2nd August 2021
Hebes are good for containers and coastal gardens, bees like them and they can have a very long flowering season. All of this combines with a huge range of flower colours, foliage effects, and plant shapes and sizes, so there’s something to suit many different tastes.
Hailing from New Zealand, hebes are thought of as being drought tolerant and easy to grow. However, they also have a reputation for being ender, which we wanted to investigate,
Best Buy hebes
What it looks like
Height x spread
75 x 100cm (max 90 x 100cm)
With more flowers than any other variety on test, these well-shaped, dense and bushy shrubs were smothered in blooms in midsummer. The large flower heads not only looked good, but were extremely attractive to bumble bees. Even when they finished, the green seed heads seemed to blend in with the foliage and didn’t look bad at all. There was no winter colour on the leaves, but they were evergreen and healthy during the colder months. Peak flowering: June-July.
What it looks like
Height x spread
50 x 65cm (max 100 x 100cm)
Everything about these shrubs was big and bold, from the large, variegated leaves on thick stems to the colourful flowers. The larger-leaved varieties are thought to be less hardy than small-leaved ones, but this variety came through winter well. It was easy to remove the few damaged shoot tips, and new growth covered the resulting gaps. The leaves didn’t develop any winter colour, but the eye-catching variegation looked good anyway. Peak flowering: July.
We grew 23 varieties of hebe at our Capel Manor trial site in north London and at The Alnwick Garden in Northumberland. We planted them in spring and grew them until September the year after, assessing them for: flowering duration and impact; how well-shaped the plants were and what their leaves looked like in summer; how well-shaped the plants were and what their leaves looked like in summer; and whether the plants were affected by common problems. Winter foliage colour was assessed from November to March. In the first year, the plants were watered during dry spells to help them establish; in the second year they were watered much less, only during longer spells of dry weather. We didn’t feed them.
Plant hebes in spring, if possible. Some varieties are sold in autumn, but these will need to be protected from winter wet and winds. Plant in well-drained soil that doesn’t dry out completely, in sun or light shade, and is sheltered from cold winds.
Remove any frost-damaged shoot tips in spring, cutting back to a growing bud, but not into bare wood. Cut out any stems that are completely bare or dead.
After flowering, lightly prune the plant, removing the spent flower heads, along with the top few centimetres of growth on compact varieties, or around 15-20cm of growth on larger varieties.
Overgrown plants can be cut back over a few months, or even in two separate springs. Always cut back to a growing bud.
Keep plants watered during hot, dry weather.
Downy mildew starts as large yellow or brown patches which spread. Leaves, usually on lower parts of the branches, curl, shrivel and drop off. Overcrowded plants are more susceptible. Making sure you don’t wet the leaves when you water the plants will also help prevent it.
Leaf spot disease begins as small dark patches with white centres in autumn and winter; the leaves drop off the following spring. And root rot diseases can lead to discoloured and dying sections on plants. Improving soil drainage, but also not letting plants dry out, can help.