Heuchera, Native Perennial for Shade

Ilona

From a supporting actor in dappled shade gardens to the bright star of foliage effects, Heuchera has come a long way with many cultivars now available that are mostly grown for their showy and colorful leaves.

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When I first made a garden, it was the pretty and delicate flowers that gave “Coral Bells” their name, and the rosettes of leaves were attractive, but more of an afterthought. How that has changed! Few of the new varieties have much of a bloom, but their foliage is outstanding and makes it an important player in the garden design.

So what are these colors? Purple, almost black, mahogany red, orange, silvery green, or shocking chartreuse. These can add pizazz to containers as well as to semi-shady areas of the landscape.

Heuchera in Your Garden

Native to North America, with more than 37 species, it has innumerable named hybrids today. Yet, Heuchera plants in the garden have some general characteristics in common.

coral bells groundcover
photo by The Marmot on Flickr
  • Low-growing profile, usually 18 inches high and 18 inches wide.
  • Leaves of a palmate shape with a fine-haired texture.
  • Hardy to Zones 4-8, although check your particular variety. Hybridizing may influence tolerance to heat or cold.
  • Blooms with panicles of small, bell-shaped flowers along a wiry stem, usually early summer.

The low mounds are good for edging a border, and they look right at home in rock gardens. Woodland plantings are a natural, as well as native plant gardens. The flowers attract hummingbirds, which makes them imperative for Hummingbird Gardens.

Naming Names

When I first gardened, I grew the Bressingham hybrids, which have showy coral colored blossoms. I loved their delicate appearance. The leaves were handsome, but an afterthought in those days.

‘Chatterbox’

chatterbox heuchera
Chatterbox Heuchera – 10 root divisions
This variety has a much longer bloomtime and smaller proportions in comparison with other cultivars. Heuchera x brizoides

“Dolce Brazen Raisin”

purple leaf If you are looking for a really dark contrast, highly rated ‘Dolce Brazen Raisin’ has a purple-black hue.

Later as they were introduced, I began with some of the purple-leaved types, but it is the beautiful copper colored ones I most love now. They seem to mix so well, standing out in an elegant, effortless way. I have ‘Caramel’, but there are so many good ones available, it is hard to choose just one.

Caramel

‘Caramel’ Heuchera has performed very well for me for years. Its sunset colorations are always a delight, and it survives with little care. With just a small amount of attention, this is one plant that will reward you richly with color and lush leaves. The blooms are nondescript, but I don’t grow it for the flowers.

I believe that one reason this choice does well in my garden is because Ohio is close to the native habitat of the parentage. If you have a drier clime or relentless sun, it may not be the one to plant. Experiment with placement and cultivars – but don’t give up on what a Heuchera can add to a landscape.

 

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Companions

Other woodland natives such as Tiarella, Phlox divaricata, and Ferns grow well together, and make good companions. Do not turn up your nose at groupings which include Hostas and Campanulas, just because they aren’t native. Pulmonarias also grow well with Coral bells.

I find the darker leaved types harder to match well, so grow them in a group underneath shrubs or along paths. Violas and pansies among the dark purple varieties would be pretty.

Hosta Profile

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How To Grow Heuchera

pinterest graphic of heuchera article
How to grow Coral Bell plants
  • A woodland native, it likes soil with humus, fertility, moisture-retentive, but well-drained.
  • Prefers partial shade.
  • Divide every few years for vigor and multiplication of plants.
  • pH close to neutral (6-7)

Planting

Spring or early fall are both good times to plant.

Prepare the ground with handful of compost, plant the shallow rooted plants even with the soil line, firm in. Protect from winds and sun the first few days, keep moist. Mulch lightly.

Propagation

Always use division with named Hybrids to retain characteristics. Species can be grown from seed.

To divide: Lift plant and pull crown apart into pieces which are planted immediately into prepared ground. Do this in the early to mid-spring.

Alternatively, take starts off the side of plants and plant into good soil. Keep moist until roots form.

If you wish to have species like H. sanguinea it is possible to sow seeds. The seeds are very small and require stratification, (they must be refrigerated and put through a cold period lasting several weeks). After preparing, press into moist soil and keep moist. Young seedlings can be transplanted outside after hardening or into pots for growing on.

Recommended Heuchera Varieties

Unique Look

Dark Foliage

Stormy Seas Heuchera
Stormy Seas Heuchera – 10 root divisions

If you purchase these suggested plants, I may earn referral fees which help support this site.

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Gardening Tips: Give Them What They Want

Add humus, prevent heaving, provide good drainage to grow well.

  • Amend the soil with compost, peat moss, or leaf mold.
  • Give good air circulation to prevent powdery mildew.
  • Mulch with about 3 inches of loose material, to help prevent frost heaving. Check during winter months, heeling any lifted plants back into the ground.
  • Afternoon shade protects foliage from scorching.
  • Regular watering during dry times.

Fun Facts

Native Americans used Alum medicinally. The root has astringent properties.

Named after Johann Heinrich von Heucher (1677–1746), an 18th-century  German  physician.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of "Ilona's Reflecting Pool". Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. The work on "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.