Heather that has become woody or leggy can be an eyesore in your garden – but all hope is not lost.
With its evergreen foliage, brightly coloured blooms and year-round hardiness, heather is a popular choice for gardeners across the UK. The fact that it’s a native of this country makes it an ideal option in all weathers, while the little maintenance it requires means that novice horticulturalists generally find it easy to work with.
Having said that, heather is not impervious to pests, blights and diseases, nor is it infallible and invulnerable. Indeed, it’s likely that over the course of its lifetime, heather may give you cause for concern when parts of the plant turn brown or grey and it lacks the vim and vitality of its youth. In such cases, it can be difficult to know how to coax your heather plant back from the brink and rejuvenate it once more.
While not all heather specimens will be able to be saved, there are certain tips and tricks that you can try to breathe fresh life into its roots and stems. Here are a handful of hints on how you can revitalise a heather plant that looks like it has seen better days.
Advice to help revive your plants
1) Pre-emptive pruning
You know what they say about prevention – it’s invariably better than the cure. The fact that you’re reading this article means it may be too late to pre-emptively prune your heather plant before it develops any issues, but it’s a lesson worth bearing in mind for next time in any case.
All heaths and heathers don’t require much in the way of dedicated care – but they will appreciate regular pruning.
That’s because trimming the plants will help them to stay dense and compact, allowing them to divert nutrients to the parts which need them the most and promote multiple blossoms. It will also prevent the development of a woody interior, which is often the beginning of the end for heathers. Wait until the flowering period has ended, then prune them back by removing the stems of all old flowerheads and shearing off some of the foliage – but don’t trim them back so far as to reach the bare wood.
2) Check it’s alive
Once you do begin to experience a fatigued or fading plant, your first course of action should be to establish whether the whole plant is dead or dying. Lacklustre growth at the forefront of the plant can hide healthy stems underneath, while a heather which still appears healthy could already be in the first stages of decay.
There are three main ways to check if a heather plant is alive or not. The first involves your sense of touch: handle the heather’s foliage and flowers to see if they’re dry and brittle, since this could be a tell-tale sign that it’s on its way out. Next, break off a single stem of the plant. If it’s pliable and green or white inside, it’s still alive; if it snaps in half easily, it could be dead. Finally, dig a small hole nearby the base of the plant to look at its roots. White roots indicate it’s healthy, while brown, red or black ones will tell you that it’s dying or dead.
3) Compost accordingly
One of the likeliest causes of a failing heather plant is improper soil. Heathers love acidic soil types with good drainage, so you can encourage a flagging specimen to flourish once more by ensuring it has the nutrients it needs. Place ericaceous compost at its base to promote new growth, or else mulch with pine needs and other organic matter to enhance the acidity of the soil.
Remember, some heather plants are more reliant on acidity than others, so check the label on your particular specimen or else look up the genus online to see if it requires special treatment. In the right soil, heathers are hardy enough to thrive and survive for many years at a time, even when left to their own devices.
4) Hydrate to regenerate
Another chief cause of a dying heather plant is improper irrigation. If a specimen’s roots and foliage are allowed to dry out completely, it’ll die out within a matter of days and won’t return the following year. That’s why it’s important to ensure that the soil surrounding the plant is always kept moist (but not waterlogged) in order to maintain adequate hydration levels.
For a plant that’s desperately in need of a drink to the point of expiration, it can be beneficial to dig it up entirely (roots and all) and soak it in a bucket of water for a couple of hours to slake its thirst. Then, it’s simply a case of replanting in the location of your choice. It should also be noted that some heather varieties are susceptible to hard water, which can come out of the taps of many households in Britain. For best results, collect rainwater and use that to irrigate your plants on days of drought instead of using tap water.
5) Relocate when required
The final factor which could be contributing to poor performance from your heather is its location. For starters, heather plants are hardy beasts that love the great outdoors, so if you have your specimen cooped up indoors, it won’t enjoy itself. They can also be grown in pots and containers without too much of a problem, but if you have acidic soil in your garden, it’s always a preferable option.
While heathers are resilient under most conditions, they don’t do well in the extremes of hot or cold, so if you’re lucky enough to live in a particularly sunny part of the country, it may be an idea to plant it in a spot that enjoys at least partial shade. Plant the heathers with enough distance between them to allow their roots to explore at will and feed and water them regularly at the outset to ensure they take to their new environment and you may just be able to bring them back from the precipice.