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How to grow hebes

Val Bourne / 11 February 2016

Find out how to grow hebes, a New Zealand plant that's good for exposed, windy gardens.

Hebes are good in exposed positions

Hebes are mainly New Zealanders, although a few of the hundred or so species are native to Australia and South America. In the wild most hebes grow in open scrubland in very exposed, windy and bright positions where grazing animals often feed. As a result many have toughened up their evergreen foliage and adopted a compact habit, to avoid being eaten. 

This toughening-up process makes hebes suitable for seaside locations because their leathery foliage is able to throw off salt-laden winds. 

Find out about some of the best plants for a coastal garden.

Hebes do need managing in our greyer British climate because they are borderline hardy and they can die in freezing winters. As a rule of thumb larger-leaved hebes are less hardy than smaller-leaved varieties.

Some varieties have been produced for flower, others for foliage and this can be variegated, or red-edged, grey or dark. Most have been bred in new Zealand and sizes and habit do vary greatly.

When to plant

It’s best to plant hebes in the warmer months and you could do this from April until early September. This will give plenty of opportunity for roots to develop.

Where to plant

Hebes are plants that thrive on poorer soil, so find them a warm, bright position and water them for their first growing season but don't feed them. After that time they will develop long roots that stretch down into the soil.

Hebes are good in exposed positions, including seaside gardens.

The compact varieties make good winter containers plants because hebes are generally evergreen.

Feeding hebes

Don’t feed hebes, it will make the foliage too lush and floppy.

Pruning hebes

Many hebes have a habit of becoming leggy and, should this happen, they lose vigour and look unsightly.

Regular late-summer pruning will benefit your hebes greatly. It will bush out the plants and prolong their life because a cut back plant responds by producing strong new shoots. 

Taking cuttings

Hebes are named after the Greek goddess of youth, but sadly they do have a short-lived tendency. Expect five good years, ten at most. For this reason, and due to their less than hardy constitution, it’s worth taking cuttings in midsummer. 

This isn’t complicated. Take off some new shoots, about three inches in length, and trim them below a leaf joint. Strip off the lower leaves and plunge them, two thirds submerged, into a mixture of gritty compost, or coarse horticultural sand. Cuttings root easily and can be potted up in September and kept somewhere frost free until the following spring.

Clipping for architectural winter use

Some of the larger grey-leaved hebes can be clipped back to form round silhouettes for winter interest, in a similar way to box balls. This can look very stylish and adds a different texture to the winter garden. Your roundels will not produce flower, but they will look very architectural.

Hebes and wildlife

Hebes produce butterfly and bee-friendly summer flowers in shades of pink, blue and white.

Find out how to create a wildlife-friendly garden.

Grow with...

Useful flowering plants on sunny border edges in summer-flowering borders that might contain roses and summer-flowering herbaceous. Hebe flowers often go on late.

Or you could use them en masse as architectural plants in more formal potagers.

Hebe varieties

Compact varieties

These hebes are suitable for containers, alpine screes and sunny border edges.

Hebe ‘Caledonia' AGM
Small glossy, red-edged dark green leaves turn to vibrant plum in spring. Violet flowers appear between mid-summer to mid-autumn, so this is a hebe for every season. (60 cm / 2 ft)

Hebe 'Heartbreaker'
A recent arrival, grown for its cream-edged green leaves which develop a vivid pink flush as the temperatures fall. Especially good in a container. Mauve flowers follow in summer. ( 0.6m/ 2ft)

Hebe ‘Pascal’ AGM
A new compact evergreen, with foliage that changes from green to burgundy during the colder months. Very hardy, with showy lavender-blue flowers so it’s a good choice for a winter container. (0.5/ 20 in)

Hebe ‘Red Edge’ AGM
Fleshy grey-green leaves primly edged in red - particularly splendid in winter light - and lilac-mauve flowers aplenty in summer.

Hebe ‘Emerald Green’ syn ‘Green Globe’ AGM
This tight dome of minute, green foliage doesn’t produce showy flowers, so it’s grown for its vivid-green foliage alone. (30 cm/ 12in)

Hebe ‘Nicola’s Blush’
Well named, for the pale-pink flowers are abundant from summer onwards, contrasting against mid-green leaves finely edged in red. Good purple tints develop during winter. (60 cm/ 2ft)

Hebe ‘Pewter Dome’
Grown for its tight dome of grey-green, evergreen foliage rather than its short spikes of summer-flowering white flowers, this will grow in semi-shade or sun forming a perfect roundel. (60 cm/ 24 in)

Taller hebes

These varieties are better for sunny positions.

Hebe ‘Great Orme’
Fairly hardy, thgis open shrub with with very long spear-shaped green leaves and bright-pink flowers held in long tapering racemes, rather as buddleja flowers are, in summer and autumn (1.4 m/ 5 ft)

Hebe ‘Blue Clouds’
A very hardy and showy evergreen with lance-shaped, dark-green foliage that turns dark-purple in cool weather. There are two flushes of mauve flowers, firstly in June and July and then again between September and December. ( 1m/ 39in)

Hebe ‘Midsummer Beauty’
An upright hebe with spear-shaped green leaves and long narrow spikes of purple flowers that can almost measure a foot in length. These fade as they age. Moderately hardy. ( 1.5m/ 5ft)

Hebe topiaria
You don’t need to clip this hebe because the foliage has a tight growth habit of its own, developed by surviving in the Nelson mountains in New Zealand The grey-green evergreen foliage is topped with white flowers in June and July. This is hardy too, as long as the drainage is reasonable. ( 1m/ 39in)


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