How to grow hebes
These evergreen shrubs make colourful focal points and provide year-round structure in borders and containers. Lovers of a sunny spot, they flower for many months in summer, with spikes of small blooms in shades of purple, pink and white that attract bees and other pollinators.
- Easy to grow in any well-drained soil in a sunny spot
- Purple, pink or white flowers in summer
- Evergreen leaves, sometimes blue-green, tinted or variegated
- Ideal for coastal situations
- Grow in borders and containers
- Flowers attract bees and butterflies
- Grow new plants from cuttings
All you need to know
What are hebes?
Hebes are popular sun-loving shrubs from New Zealand and other parts of the southern hemisphere. The flowers are held in small spikes at the tips of stems and come in shades of purple, mauve, pink and white. They are evergreen, so are in leaf all year, and some have ornamental foliage – blue-green, silvery, pink tinged or variegated.
Hebe flowers are very popular with bees, butterflies and other pollinators, and are available for many months over the summer. These dense, evergreen shrubs also provide shelter for myriad insects, spiders and other small creatures.
How to choose a hebe
Hebes provide colourful summer flowers and year-round foliage, so are popular choices for borders and containers. The main considerations include:
- Flower colour – these come in purples, mauves, pinks and white, on long and short spikes
- Foliage – the evergreen leaves are often fleshy and glossy green, but can be shades of blue-grey, silvery, variegated with yellow or tinged with pink
- Shrub size – many are neat and compact, ideal for containers or the front of borders. There are also cultivars that grow larger over time, so suitable for the middle or back of borders
- Growing position – hebes need full sun, in free-draining soil. As well as growing in borders and containers, they can also make informal low hedges. They cope well in coastal locations too. Most are hardy, but prefer a warm, sunny spot. A few need a sheltered position over winter
Around 30 hebes have an RHS Award of Garden Merit, which shows they performed well in RHS trials, so are reliable choices.
To browse photos and descriptions of many hebe cultivars, go to RHS Find a Plant. You can also search by size, flower colour, growing position, hardiness and RHS Award of Garden Merit, to help narrow down your choices.
Before buying, always check plant labels or descriptions carefully, to ensure the plant suits the location available and your requirements.
Silver-leaved hebes are ideal for seaside gardens, and also look good in gravel gardens and Mediterranean-style plantings.
How and what to buy
Some mail-order suppliers also sell hebes as plug plants in spring. This is a cheaper way to buy, especially in larger quantities, but the choice of cultivars is limited. Also, you will need to look after these tiny plants carefully for several months before they are large enough to plant into their final position.
To track down specific cultivars, go to RHS Find a Plant.
When to plant
Hebes are best planted in spring – April or May – when the soil is warming up, which helps them to settle in quickly. There should be a wide choice of healthy young plants available in garden centres at this time too.
You should never plant hebes in winter, as young plants are vulnerable to rotting in cold, wet soil.
Where to plant
- Hebes need lots of sun and fast-draining soil. They won’t survive long in shady, damp or extremely cold conditions
- They like moderately fertile soil, including chalky and alkaline soils. They will not thrive in heavy clay soil or any soil that becomes waterlogged over winter
- They grow well in flower borders – large ones such as Hebe 'Great Orme' or H. salicifolia at the back, and low-growing types, including H. 'Emerald Gem' or H. topiaria, at the front or as a low hedge or border edging
- Many compact hebes also grow well in containers
How to plant
Hebes are quick and easy to plant – simply follow our guides below.
When planting hebes in particular:
- Plant as soon as possible after buying
- Space plants about 90cm (3ft) apart, if growing in groups
- If you are planting a hedge, space plants 30cm (1ft) apart or 45cm (18in) for larger cultivars
- Hebes need free-draining soil, so if you have heavy soil, it's best to plant in a raised bed so the roots don't sit in damp soil. You can also dig in lots of organic matter, to improve drainage, before planting
- Water newly planted hebes regularly for the first season, especially in warm, dry weather
RHS guide to planting a shrub
RHS video guide to planting shrubs
RHS video guide to planting a hedge
Smaller hebes grow well in containers and are easy to plant:
- Choose a large container, 30–40cm (1ft–16in) in diameter, with large drainage holes
- Use a peat-free multipurpose potting compost, or for more permanent planting a loam-based compost such as John Innes No. 2, and mix in lots of coarse grit or perlite to improve drainage
- Position the plant so it sits at the same level it was in its previous pot
- Water generously to settle the compost, then water regularly throughout summer
- Water newly planted hebes regularly during their first summer
- Once hebes are well established, a weekly watering should be enough, although they may need more in dry spells
- Plants in containers need regular watering in summer, as the small amount of compost dries out quickly
- In winter, keep containers fairly dry, maybe by moving them into an unheated greenhouse or into the rain shadow at the base of a wall, to keep off excessive rain. Cold, damp compost can lead to rotting or make them more susceptible to winter damage.
Water: collecting, storing and re-using
RHS guide to using water efficiently
Hebes in borders don't generally need feeding. But if you want to give them a boost, apply a general fertiliser such as Vitax Q4 or Phostrogen in early spring, as plants come into active growth. You can feed plants in containers every spring, as nutrients in the compost tend to run out. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Plant nutrition: feeding plants
If you have time, cut off spent flower spikes as they fade, to keep your plant tidy and encourage further flowers.
Different hebes vary in their tolerance to winter cold – check plant labels (or cultivar descriptions online) before buying, if you want to leave the plant outside over winter. Hebes with green, purple and silvery leaves are the hardiest types.
Plants in containers are always more susceptible to cold, as their roots are less insulated than when in the ground.
To help hebes survive cold winters:
- Move containers to a sheltered spot over winter, so they aren’t exposed to really harsh weather
- Give them some protection from winter rain by standing them in the lee of a wall, in a coldframe or greenhouse. Raise containers up on bricks to ensure the drainage holes in the base don't get blocked, as damp compost makes hebes more susceptible to root rot
- Hebes rarely need pruning, as most are slow growing and form a neat, rounded shrub
- If a hebe does require a bit of a tidy-up, lightly prune it to keep restore its shape by clipping it over with shears
- Hebes don't respond well to hard pruning and often fail to re-sprout if you cut back into woody stems
- If you want to remove spent blooms, deadhead as soon as flower spikes fade, to keep the plant tidy and prolong flowering
You can easily make more hebes by taking softwood or semi-ripe cuttings from non-flowering shoots on young plants – see our guides below. Plants grown from cuttings will be identical to the parent plant.
With hebes in particular:
- Most root readily from cuttings, although many smaller-leaved types root best from semi-ripe shoots
- Don't overwater, as hebe cuttings can easily rot if kept too damp
- Overwinter in a well-ventilated frost-free place
- Plant them out the following spring
- The new plants should flower in two years
Hebes are usually robust and trouble-free if grown in conditions they enjoy. A warm, sheltered, sun-drenched spot with free-draining soil is ideal.
- In wet or heavy soil, hebes may succumb to root rot. To prevent this, grow them in a container or raised bed
- Hebes may be affected by downy mildews and leaf-spot problems (see below), especially if grown under glass without adequate ventilation
- Some hebes, especially those with variegated leaves, are not fully hardy and can suffer winter damage outside. They may also be susceptible to leaf-spot problems in very dry or wet soil – check plant labels carefully and buy a hardy hebe if you want to leave it outside permanently
- Few pests feed on hebes, although aphids may occasionally be a nuisance on new growth, but treatment is not usually necessary
- If you're a member of the RHS, you can use our online gardening advice service, via MyRHS, for any gardening problems or queries
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.