Scottish Heather Calluna vulgaris is one of those carefree plants that creates early Spring and Fall beauty. You can imagine the growing conditions this lovely little plant likes by it original home territory – The Scottish Moors.  In our area of southwestern Ontario, zone 6, 6a & 6b for most of us, heather will flourish with a little afternoon shade, a nice rock for warm and gritty, well-drained soil with a light mixture of  acidic matter.

Scottish Heather in bloom

Even a good location – beside a rock, sandy/peaty soil, light shade – can’t always protect Heather when cold winter temperatures come along.

That’s why these few Heather plants nuzzled along one of our paths have expanded over the past few years.  I have had other locations that succumbed to winter kill, but this and two other locations have done well.  But I found out, once again, what Heather won’t tolerate.  Cold winter temperatures without winter snow cover.  This is the result:

Lack of cover (snow or other medium) allowed cold winter temperature to damage Scottish Heather in our garden.

Winter damaged Heather

I have severely cut back my winter killed Heather. I am not expecting a miracle.

Now, I have taken this severe pruning action because all of the top branches of the Heather did not appear to have any life.  Usually, if I was pruning I would cut no more than one third of the height of the plant, after blooming.  Cutting back into the woody stalks is not recommended, but here I am.  There does seem to be some life in the woody stems, so maybe….

This is all an experiment in an attempt to save a plant, that in all likelihood is beyond saving, but you know how we gardeners like to do that.  I’m going to leave a couple of damaged plants untrimmed and see if they will regenerate without the hard pruning.

If some plants do survive, I plan to take a few branches off my discarded Christmas tree next year and lay them over my Heather plants to create a natural thermal blanket in case we don’t get adequate snow cover during frigid temperatures.

Also, if you are buying Heather as a perennial, make sure you purchase the Calluna vulgaris as many Nurseries also sell Mexican Heather Cuphea hyssopifolia (which isn’t a heather at all) and while it is beautiful, it will act as an annual here and not survive our winters.