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Growing Heucheras

Look for Coral Bells in a Wider Range of Colors, from Purple to Gold


Heucheras are all about foliage. This is our Dazzling Foliage Collection, which includes three different heucheras and a brunnera.

By Dr. Leonard Perry
Extension Professor
University of Vermont

This genus of perennials has seen many new introductions over the last decade, with wonderful variations in foliage colors, leaf shapes, and flower colors. Except for the very coldest gardens (heucheras are hardy to zone 4), most everyone can enjoy growing these new selections.

Coral bells are considered plants for part-shade, and moist soils. Yet in northern gardens they can be grown in full sun, if the soil is loamy and stays moist. Moist, not wet, is the key. Wet soils, or an unusually rainy season, may cause them to rot. In my garden, I have found them to tolerate dry conditions and drought better than wet.

In sites with heavy soil, plants may heave out of the ground in late winter. If so, you can dress around the plants in spring with soil or compost. If stems become woody over three to four years, top-dress soil around these as well, or lift plants in spring, dividing off and replanting young offshoots. In most gardens, plants will live for years and be pest-resistant and low-maintenance.

Coral bells (Heuchera) are in the saxifrage family. Although there are about 55 species native to North America, the plants you find for sale at your local nursery are selections of three main species: americana, micrantha, and sanguinea. All form compact mounds less than a foot high and across.

The leaves of coral bells are their main attraction. They are generally maple- to heart-shaped, with lobed, wavy or smooth margins. Leaves may have variously colored veins, mottling, or streaks.

There are basically two groupings of foliage colors: green and colored. Some heuchera have two seasons of color, the early spring foliage and the mature foliage in later summer. Of these, many emerge glossy and dark burgundy, fading to lighter bronze or even olive as the season progresses.


Amethyst Myst Heuchera

Many newer cultivars have leaves in purple, ruby, bronze—even amber. These may be solid colors, or have variously colored patterns, veins and mottling that are often silvery.

During the last half of the 1990s, as part of their extensive perennial trials, the Chicago Botanic Garden (zone 5) evaluated over 60 selections of coral bells. Their top recommendations for cultivars with the best habit, healthy foliage, many flowers, and hardiness, included 'Bressingham Bronze', 'Cappuccino', 'Molly Bush', 'Montrose Ruby', 'Palace Purple', and 'White Cloud'. Dutch Gardens offers several varieties of heuchera.

Leonard Perry is a professor at the Univeristy of Vermont in Burlington, Vt.
To see more of his articles, go to Perry's Perennial Pages.