Heather conjures images of the wide expanses of Britain's moors, where it grows wild in great masses. In the United States, heather is a popular ground cover or flower bed plant in the mild coastal areas. When planted in a moist, mild climate, heather is fairly problem-free. Most problems with heather arise when it is grown in an unsuitable climate that is very hot or very cold, with dry, alkaline soils.
Signs that a heather plant is in trouble include dropping, wilted or yellow leaves and stems, stunted growth or diminished blooms.
Heathers have grown for centuries along the moors of Britain, where few other plants survive. The climate here is moist and cool, with few bitter winter storms or blistering hot summer days. The soil is acidic. These conditions can be fairly easily recreated in New England and the Pacific Northwest of the United States, but heather probably won't thrive in the Southern United States, Midwest or Rocky Mountain regions.
In the summer, heather may suffer due to a lack of water or too much heat. Heather grown under trees or in dry, alkaline soils will most likely fail. Additionally, heather may not withstand heavy winter snows and freezing temperatures, particularly when those conditions occur early in the winter before the wood has hardened. Phytophthora cinnamomi is a root rot disease that causes stunted growth and is caused by a fungus, "Flower and Garden" magazine advises. Planting heather incorrectly may also cause plants to suffer.
Heather should be planted deeply so the bottom leaves almost touch the soil's surface. Heather should be planted in a sunny location with moist, acid soil and treated with an acid fertilizer in the spring. It should be sheltered from harsh winds by buildings or trees. A mulch of pine needles or pine boughs may provide protection from winter freezes. Additionally, a fungicide may be used to treat root rot.
Heather make fine ground covers when grown in suitable climates. They require less water than lawns and many other plants, according to "Flower and Garden" magazine, and are fairly low-maintenance. Historically, heather was used in England to make brooms, stuff mattresses and even to make heather ale.