Virtues: We love winter heath (Erica carnea) for its early bloom and evergreen presence. Deer resistant.
Common name: Winter heath, spring heath, winter-flowering heather
Botanical name: Erica carnea
Foliage: Evergreen and needlelike. Generally green in color, though some varieties display varied shades of green, from lime-green to dark green, over the course of the year.
Flowers: Flower color, form and bloom time varies by cultivar, but in general the flowers come in shades of red, pink or white, with small drooping bell- or urn-shaped blossoms held along stalks rising just above the foliage. Winter heaths bloom in late winter or early spring, for a long period.
Habit: Dense, evergreen shrubby groundcover from 6 to 12 inches tall, depending on variety. The width is usually twice the height. Season: Late winter to early spring for flowers; year-round for foliage.
Origin: Native to central and southern Europe.
Cultivation: Grow in full sun to partial shade. Heaths are tricky about soil, but easy to grow if the soil is right and temperatures are not extremely high or low. Site in moist but well-drained, acidic soil that is poor in nutrients. Do not fertilize. The cultivar ‘Springwood White’ is the most tolerant of heat. Heaths look nice and grow well with other acid-loving plants, such as rhododendrons, or arranged as a tapestry with heathers (Calluna spp.) and pigsqueak (Bergenia cordifolia). Deer resistant and tolerant of seaside conditions. USDA Zones 5–7.
Image attribution: H. Zell. Image rights.
Add season-long color to your garden with brightly colored foliage plants. Read all about the many choices in Foliage: Astonishing Color and Texture Beyond Flowers by Nancy Ondra.
Find more deer-resistant plants and ways to deter deer in Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden.
Understand soil pH and tailor your plant choices to your soil type with Success with Acid-Loving Plants or Success with Alkaline-Loving Plants.