Usually associated with the Scottish highlands, heaths are delightful little shrubs. They combine fine-textured, short, needlelike leaves with masses of showy flowers in winter, spring, or summer; blooms may be shaped like tiny bells, urns, or tubes. Flower color ranges from white to pink through lavender to red; foliage colors include bright green, gray-green, yellow, orange, and bronze. Heaths are most effective when massed on berms and banks or used as a ground cover. Deer don't browse them.
E. carnea. SPRING HEATH. Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7. From central and southern Europe. Forms a cushionlike mound to 610 in. high, 1220 in. wide. Foliage is green, yellow, orange, or bronze, depending on selection. In winter or early spring, single or double flowers appear in 2- to 4-in. spikes; bees like them. Among the hundreds of named selections are 'Ruby Glow', with dark green leaves and ruby-red flowers; 'Springwood Pink', bright green foliage and pink blossoms; 'Springwood White', light green leaves, white blooms; 'Winter Beauty' ('King George'), dark green leaves and deep pink flowers.
E. darleyensis. DARLEY HEATH. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Hybrid involving E. carnea and E. erigena. Has performed reasonably well in the Southeast. Larger and more shrublike than E. carnea; forms an attractive low mound that is broader than tall. Blooms late winter to early spring. 'Darley Dale', 1 ft. tall and 2 ft. wide, has medium green leaves and shell-pink flowers that darken to rosy purple. 'George Rendall' reaches 1 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide, has bluish green foliage and purple blooms. 'Ghost Hills', to 2 ft. tall and 2 ft. wide, has bright green, white-tipped leaves and pink flowers. 'Silberschmelze' ('Molten Silver'), to about 1 ft. tall and 23 ft. wide, has medium green leaves and white blossoms.
E. tetralix. CROSS-LEAFED HEATH. Zones US; USDA 6. From western Europe. Grows 12 ft. high and about half as wide. Very cold hardy. Blooms midsummer to fall. Selections include 'Afternoon', with gray-green foliage and lilac-pink flowers; 'Alba Mollis', silvery gray foliage and white blooms; and 'Ken Underwood', gray-green leaves and deep salmon flowers; 'Swedish Yellow', yellow-green foliage and pale pink blooms.
Heaths do better in the South than their cousins the heathers (Calluna), but that doesn't mean they're easy to grow. They require a sunny spot but need light afternoon shade during the hottest days of summer. The soil should be loose, acidic, and well drained, with plenty of organic matter. Sandy soil amended with sphagnum peat moss or compost is ideal; heavy clay usually proves fatal. Do not fertilize. Shear or cut off faded flower spikes in spring, but don't cut back into leafless woodif you do, new foliage may not sprout. The most dependable heath for the South is E. darleyensis.