Q&A: Looking after heathers

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Q: Last year I planted some winter-flowering heathers and they have performed really well. But now they look leggy and dull. Is there anything I can do to rejuvenate them?

A: If your heather have definitely finished flowering, then they will need a trim and tidy-up; leave them alone and they will get even more leggy (a gardening term for plants with long and straggly stems) and the centre of each plant will probably go bare.

Pruning winter-flowering heathers is simple – get a pair of sharp shears and trim the plants back to the base of the flower stalks. Not only will this clean up the plants but it should also encourage new sideshoots to grow. The idea is to encourage the heathers to grow compact and bushy.

To encourage even healthier plants, top-dress or much them with an acidic compost. Once they have perked up you can give them a feed.

Bog-standard heather – Erica carnea – can bloom for months on end, defying ice and snow as well as sun and deluge. It’s one of the most accommodating and hardy little plants known to the British gardener.

And the numerous named varieties of Erica – which range in hue from red through to purple, gold, white (in fact, just about any colour) can create a rainbow of life even when the weather is at its worst.

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