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Heuchera (HUE-ker-uh)

Common Name:  Coral bells

Light:  - Moderate sun to part shade

Soil:  Loamy to rich, well-drained

Moisture:  Average to slightly dry

Blooms:  Late spring and summer

Zones:  4 - 8 (9)


Heuchera 'Caramel' PP#16560

Heuchera 'Tango' PP#17133

Heuchera Description and Cultural Information

Heucheras have come a long way since our grandmothers grew them. With all of the new hybrids on the market today we now have quite the variety of leaf colors, veining, and flower colors. Unfortunately many of the hybrids are so similar they are difficult to tell apart, but some are definite standouts. I'll list the species coral bells first, and then I'll try to list some of the newer hybrids.

Heuchera americana, American alumroot. 12 - 18". American alumroot is an open, clump forming plant with silvery green leaves and tall flower stalks with tiny green flowers. It is a very hardy species and is shade and drought tolerant. 'Dales Strain' has gray-green leaves with silver markings. Zones 3 - 9.

Heuchera x brizoides, hybrid coral bells. 10 - 20". This is a group of hybrids from crosses with H. americana, H. micrantha, and H. sanguinea. Today's hybrids have been bred so much it would probably be difficult to track down the exact parentage, but they all would originate from this same group of plants, along with H. micrantha var. diversifolia. 'Chatterbox' has green leaves and pink flowers. 'June Bride' has pure white flowers. 'Oakington Jewel' has large pink flowers. 'Raspberry Regal' is very tall with large raspberry-red flowers. Zones 3 - 8.

Heuchera micrantha, small-flowered alumroot. 12 - 18". These plants have gray-marbled green leaves with small creamy-white flowers. H. micrantha var. diversifolia is the subspecies that we know as 'Palace Purple' with metallic, purple-bronze leaves and creamy-white flowers. Zones 4 - 8.

Heuchera sanguinea, coral bells. 10 - 18". This species has some of the brightest flowers over gray-green foliage, but unfortunately it doesn't bloom as long as the hybrids. 'Alba' has white flowers. 'Bressingham Blaze' has scarlet flowers. Zones 3 - 8.

Heuchera villosa hybrids, coral bells. 8 - 24". This newer group of plants are quite easy to grow and more forgiving than many of the other hybrids on today's market. They enjoy well-draining soil but tend to be vigorous and will grow in sun or shade, plus are considered more heat tolerant than others. Varieties include: 'Caramel' PP#16560, a compact grower with yellow-orange foliage growing to 6 to 8" high; 'Brownies', a large grower with chocolate colored foliage turning green with purple undersides; 'Miracle' PPAF which starts out chartreuse and eventually the center turns brick red by fall with a unique color change in between seasons; 'Tiramisu' PPAF is another color changing Heuchera with reddish tones in the spring and fall and is chartreuse in the summer. Many additional villosa hybrids will be coming to the market in future years and will likely become some of the best coral bells you can grow, especially in difficult conditions.

Heuchera hybrids. There is quite a diversity of new hybrids and the market continues to be flooded by new cultivars every year. To the collector this is a good thing. To the average gardener it probably isn't all that exciting. This is a very small list of some of the cultivars you might find on today's crowded Heuchera market.

H. 'Amber Waves' is very unique with 8", ruffled, amber gold foliage and light rose-pink flowers on 12" scapes. It needs rich, well-drained, slightly acidic soil in light sun for best growth and will struggle in wet or heavy conditions or in too much shade.

H. 'Can Can' has beautiful ruffled leaves and metallic silver tones on 9" burgundy foliage. The creamy flowers are insignificant on 26" stems and should be cut back before setting seed to encourage more foliage growth.

H. 'Cascade Dawn' has 8" burgundy leaves with silver mottling and creamy flowers on 26" stems. This is one of the early hybrids, is inexpensive, and one of my favorites.

H. 'Chocolate Ruffles' has 10" ruffled foliage with chocolate brown on top and burgundy on the bottom with small purplish flowers on 30" scapes. Very heat tolerant.

H. 'Green Spice' is an americana hybrid with 9" high silver foliage with purple veining and creamy flowers on 26" scapes. It is quite shade tolerant. H. 'Peppermint Spice' PP#18009 is a pink flowering version of this plant.

H. 'Obsidian' PP#14836 is the darkest coral bell out there with glossy deep purple foliage growing 9" high and keeping its dark color all season long. It has cream flowers that are somewhat insignificant but there is no darker coral bell out there, but many imitators.

H. 'Petite Pearl Fairy' is a dwarf with 6 - 8", silver marbled, bronze foliage and medium pink flowers on 12" scapes.

H. 'Regina' has 10", silver, burgundy-bronze foliage and light pink flowers on 36" stems.

H. 'Veil of Passion' has 9" burgundy foliage with pink flowers on 26" scapes.

H. 'Vesuvius' has 7" purple foliage with a profusion of bright orange-red flowers on 26" scapes. It also has a long bloom period.

How to Grow:  Plant coral bells in slightly moist but very well-drained, loamy to humus-rich, well-aerated soil in moderate sun to part shade. Open shade or filtered sunlight in summer work well to keep plants cool and reblooming. With the exception of H. americana, most coral bells do not tolerate full shade, and the purple, yellow, and variegated leaved hybrids appear to perform best in more sun. Transplant coral bells in August or early September. If the woody crown grows too far above the ground you can dig them up, divide the rosettes, and bury them deeper in freshly prepared soil or spread a layer of mulch or compost over the crowns in the spring. Coral bells will not tolerate heavy soil or wet conditions and also tend to prefer a slightly acidic pH. If planted too deeply the crowns will be especially prone to rot in wet conditions so it is better to plant the crowns a little above the soil and avoid wet areas altogether.

Landscape uses:  Coral bells can be used for both foliage effect and flower. The pink and red flowers are a hummingbird favorite and provide an airy touch to the garden. Use the fancy, new hybrid coral bells as foliage accents in beds and borders or with shrubs and dwarf grasses. Purple leaved coral bells look nice with dwarf balloon flowers (Platycodon) and low growing bell flowers (Campanula). Coral bells are ideal for the eastern and western exposures of buildings and homes since they will receive a fair amount of sun but be shaded out for part of the day.

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