By: Nikki Tilley, Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden
Often overlooked but a true gem in the garden is the hebe plant (Hebe spp.). This interesting evergreen shrub, which was named after the Greek goddess of youth, includes numerous species, so you’re sure to find one that will suit your needs. Hebe shrubs are also extremely versatile, easily thriving in many conditions and just as easy to maintain.
The majority of hebe shrubs are native to New Zealand. They range in size from small bushes that may grow about 3 feet (1 m.) tall to larger tree-like varieties reaching heights of up to 6 feet (2 m.). There are also both large and small-leafed types available. While evergreen in nature, their foliage provides year-round interest with additional colors in burgundy, bronze or variegated.
Most hebes bloom in summer and last throughout fall. Some varieties even offer winter blooms. These spiked flowers also come in a range of colors—from white, pink and crimson to blue and purple.
Growing a hebe plant is easy. The versatility of these shrubs allows you to grow them in different ways. Use them for edging, plant them in borders, grow them in rock gardens or even in containers.
Hebe shrubs are most suited for areas with cool summers and mild winters. They adapt to a variety of soil types but will perform best in loose, well-draining soil. They can be grown in both sun and shade, though full sun is preferable, as plants grown in shade may become leggy.
Young plants should be potted up in spring. Planting hebe in the garden should be at the same depth as the container they are growing in. Adding organic matter or compost to the soil during planting will help promote healthy growth.
The hebe plant does not require a lot of care once it is established. Although the shrub doesn’t need much in the way of fertilizer, you can apply some once a year in late winter or early spring prior to new growth.
Deadheading the spent blooms can be done to help promote additional flowering. You can also trim hebe plants back about halfway after flowering to promote bushier growth.
These shrubs are usually propagated through both seeds and semi-hardwood cuttings taken in summer.
In areas with harsher winters, they should be protected by surrounding them with straw mulch.
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Spring - Pruning hebes - prune older or overgrown Hebes
Remove the oldest stems that have become "twiggy"
Cut back other stems of the Hebe to around a quarter of their length.
Make sure that Hebes are watered - especially new plants.
Check for greenfly and blackfly.
Remove flowers from Hebe Shrubs once they start to fade.
Protect Hebe cuttings from frost.
Hebe Carl Teschner,(violet / blue flowers) Hebe Pingulfolia Pagei (white flowers)and Hebe Armstrongii are small varieties of Hebe suitable for growing in a rockery or as ground cover
One of the largest Hebes is Hebe Salicfolia. This Hebe can grow to over 10 feet or 2 metres in height.
A long flowering pink Hebe - Marjorie is a mid sized plant which makes a wonderful background for summer annuals in a flower border.
In general all Hebe like a sunny position and a well drained soil. Some are hardier than others, with the whipcord types being the hardiest.
A few species will grow well in coastal conditions, but not all. Soil conditions are not a problem, Hebe will grow in poor soil, although they do perform better in a humus rich moist soil, as long as drainage is good.
Generally they are not suited to sub tropical climates.
Caring for hebes isn’t that complicated. A day of neglect in a week is alright because the required nutrients are not too much. It also continues to work even during minimal pruning, although 3 inches of new shoots should be removed. When it comes to pests and diseases, there are rare occasions. But this doesn’t mean that you have to completely let the plant work on itself. It is still needed to regularly water, change soil if necessary and prune whenever desired in late summer. There is also importance in adding some organic matter from time to time as this helps in the stimulation of quicker and healthier growth.
Growing hebes in pots includes not only the dos but also the don’ts. One of the don’ts is to not feed the plant with anything as this can cause floppiness and become too lush. If anything, this shrub has a special shape that accentuates any landscape.
Hebes are best grown with other flowers that blood well during summer. Some of the best choices are roses and peonies but any herbaceous that produce flowers in this particular season works.
Hebe (Speedwell Shrub) is the ideal plant for giving your garden and patio boost in the late summer. White, purple, pink, or lilac flowers instantly lend a fresh energy, and Hebe's foliage varies in colour from pale green to dark green, and very pale grey.
what conditions do Hebes like? Hebe shrubs are most suited for areas with cool summers and mild winters. They adapt to a variety of soil types but will perform best in loose, well-draining soil. They can be grown in both sun and shade, though full sun is preferable, as plants grown in shade may become leggy.
Simply so, how do you care for a Hebe plant?
Hebe likes a sunny spot in the garden and can tolerate full sun (but will also happily thrive in partial shade) Ensure water can always drain away – the Hebe doesn't like sitting in puddles of water. When your Hebe is flowering (Summer-Autumn), give it a water with plant food in once a fortnight.
How long do Hebe plants live?
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.
Hebes are evergreen shrubs that succeed best in open conditions, with some shelter from strong winds. They will do well in light shade or even a well lit north-facing border. Plants grown in deep shade will grow leggy and not flower.
Recommended distances for planting
Carpeting hebes – up to 12 in apart
Hebes up to 18 in high – 15–18 in apart
Hebes up to 36 in high – 24 in apart
Hebes up to 48 in high – 36 in apart
Taller growing hebes – 48 in apart
Any good garden soil is satisfactory, from slightly acid through to alkaline. Heavy clay that becomes waterlogged in winter is not recommended, although improving the soil with organic matter might help. Light sandy soils can be improved by adding organic matter.
Hebes with large leaves and showy flowers are the most tender. Those with small leaves and white flowers are the most hardy. The younger shoots of hebes are the most vulnerable to frost. Here a mulch is beneficial to protect from frost. Horticultural fleece can also be used.
All varieties benefit from a light pruning in spring or after flowering. Frost damaged shoots should be removed in the spring, when the buds have started to grow. Cut to a bud that is growing further down the stem.
If a bush becomes overgrown, it is preferable to spread the cutting back over several months than to cut back all growths at one time. Again you should cut to a bud that is growing further down the stem.
After flowering is the best time to prune to shape and thicken the plant. Remove a few inches on small varieties and 6 to 10 inches on the larger ones. The pruned material makes good cuttings.
Hebes are easily propagated from cuttings taken in summer from the current season’s growth. Cuttings are taken just below a leaf joint, on wood that has started to harden – a semi-hardwood cutting. Most of the leaves are removed and the cuttings dipped into a rooting hormone, although this not essential, see below. These are then inserted into compost (multipurpose or soil based).
Young plants should be potted up in the spring. Remove the growing tip to induce a more bushy plant. Plants normally flower in the first year.