Italian heather, also called Mediterranean heather or Darley heath, is a low-growing evergreen native to warm climates. Its rounded, bushy shape and tendency to spread make it a perfect ground cover. It blooms in late spring to early summer with tiny, bell-shaped pink or white flowers. Many gardeners use Italian heather in rocky areas and rock gardens, or as edges to walkways and larger garden plots. It's also good for decorating steep hillsides and other difficult-to-cultivate areas.

Erica flowers, South Africa
credit: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Care and Maintenance

Plant Italian heather in full sun because it cannot abide shade and will begin to wilt almost immediately under trees. Do not allow fallen leaves, branches or any other materials to rest on top of this shrub. The shade and weight of the debris will harm the plant. Plant seedlings about a foot away from one another; they will grow into each other quickly to form a bushy blanket over the area. Mulch new plants with about 2 inches of compost or pine bark to hold in moisture. Once the plants grow into each other, mulch around the edges of the plot. The center growth will hold in its own moisture.

Water Italian heather heavily upon planting, so the soil is quite moist but not soggy. During the first growing season, water it generously this way between rainfalls. After the first growing season, it only needs water during droughts; water it just as you would the seedlings.

Italian heather likes well-drained soil and needs few nutrients, growing best in humus. Work sand or small gravel into the soil before planting and mulch new plants with a little well-matured compost. This encourages the new plants to grow faster and establish themselves. After this, fertilize the heather about every three years with compost, peat moss or rhododendron fertilizer spikes. Drive the spikes into the ground every 6 feet around a plot of heather and drive two or three in the middle of a large plot.

Encourage bloom growth by snipping dead flowers just below the blooms. Cut back ragged-looking growth with pruning snips just above leaf nodes. This will control growth and help the plant keep its shape as well as encourage healthier growth. Propagate Italian heather from cuttings by snipping 6-inch cuttings just below a leaf node and planting it in a seedling tray just as you would plant an Italian heather seedling.