Heathers (Calluna), heaths (Erica) and Irish heath (Daboecia) thrive in an open, sunny position, but will tolerate light shade, such as under high-canopied deciduous trees. Many need lime-free soil (acidic) that is rich in organic matter. Some tolerate neutral to alkaline soil.
Heathers for acidic soil
These flower from late summer to autumn and include all Calluna and Daboecia cantabrica. They need neutral to acidic growing conditions, which means a pH of 6.5 or less, ideally 5.5. These heathers need a light sandy soil, enriched with organic matter.
Heathers tolerating a neutral to alkaline soil
Winter and spring flowering Erica carnea, E. × darleyensis, and the summer flowering E. vagans will tolerate a slightly heavier soil (than the acid-loving heathers). They will grow in an acid soil or neutral to alkaline soil (pH reading of 7.0 or higher) as long as there is plenty of well-rotted organic matter.
Use homemade leaf mould, well-composted pine needles or composted pine bark. Use when planting heathers and as a mulch to keep soil acidity up and improve soil structure.
For the more alkaline-tolerant ericas, incorporate well-rotted garden compost or farmyard manure at planting.
Heathers in open ground do not need feeding if conditions are acidic. If soil becomes too alkaline, yellowing of the foliage may occur. In this case, feed with an ericaceous fertiliser in late March or early April.
Newly planted specimens in containers will have enough feed from the compost for a couple of months. Subsequently, apply a fertiliser produced specially for ericaceous plants during the growing season as per the packet instructions.