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Gardening 101: Tree Heather

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Gardening 101: Tree Heather

May 3, 2018

Tree Heather, Erica arborea: “The Heather Giant”

If heather makes you think of rockeries from the 1970s, tree heather is a revelation. It is graceful, mysterious, show-stopping: all the things that heather isn’t.

A hardy evergreen, tree heather prefers acid soil and can withstand some exposure. On the edge of a garden, you might not even notice this small tree or large shrub until it sparks into life, with small glowing buds that become fragrant in flower.

Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer, for Gardenista.

Tree heather at Beth Chatto&#8\2\17;s garden in Essex.
Above: Tree heather at Beth Chatto’s garden in Essex.

Unlike plain old heather, Erica arborea has movement and an intriguing amorphous shape. It can also be pruned into a shaggy hedge, regenerating from old wood if necessary.

Tree heather preparing to flower.
Above: Tree heather preparing to flower.

The flowering time of tree heather (also known as tree heath) depends on geography. In the UK late winter and spring is the time, whereas in the United States—in USDA zones 7 to 9 where it is hardy—flowering takes place throughout May.

White bell-shaped flowers emit a powerful fragrance.
Above: White bell-shaped flowers emit a powerful fragrance.

Cheat Sheet

  • Tree heather is a flowering, highly perfumed evergreen shrub or small tree, also known as tree heath.
  • It is native to southern Europe as well as north and west Africa, thriving on rocky scrubland.
  • Erica arborea‘s proven drought hardiness gives it an advantage in problem gardens.
Tree heather is a broadleaf evergreen, like pine.
Above: Tree heather is a broadleaf evergreen, like pine.

Keep It Alive

  • Erica arborea prefers acidic free-draining soil.
  • A good-looking tree heather has probably been gently shaped in its youth and then left alone.
  • Happy in full sun or partial shade, for instance under taller trees.
Like the trusty backyard combination of heathers and dwarf conifers, tree heathers mingle with full-size conifers and evergreen camellia in Beth Chatto&#8\2\17;s garden in Essex.
Above: Like the trusty backyard combination of heathers and dwarf conifers, tree heathers mingle with full-size conifers and evergreen camellia in Beth Chatto’s garden in Essex.

Read more design and care tips at Tree Heather: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design and get ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for more of our favorite shrubs and hedges with our Shrubs: A Field Guide. To see how mature shrubs might look in your garden, read:

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