If you are looking for a simple way to add some colour and texture to your garden, Heuchera may be the right choice for you. From an ornamental point of view, the foliage is the highlight of this plant. The colour and variegation of the leaves can differ a lot from one variety to another.
Also known as Coral Bells or Alumroot, this plant is very adaptable, and you can find it in a wide variety of habitats. It adapts quickly to different temperatures and soil types. It is very popular in the Channel Islands of California, but also in the sunny and dry canyons of Mexico or Arizona. Nonetheless, there are also areas where it can thrive in the shade. This doesn’t mean that you will have problems creating a welcoming environment for this plant. On the contrary, it is very sturdy and flexible, and it will adapt to your garden.
Being quite low maintenance, Heuchera is suitable for beginner gardeners. You can plant it outdoors, but also in containers. It looks particularly well in mixed pots. It is suitable for most garden designs, and you can use it in xeriscaping projects. Moreover, there are dozens of varieties to choose from.
Once you get attached to these plants, you will want to play with different varieties. We recommend a mixture of Amethyst Myst, Autumn Leaves, Bella Notte, Citronelle, and Champagne.
About Coral Bells
- The name Coral Bells refers to the flowers of Heuchera Sanguinea. People also refer to this plant as Alumroot because it has astringent roots which you can use instead of alum in the pickling process.
- This plant was discovered by the first American colonists who brought it to Europe in the 17th century. For centuries botanists have experimented with different hybrids. In time, this led to the creation of numerous cultivars.
- Native American people have used heuchera for hundreds of years for its medicinal properties. It also has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.
- The most popular variety for gardens is Heuchera Americana, also known as Green Spice. A few cultivars have even received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. Among them, we have Blackberry Jam, Green Spice, Can-Can, Lime Marmelade, Magic Wand, Marmalade, Obsidian, Purple Petticoats, Regina, Sashay, and Walnut.
- The American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has listed Coral Bells as non-toxic to cats, dogs, and horses.
- Despite being quite resilient, Coral Bells can sometimes be attacked by weevil larvae. The larvae infiltrate the plant crowns and cause infections. You can remove them by hand, but you might need a mild insecticide to treat a more serious infection. Fungal diseases can also be a problem, especially in humid environments.
Coral Bells Features: An Overview
- Heuchera will thrive in USDA hardiness zones 4-9, but it will do just fine in zones 3 or 11.
- It is a herbaceous shade perennial. Varieties differ greatly in shapes, colours, and geographic tolerances
- At its base, Heuchera forms a round mound with a woody crown.
- It has a moderate size, reaching a top height of 40-50 cm and top width of 60 cm.
- The leaves of the Heuchera grow in clumps that rise from the central crown, just above the soil surface.
- The foliage of the Heuchera grows in a spiral, with six leaves on each stem. The leaves have a palmate shape and they can be different shades of green, gold, and even pink.
- Leaf colours in Heuchera differ based on cultivars but also climate. Nonetheless, most cultivars are evergreen.
- Heuchera flowers bloom in a thyrsus inflorescence. This means that the inflorescence grows indeterminately across the main axis. They have smaller branches that only grow up to a certain point. The flowers grow on tall stems and they can be white, pink, green, or red.
Growing Coral Bells
Coral Bells are technically shade plants. They will thrive if they get about 5 hours of sunlight per day. Nonetheless, they can grow just as healthy in full sun. In this situation, you will have to water them more frequently to make up for the extra sun exposure. In the shade or partially shady locations, these plants can survive without water for a long time.
The sunlight needs can differ according to each variety. For example, lighter-coloured varieties prefer shade, while darker-coloured varieties are more resistant to direct sunlight. You can tell if your Heuchera is exposed to too much sun by the colour and texture of the leaves. Too much sun will wash out the colour of the leaves, and in extreme conditions, it can even cause scorching.
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- Dormant in winter
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Pruning Coral Bells
As far as maintenance goes, pruning is not necessary. However, as the weather gets colder, you should mulch around the plant to prevent heaving which consists of the plant being pushed out of the ground due to freezing/thawing. Check the plants periodically to make sure their roots are not exposed. If they are exposed, transplant them to bigger holes.
Fertilizing Coral Bells
Fertilizing is not essential. However, an extra boost of nutrients will give your plants richer and healthier foliage. The best time to fertilize your Heuchera plants is in the spring. You can choose either a slow-release fertilizer or a half-inch layer of compost. Water-soluble fertilizers are good for container plants, but try not to overfeed them. Keep in mind that over-fertilizing can inhibit flowering.
Planting Coral Bells
It is best to plant Coral Bells in early spring or late fall. These plants are not picky about the soil pH, but they prefer soil rich in humus with good drainage. Drainage is particularly important in shady locations where the soil dries at a slower rate. Soggy soil can cause the crown of the plant to rot or it can cause fungal diseases.
If you want to move a container-grown Alumroot to your outdoor garden, you need to be very careful with its roots. They are shallow and fibrous, so you must not plant them very deeply.
Keep in mind that Coral Bells don’t live for a very long time, so you should divide the plants every two years in the spring. Division can be tricky because clumps take a longer time to root. It is best to place them in a container and let them catch roots in a controlled environment before moving them outdoors.
Watering Coral Bells
Like it goes with most plants, regular watering is essential in the first year. Once the plant matures, it becomes strong enough to survive on its own, even in extreme conditions. Watering needs differ for each variety.
However, it is a known fact that Coral bells can last for weeks or even months without being watered at all. Regular watering will result in richer and more luscious foliage. An inch of water per week is enough for most varieties, and you can split this into two watering sessions per week. To measure the water, press the soil around the plant with your hands until you create a natural tray. Water the plant until half an inch of water gathers in the tray.
The soil should be moist, especially in the summer months. Make sure that the soil has good drainage, so you don’t expose the plants to fungal diseases. Decreases watering frequency as the weather gets colder.
Propagating Coral Bells
You can propagate Coral Bells from seeds or through division. Keep in mind that seeds can sometimes grow into plants that are completely different from the mother plant. This is particularly true for hybrids. As such, if you want to multiply a specific hybrid, you should do it through division.
As far as seeds go, you must sow them in late fall or early spring. Use a seed tray and sprinkle the seeds on the soil. Don’t cover them at all because they need light to germinate. After spreading them on the soil, mist them slightly and place them in a partially sunny location.
Germination can take two to eight weeks. To give your seeds a higher chance of survival, sow them indoors. You can transplant them outdoors after a few months. We advise you to harden the plants for a couple of weeks in an intermediate home. This means that you must expose the indoor container plants to the outdoors gradually. You can transplant them outdoors once the danger of the frost has passed completely. The plants are usually ready for transplant after they grow a second layer of leaves.
Being so resilient, Heuchera is suitable for most climates. Even beginner gardeners can successfully grow this beautiful plant. The best thing about it is that you can easily integrate it into almost any garden decor.
Heuchera is particularly suited for rock gardens or woodlands. It also makes for a great ground cover but you can also plant it in borders or containers. It looks great with Hostas as their leaves complement each other beautifully and they also have similar sunlight and water needs. Astilbe, Iris, and ferns are also great companions.
You can also use the foliage of coral bells to highlight other flowers. For example, you can choose a variety with dark leaves to highlight yellow flowers. These plants also look great when planted in groups.
Are you already growing Coral Bells a.k.a. Heuchera plants? Share your experience in the comments below!