bed

OK... I guess I'll give 2 cents. I must have the Heather Fever, since I appear to be the most active poster in the (still new) forum. That makes me a little uneasy, since someone might start to think that my verbosity correlates with significant knowledge about these plants... which is really *not* the case. I have read a fair amount, but I am still in the learning stages.

ANYWAY -- with that introduction, I'd say the following:

Your plan for creating the bed sounds fine to me. As for the pH, you should check it. This is easy to do with a little kit from any garden store. Yes, the woodchips might lower it some... but the overall mass of soil is a huge pH buffer, so you can't expect a small amendment to make long term changes. If your pH is already on the acidic side, you're fine. If you are alkaline, it will affect your choice of plants -- rather than trying to fight a battle changing your acidity (or lack of), it would be easier to select alkaline tolerant plants from the start.

My soil is heavy clay (pH ~6.5) and the heaths & heathers are so far doing fine.

I don't think rabbits/groundhogs will be a problem. Deer don't generally eat heather, though they could trample it if it was in their way.

As to water usage/maintenance, I would say yes... EVENTUALLY water usage will be reduced, but it might be increased initially. These guys are drought tolerant once established, but need to be kept from drying out while getting there. So plan to water regularly this year (or put in a soaker hose when you make the bed). They'll especially need a lot of water if you plant in the summer, which can be a tough time for starting H&Hs.

I'd suggest you consider either getting them in the ground ASAP, or waiting until the fall. But that's not an absolute requirement.

The maintenance is some simple pruning for the first few years. Needed to keep them from getting scraggly, but once they reach mature size, little needed (or so I have read! Mine aren't that old yet!)

Hope that helps, and good luck with it!

RE: Starting a new heath/heather bed

Thanks for the info!

I just bought a couple of really nice looking heathers from Home Depot. Do you think I can keep them in the pot over summer just in case I can't get around to them? I'm starting
a few beds in my backyard and there're a few things still sitting on the patio.

RE: Starting a new heath/heather bed

Don't see why not. Just don't let them dry out.

RE: Starting a new heath/heather bed

My experience is that HD soil is often not good for long-term keeping of plants - too fast-draining and not enough nutrients though it may depend on the particular supplier of the plant. Also, those black pots heat up in the sun, so they might not survive too well with long-term living in pots. Maybe piling loose mulch around the pots will mediate the temperature swings.

When you do put them in your new bed, make sure you don't let the woodchips gather around the stems above the original soil level or your plants may have rot problems. I'd agree with HRkid about getting a soil test. If it's not acid, you can use supplements to change the pH of the whole bed (not jsut the planting hole) but it may take time for soil amendments to take effect. You'd have to take care to test the soil every year or two to be sure the pH is staying pretty even. I know that's not nearly as easy as planting in bark chips as planned; hope you have acid soil naturally.

RE: Starting a new heath/heather bed

I also just started a new heather bed in my Vermont garden. The soil on my land is very rich and already contains a good deal of nutrients, so I haven't added anything more than a very light covering of cedar mulch through the top layer. This was done to help keep water in place as the garden is on a slight slope. I decided to keep care of the heather at a minimum (though unpopular, I figured it's been growing for centures in the wild without any help). This seems to be working as the heather appear to be healthy and taking root. I've also done this to achieve a more wild and natural look for my heather garden.
I also planted a rose bush and a couple of flowering perennials (not too close together) in the same bed and I've been able to achieve a rather natural look and the taller roses seem to be a good protection for the young heathers from harsh winds. I've tried to avoid planting under trees because of the raking required.
For my zone I've also tried to locate the hardiest of the heathers and found one of the best selections in the US from The plants arrived in excellent condition even after traveling across country. I've even ordered wild heather seeds from Scotland (the soil and custom laws do not allow them to ship the plants).
If you want additional information on heathers and are serious about heather gardening, try visiting the (North American Heather Society). It's a great site with helpful resources and they have a chapter in the northeast.

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