Heuchera plants would nearly possess all the traits you could possibly desire for the perfect shade garden plant if you were to create a checklist. This includes multi-season interest, striking foliage, long-lasting flowers, minimal maintenance, and numerous color options. Not to mention, they are U.S natives that can tolerate a wide range of our natural habitats including woodlands, prairies, mountain peaks, and arid climates.
Coral bells have undergone a transformation in the last few years, according to Hans Hansen, plant breeder at Walters Gardens. There is now a great diversity in leaf color and patterns, plant size, and flower performance, which gives the home gardener many options for both sun and shade.
It is not surprising that coral bells have become one of the most popular perennials, as there are hundreds of different selections and new ones appearing every year. These plants are also well suited for containers, as they provide interest all year round whilst being tolerant of drought conditions and content in restricted spaces.
CORAL BELLS BASICS
The average height for neat mounds is 6-18 inches, but the flower stalks can grow much taller, up to 2 feet.
1 to 2½ feet
Best in bright or dappled shade.
Late spring, early summer to midsummer
Color and characteristics:
Today’s garden hybrids come in a vast array of colors, some with marbled patterns, veining, silvery overlays, and ruffled edges. Tiny bell-shaped flowers are borne on tall, wispy stems.
- The tiny flowers are rich in nectar and a good food source for butterflies and hummingbirds.
- Many cultivars are exceptionally tolerant of heat, drought, and humidity.
- Provide year-round interest, with the foliage often changing color throughout the growing season and retaining its color over winter. The leaves of some varieties even give you a “bonus side” by displaying different colors on the top and bottom.
Are coral bells rabbit and deer resistant?
Heuchera plants are rarely bothered by deer and rabbits.
Heuchera vs. Heucherella:
Foam flowers and foamy bells are closely related, coming from the same plant family (Saxifragaceae). In fact, foamy bells are actually a hybrid of Tiarella and Heuchera, and have the same great foliage color but more pronounced bottlebrush-shaped flowers.
VARIETIES OF CORAL BELLS
- Integrate coral bells into woodland and rock gardens and semi-shaded borders. Their shade tolerance makes them ideal as understory plants for shrubs.
- Plant in large groupings to create an attractive evergreen groundcover and to showcase the foliage color on a broader scale. Mass plantings also increase the visibility of the floral displays.
- Create textural interest by mixing them with contrasting lacy-leaved, shade-loving plants, such as ferns and astilbes.
- Use as a colorful addition to container combinations, or even as an unusual houseplant. In fall container arrangements, purple-leaved varieties are a great substitute for ornamental cabbage and kale.
- Because some varieties are more sun tolerant than others, start your plants in containers you can move around the garden until you find the sun-shade combination that gives you the best foliage color and performance.
GROWING CONDITIONS FOR CORAL BELLS
Choose a location to grow coral bells that gets filtered sunlight or partial shade, and make sure the soil is moist, well-draining, and rich in organic matter like compost. The ideal pH for coral bells is between 6.0 and 7.0. They can handle full sunlight in cooler climates but need partial shade in hot weather, since too much sun can make the leaves’ color fade and can scorch the leaves. If you do grow them in full sunlight, water them more often. Generally, coral bells prefer a moist soil but can go a few weeks without water. Provide one inch of water per week for the best growth. Coral bells are hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8, sometimes 9 depending on the variety.
HOW TO PLANT CORAL BELLS
This plant does not need deep roots, so when you transplant it, do not plant it too deep into the soil. If you are starting from seed, start it indoors. Get a seed tray and mix equal parts seed starter mix and perlite. Moisten the mixture and sprinkle a small amount of seeds on the surface of the tray. Do not cover them with additional soil. These seeds need direct sunlight to germinate. With moist soil and a little bit of encouragement from the sunshine, they will germinate and sprout in about two weeks.
When your coral bells seedlings have developed a second leaf set, thin them out and transplant them to the garden, as long as all threat of frost has passed. Space the plants about two feet apart and plant the root ball just underneath the soil.
CARE FOR CORAL BELLS
Water your coral bells plant deeply once a week, making sure the soil stays moist but not soggy. In hot or dry climates, or if the plant is in a container, water more often as needed to keep the soil moist. After the plant finishes flowering, cut the entire flower stalk back to encourage the plant to focus on growing more leaves. Cut back any damaged leaves in late winter. If you live in a cold climate, the plant’s crown may push up above the soil line when the ground thaws in spring. To prevent this, lay down a thick layer of mulch after the ground freezes. Checking regularly for exposed roots will help keep your plant healthy.
Weed out any faded flowers, as this won’t help promote more blooming but it does make the plant look nicer. Cut back any older growth that has become woody. In the spring, add a layer of compost or a light serving of slow-release fertilizer. Avoid using quick-release fertilizers on coral bells plants.
HOW TO PROPAGATE CORAL BELLS
Coral bells can be propagated in two ways: by seed or by root division. Root division is the easier method and should be done every three to five years. If you forget to divide the plants, the ones in the center of the clump will eventually die from suffocation. Propagating from seed is addressed in the section on planting, but it’s not recommended because it’s very difficult to get the seeds to germinate in a timely fashion. Furthermore, the seeds require a six-week cold period before they can be planted.
GARDEN PESTS AND DISEASES OF CORAL BELLS
To avoid rust and other fungal infections, it is important to make sure your soil is draining well and getting plenty of air circulation. Water around the base of the plant instead of overhead to keep leaves from getting wet. Keep a careful eye out for fungal infections during hot, humid periods. Copper fungicides are usually very effective and fast-acting. If you lose the battle to fungus in your garden, you will need to remove infected plants regularly. Coral bells which are grown in consistently wet, soggy, poorly-draining soils will develop issues with root and crown rot.
While Coral Bells plants have few pests, the ones they do have can be serious. Weevils only cause damage to the plant’s appearance, but nematodes can cause fungal leaf spots which will kill the plant. There is no known treatment for nematodes, so any plant that is infected needs to be removed and destroyed.
HOW TO STORE CORAL BELLS PLANTS IN WINTER
} To store your coral bells plant for the winter, make sure the soil has good drainage. If the soil does not drain well, you can use amendments to improve its texture.
Water your coral bells plants three to four days before the first freeze date in winter. The extra water will help the soil stay warmer than it otherwise would in freezing temperatures.
If your coral bells plant dies back, cut the affected foliage to a length of 3 inches above the surface of the soil using clean, sanitized kitchen shears. Do not prune back in the winter in regions where coral bells plants stay evergreen year round. In all zones, gardeners should prune their plants in spring, clipping off dead and damaged branches as well as any they wish to remove for visual reasons.
Coral bells are a versatile plant that can come in many different varieties. Most of these varieties have been bred to have very ornamental leaves, which are often more visually appealing than the small bell-shaped flowers that grow on the plant.