Spring heath is a rhododendron relative best known for its long flowering season: from midwinter to late spring depending on the local climate. The flowers are tiny but so numerous the entire shrub seems blushed with color.
Description of spring heath: Spring heath is a low-growing shrub, rarely reaching over 1 foot in height or spread. Most varieties are even smaller, and many are only 6 inches or so high. The tiny, persistent leaves are little more than needles. Bell-shaped pink flowers are borne copiously from each branch. Ease of care: Moderately difficult.
Growing spring heath: Spring heath is unusual among heaths in that it can grow in alkaline soils, although it prefers acid ones. It does best in poor soils; it can become leggy if overfertilized. Spring heath likes full sun in cooler climates, partial shade in warmer ones. The plant doesn't tolerate excessive summer heat. Prune the plant harshly after the flowers fade if it becomes leggy. Good snow cover is important to its survival in the colder parts of its range.
Propagating spring heath: By cuttings or root division.
Uses for spring heath: Individual spring heaths are planted as spring-flowering accent plants for the rock garden. It can also be planted in groups, eventually forming a deep, even carpet.
Spring heath related varieties: Numerous horticultural selections of spring heath have been made. Most are hardier, denser, and more floriferous than the wild species. Some popular cultivated varieties are Springwood Pink, bright pink; Vivelli, carmine red; and Springwood White, silvery white. There are also many other heaths suited to the rock garden, including bell heather (E. cinerea) with deep pink-purple flowers appearing from summer through early fall. Complete the season with Scotch heather (Calluna vulgaris), a close relative that blooms from midsummer through midfall in white, pink, purple, or red.
Scientific name of spring heath: Erica carnea