Have you been looking for a neat, small, and rounded evergreen shrub for your garden? If so, hebes might be just the plant for you. Oh, and beautiful, fragrant flowers in a variety of colors are also part of the deal. Read on to learn more about how to grow and care for these excellent evergreens.
What Is A Hebe Shrub?
If you were wondering how to tell your friends about this plant, Hebe is pronounced HEE-bee. These plants of the plantain family, Plantaginaceae, are named after the goddess of youth.
There are over 90 known species in the Hebe genus, ranging from dwarf shrubs to small trees of over 20 feet (7m) in height. Furthermore, there are many different hybrids, varieties, and cultivars available. This article will cover general care for these plants.
Most of the species in this genus are native to New Zealand, although some types also occur naturally in parts of South America as well as some islands. In nature, these plants grow in all sorts of different environments, from mountain slopes to lowland habitats. Most of these plants are from well-watered climates.
One of these plants’ biggest selling points is their fantastic foliage. Forms with many different leaf sizes, textures, and shades are available, including cultivars with variegated leaves. The leaf color of some forms changes between the warmer and colder seasons. As a general rule, the larger-leaved forms are more cold-sensitive than the smaller ones.
Cultivars, Varieties, And Species
There is a massive variety of hebe plant types to choose from. The Hebe society, for example, lists over 250 different varieties of hebe shrubs (1). Some of the better-known options include:
H. albicans– A dwarf evergreen shrub with white flowers that grows to about 2 feet (60cm) tall and 3 feet (90cm) wide. Popular cultivars of this species include ‘Snow Cover’ and ‘Red Edge’.
H. brachysiphon – A fast-growing evergreen shrub that grows to over 6ft (1.8m) tall and wide, producing white flowers in spikes. A good species for hedges.
H. ‘Caledonia’ – This popular form has reddish branches and new growth. It is a less dense type with purple flowers.
H. carnosula – A dwarf shrub, reaching a little over a foot (30cm) tall and a little wider. This species has white flowers and interesting, oval leaves with a bowl-like form.
H. ‘Great Orme’ – This open shrub has elongated leaves and grows a little over 4 feet (1.2m) tall. It has lovely pink blossoms.
H. ochracea ‘James Stirling’ – This interesting form has dwarf, scale-like leaves, that give the plant a somewhat coniferous look. It has an overall coppery-olive green color and reaches about 18 inches (45cm) in height and a little wider.
H. ‘Pink Paradise’ – This small, slow-growing shrub reaches about 18 inches (45cm) tall and wide. It produces pink flowers and light green leaves with reddish margins when young.
H. salicifolia – This large shrub reaches nearly 7 feet (2.1m) tall and produces light purple or white flowers from summer right into winter.
H. x andersonii ‘Andersonii Variegata’ – This popular cultivar has purple flower heads that become white with age. They are notable for their variegated leaves which have cream-white margins.
These plants produce bottlebrush-like flowers in spikes, panicles, or racemes. Each flower is perfect (includes both male and female structures), with a long style.
The color of the flower varies from white through pink and purple to red, depending on the species or cultivar. The usual flowering period is from summer to fall, with flowering usually lasting 4-6 weeks for each plant. Some varieties, like Andersonii Variegata, H. macrocarpa ‘Pink’ will flower right into the heart of winter, however (2).
How To Grow A Hebe Plant
These plants root well from 2-3 inch (5-7.5cm) long softwood and semi-ripe cuttings. Semi-ripe cuttings are the better option for the smaller leaved varieties and rooting usually takes about a month. Cuttings are certainly the way to go when trying to preserve a specific cultivar.
Plants that are grown from cuttings usually flower in just their first or second year. Hebe plants grow in a range of soil types including poorer, slightly alkaline substrates. They will, however, appreciate average, fairly fertile garden soil.
Well-drained soil is a must for this plant. In very fast-draining, sandy soils, the addition of some organic material to enrich the substrate is advisable.
If you wish to grow this plant in a container, apply a layer of stones or polystyrene balls to the bottom of the pot before adding soil or compost. This will help keep the soil well-drained.
After planting your hebe bush, apply a good layer of mulch such as wood or bark chips, or straw. This will keep the soil moist and prevent any unwanted weeds from germinating under your shrub.
These plants are fairly heat-sensitive so they are best grown in partial shade if you live in a hot area. In cooler areas, on the other hand, these plants will enjoy plenty of sunshine throughout the day.
Plants grown in full shade will probably survive, but take a leggy growth form and produce little to no flowers. In colder areas, shelter these plants from harsh winter winds. These plants are ideal for USDA Hardiness Zones 6-9, although they should be sheltered from cold, drying winds and grown in warmer sites in cold areas.
Care and Maintenance
Hebes are very undemanding plants that don’t need much in the way of pruning. Old flower heads can be removed for neatness and any cold damaged parts can be removed in spring. Remove frost-damaged growth down to where new growth is evident on a stem.
Some cultivars will develop new growth with the original plant’s color and form. This should be removed sooner rather than later as it may become dominant. In most cases, however, pruning is best done after flowering and you should spread your pruning out over a period of months to limit shock to the plant.
Hebe plants are not particularly drought-resistant, and a lack of water can certainly affect their flowering ability. For this reason, supplemental watering is advised if you live in a drier area. Keeping these plants watered also helps to maintain older foliage lower down on the stems, which is useful for avoiding that ‘leggy’ look.
These shrubs tend to have a natural resistance to pests and diseases. They are not completely immune, however, and some specimens may attract aphids. Of greater concern is the occasional case of Septoria leaf spot, Phytophthora root rot, and mildew (2).
Hebe Bush Uses
Hebe shrubs can be very useful in coastal areas due to their salt tolerance. Dwarf species are great for rockeries, pots, and containers, while low-growing varieties can make a great groundcover. One of the advantages of growing these plants in containers is that they can be moved indoors for really cold weather.
Hebe species have a number of traditional uses with the Māori people of New Zealand. Uses include ceremonial and culinary to medicinal applications (3).
Honey bees and other pollinators love visiting the flowers of this plant.
Although hebe bushes are perhaps not as popular as they could be, these plants have a lot to offer. The huge variety of these plants out there means that there’s one (or more) for everyone. If you’re looking for a neat evergreen shrub, this is a plant worth growing!
Check our blog for more easy to grow shrubs.
(1) The Hebe Society
(2) Oregon State University, College of Agricultural Sciences: Hebe Landscape Evaluation
(3) Ngā Tipu Whakaoranga database: Hebe salicifolia, Hebe stricta and similar spp. Koromiko. Kōkōmuka.