The cold weather can be extremely difficult for native pollinators, but just one simple addition to your garden can make all the difference: heather. That’s right – this common low-growing shrub can make a huge difference to pollinators throughout the winter AND bring a beautiful, low-maintenance addition to your garden!
Heather is part of the Ericaceae family that also includes plants such as blueberry, huckleberry and rhododendron. Winter-blooming heather are a hardy addition to any garden although they prefer locations with full sun with well-drained soil; these factors will ensure your heather successfully blooms in winter. Once established heather requires very little effort (just a light watering here and there when it’s dry), but over the first year or two it’s recommended to water shrubs 1-2 times a week or if they’re looking dry. If you’re planting winter-blooming heather it’s especially important to mulch around the base of the plants before the weather turns, making sure to add more if it gets moved or blows away. This will protect the roots from cold weather and ensure those delicate flowers bloom!
There are many varieties of winter-blooming heather so you’ll have lots to pick from. One of relatively few winter-flowering plans, heather can provide a much-needed food source for bees and other pollinators at a time when they are particularly vulnerable.
Erica carnea and Erica x Darleyensis varieties are some of the best winter flowering heathers, and come in a wide variety of colors from white to striking magentas and deep purples. Add heather to rock gardens, borders, plant in a hedge, or just add here and there to create a pop of color or interest (heather looks great year-round, whether in-flower or not!). Low-maintenance, looks great, and you can feel good for helping out the environment – what’s not to love?!
Photo: Erica x Darleyensis ‘Kramer’s Red’; http://www.sprayedout.com