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Hebes are evergreen shrubs that do quite well in the UK given their hardiness and their low maintenance with minimal pruning required. They prefer full sun all year round but can tolerate semi-shade if that is all you have, just note that in semi-shaded areas they might not flower as well as they would in a full sun position.
They’re very flexible in that you can grow them in the ground but they also grow very well in container and pots of many sizes although some varieties are better suited than others, however, the vast majority of varieties will grow well in containers. They do best with well-draining soil but beyond that can grow in lighter, sandy soils or heavier, clay soils as long as the soil does not become waterlogged and don’t forget to dig plenty of grit into clay soil to help with drainage.
They also tolerate slightly acidic through slightly alkaline soil conditions. There are also variegated varieties and some that produce very attractive flowers from deep purples and whites to pinks and blues. You can also enjoy multiple sizes depending on the space you have available as some varieties reach around 30cm by 30cm, perfect for pots while others can reach a height and spread or 4-5ft.
Caring for hebes
Hebes are low maintenance so you only need to do a few things to keep them happy
- Firstly, check for signs of damage from frost from March. If any stems have been damaged, remove them back to the point of a healthy bud. This is the same thing you want to do when you prune annually as well after flowering.
- If your hebe is currently flowering, make sure you deadhead after flowering to extend the flowering period.
- If you are growing hebes in the ground, don’t give them nitrogen-heavy fertilisers but add some bone meal in April and July.
- Water during the dry periods especially when grown in containers as they can suffer when grown in pots and can loose there lower leaves.
It will do your plant a world of good to do annual pruning but it’s not essential. This keeps it reasonable in its size especially if you have a taller variety and it prevents a lot of crowding around the middle of the plant which usually leads to problems of air circulation and diseases. If you don’t prune on an annual basis eventually your plants will become bare around the base and all of the foliage will be up at the top which eventually causes the stems to bend over under the weight and you loose that bushy look.
When to prune
March is the best time to prune because the new buds will be visible so you won’t damage them.
Don’t prune into old wood
You don’t want to prune back into the old, dead wood. Instead, you want to prune back until you still have a few buds present on every stem. With compact varieties like hebe green globe, you also want to prune to maintain their shape by removing the top 5-10cm every year.
Pruning larger carieties
If you have a larger variety you can prune back the top 20-30cm every year and maybe even prune a few stems back farther to open up the middle and allow for better air circulation.
Growing hebes in containers and pots
You can certainly grow these shrubs in a container and they also look great in winter as they are evergreen. When growing them in pots, the main concern is making sure that you add enough compost to keep the soil moist but never waterlogged. You should apply a feed to the plant between April and September in two months intervals which includes a small handful of bone meal worked into the compost.
Come winter it’s important to put your container somewhere they are out of the direct wind patterns and have some protection against frost. This is usually against the wall of your home or in an unheated greenhouse. Make sure you purchase a variety that is suitable for growing in containers as well, not all will grow in containers especially the larger varieties.
Potential diseases when growing hebes
These shrubs are remarkably healthy and they don’t suffer from a lot of diseases but there are a few things you need to look out for.
Leaf spot is one thing to keep your eyes peeled for and it’s something that manifests in the form of small brown spots or marks on the leaves. It’s not an immediate threat to your plant but if you don’t treat it, it will reduce the vigour and the overall health and your plant will get leggy.
This is a fungal disease that usually manifests between October and February. By the time March rolls around the new leaves that are developing will force the older lease to shed. The best treatment is to apply a general-purpose fungicide in September or as soon as you notice the issue has manifested. You might have to add two or three applications every two weeks until the problem is solved.
Downy mildew is another problem you have to worry about. The symptoms manifest in the form of irregular brown marks along the top of your leaves and you might notice gray fungal growth on the underside. With this disease, it usually impacts the lower leaves more than the leaves on top because it’s caused by damp conditions, lack of air circulation, and cold soil.
The only way to really take care of this is to prevent it. Make sure you prune in order to improve air circulation if absolutely necessary, add mulch around the base of the plant to help keep the roots warm especially when the weather gets colder, and check on your plant when it’s damp conditions outside. You might be better off moving your plant to somewhere sunnier because this disease will eventually kill your plant if you don’t deal with it. You can also try spraying your plant with a fungicide at first signs but prevention is better which means improved growing conditions.
Similarly, root rot will kill the entire plant if left alone. It slows down growth and is usually the result of poor soil, bad drainage, or cold weather. There is no cure for this but you need to improve the soil conditions and try to prevent it. If you notice your plant is turning brown and dying off the best option is to simply dig it up and start over in a different location with a new plant as they rarely recover.
How to propagate hebes by taking cuttings
When to take cuttings
Hebes are best propagated from semi-ripe cuttings. These are the cutting you take between July and September. It is important to find stems which are hard at the base and soft at the tip, hence the name.
Take cuttings that are between 10cm and 15cm long, and only pick horizontal, untainted pieces. Avoid anything that is atypical in shape, unhealthy, or anything other than top notch.
Tip: The best cuttings are those at the top of your hebe, with full sun exposure and no flowers.
When cutting, use a sharp, sanitised knife or garden secateurs and cut directly below a leaf node/bud. Trim the lower leaves away as well so that only four leaves remain at the top. It is from the bottom of the cutting that the roots will grow.
It is important to pot these cuttings immediately for the best chances of them rooting. Before you place the cuttings into the containers it is important to dip the end in rooting hormone powder.
To prepare the containers, find appropriately-sized containers that are not to large or plug trays and fill it with a potting compost mixture. Insert a stick, pencil, or pen to create a hole straight down in the middle into which you will place the cuttings. Each cutting should have its own container and once it is in place and firmly patted down, water it thoroughly and allow the water to drain all the way through so that the soil is thoroughly saturated.
With this, you want to be sure you are creating a miniature greenhouse which is why the propagating kits you see in the garden centre tend to have a large tray and then top often with air vents. The top pieces are plastic and are often adjustable.
If you don’t have an propagator you can recreate this at home with a plastic bag or a plastic cup with holes in the bottom just so long as the material you use does not come into direct contact with the leaves. You can help this by tenting the plastic bag using things around the house like flower sticks. canes, chopsticks, pencils.
The containers should be kept in a greenhouse or in a warm area with indirect sunlight such as on a windowsill. after about 4 weeks the hebe should have rooted but it can take longer so be patient.
In spring of the following year, you can pot in larger containers, about 2 litres in size and keep it well watered. When the beginning of september arrives, you can plant it outside or in a large container which will serve as its final home.
Our top varieties
There are, of course, many sizes and shapes for the hebe, which is why we’ve compiled a quick list of our top varieties for small, medium, and large sized hebe:
Name: Hebe ‘Wild Romance’.
Height and spread: 60cm.
Leaf colour: Dark and light green, black and purple top growth.
Flowering: Purple flowers from July through September.
Growth habit: round, compact bush.
Can endure UK frost? No, needs protection during freezing temperatures.
Can grow in containers? Yes.
Name: Hebe ‘Heartbreaker’.
Height and spread: 75cm.
Leaf colour: Green, glossy leaves that turn red in winter, evergreen shrub.
Flowering: White spikes flowers from June and July.
Growth habit: Compact, dome shape.
Can grow in containers? Yes.
Name: Hebe ‘Midsummer Beauty’.
Height and spread: 2-3 metre.
Leaf colour: dark green on the top with shaded purple underneath.
Flowering: lilac flower spikes that fade to white colour from July to October.
Growth habit: rounded, loose shrubs.
Can grow in containers? Better suited for growing in beds and borders but will tolerate a large pot if needed.
Last update on 2021-09-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API