Calluna vulgaris [kal-LOO-nuh, vul-GAIR-iss] is the sole species encompassing the Calluna genus. A part of the flowering plant family Ericaceae, this perennial plant has several common names including:
- Common Heather
- Ling plant
- Scotch Heather
The plant is native to Europe, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and the Azones.
However, they have been introduced in North America including the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and the Falkland Islands.
The scientific name Calluna vulgaris comes from a Greek word kalluno.
The word means “to cleanse or adorn”, which refers to the plant being used for making brooms.
Vulgaris simply means common.
Did you know the Purple heather is one of the two national flowers of Norway?
Besides this, the plant is considered an icon of Scotland where it grows widely.
Common Heather Care
Size & Growth
The ling plant is native to habitats including moors, hillsides, dunes, heaths, and bogs.
When these growing conditions are replicated in other locations, the evergreen broadleaf shrub can grow up to 2’ – 3’ feet tall.
Their ground spread is mostly equivalent to the height. Branching is lush and upright, forming thick mats.
The foliage is dense and compact, making the plant excellent for ground cover.
Flowering and Fragrance
The bloom time for the showy Calluna vulgaris flowers is during late summer.
In wild plants, the flowers typically sport a mauve color but white flowers are not uncommon.
The flowers are in terminals, one-sided, and have spike-like racemes.
The plant also produces a fruit which appears as capsules.
While the original mauve and white flowers of Heather are beautiful, many cultivars are chosen for unique flower and foliage color combinations.
In fact, the Royal Horticultural Society lists over 800 cultivars.
Some of the common cultivars include Cuprea, Firefly, Long White, Beoley Gold, and Boskoop.
Light & Temperature
Calluna vulgaris is hardy to USDA hardiness zones 4 to 6.
It does the best in zone 5 but tolerates warmer parts of zone 4 quite well.
It does not like high humidity and heat in areas south of the USDA zone.
As for light, the plant flowers and grows much better when it is planted in regions getting full sun.
In hot and humid summer, the plant may appreciate partial shade during the hottest hours of the day.
Watering and Feeding
Heathers have average water needs. Make sure the soil doesn’t dry out as the plant prefers constant moisture.
Water the plants once or twice a week. However, be careful about overwatering.
Too much water may lead to root rot and inconsistent growth.
Once the plant is established, it won’t need frequent watering.
Fertilizing is not essential for Scottish heathers.
In fact, the plants prefer poor soils and may even be harmful to some.
If the soil you’re using is significantly poor, a low rate fertilizer fed once during the growing season may work for the acid-loving plants.
Soil & Transplanting
Calluna vulgaris plants need well-drained acid soil to regulate moisture and sustain enough to keep the roots cool.
If you’re using heavy soils, a raised bed or mound of soil may improve drainage.
Like azaleas and rhododendrons, heathers are acid-loving.
The ideal pH in the soil is between 4.5 and 5.5.
Use peat moss to alkaline soil to raise the acidity.
Transplanting should be done carefully as the plants have shallow root systems.
Start by digging a hole twice as wide and half as deep as the root ball.
Remove the plant from the container.
Make a few vertical cuts along the length of the root ball on the bottom.
Break up some of the roots and work in the soil.
Grooming and Maintenance
Common heathers respond well to regular pruning.
You should prune the plants in late fall to early spring underneath old flowers.
Shear the plant lightly after it blooms to encourage better flowering and lush growth.
If you don’t prune the plant annually, the growth can become leggy and straggly.
Mulch the plants after planting to allow the soil to retain moisture.
How To Propagate Ling
When propagating Calluna vulgaris from seeds, sow them in a shaded part of a greenhouse in February.
Sow the seed in moist, well-drained acidic soil on the surface, just covering it.
Treat it to cold stratification for 4 to 20 weeks.
The seeds take 1 to 2 months to germinate at 68° degrees Fahrenheit (20° C).
When seedlings are large enough to handle, transfer to individual pots in the winter and grow then in the greenhouse.
Transfer them to their permanent location in late spring or early summer.
The plant can propagate with half-ripe wood cuttings, mature wood cuttings, and division.
These should be done in July/August, October/November, and spring respectively.
Scotch Heather Pest or Diseases
If you don’t provide partial shade in hot summers, heathers may be susceptible to stem and root rot.
Additionally, keep an eye out for spider mites and oyster shell scale.
More on –> Controlling Spider Mites
Is The Plant Invasive?
The plant does have a tendency to be invasive in some areas in New Zealand.
Common Heather Uses
Smaller varieties of common heathers are used as full sun ground covers and in rock gardens.
Other shrub varieties are planted in mass on hillsides.
Also, they are often planted in borders as background plants.
Besides garden uses, the plants have various other uses such as a food source for sheep and deer and to make honey.
Formerly, the plant was used to dye wool and tan leathers.