Year-round color in shade or partial shade is not easy to find. Heucheras can provide that color. Newer varieties can take more sun, making heucheras even more important in home landscape design.
The common name of Heuchera spp. is coral bells. It is a member of the Saxifragaceae family. These perennials have a natural insect and disease tolerance. Include this shade-loving perennial anywhere a splash of color is needed.
Coral bells are an American shade-loving native. Their ideal location has morning sun and well-drained soil. Select plants for color, the namesake flowers are small, spiking above the foliage each spring. For more pronounced flowering, look for foam flowers (Tiarella spp.).
The recent explosion in colors and broad tolerance for sun, part sun and shade means most every gardener can find a place where heucheras will thrive. One delightful characteristic — the plants often change colors throughout the season. For example, that very noticeable color change is in the big leafy Heuchera 'Rio' introduced by Terra Nova Nurseries this year. Young leaves open in a peachy-amber color. They slowly turn to amber, change to tan, then, turn to a yellow-amber. ‘Rio’ can take more sun than most heucheras, but it still does best with afternoon shade.
Top row (Left to right): Heuchera 'Vienna', Heuchera 'Black Beauty' and Heuchera 'Electric Lime.' Bottom row (Left to right): Heuchera 'Frost' and Heuchera 'Rio.' Photos courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries Inc., terranovanurseries.com
Buying and Planting Heucheras
When purchasing, pay attention to light tolerance. Some varieties are extremely sun-tolerant, while others grow best in heavy shade. Start heucheras in containers where you can move them around until you find the perfect sun-shade combination. This easy-care perennial will reward you with seasonal color changes and low maintenance.
Fertilize once in spring, when plants are just beginning to flush out. Use an all-purpose fertilizer. Or, simply add compost in the spring to these shallow-rooted plants. Heucheras are not heavy feeders.
It is best to allow the plants to dry out a bit between watering. Soggy, clay soils are the worst environment to grow them in. Adding organic matter is a good idea.
Older heucheras may heave out of the ground because of the freeze-thaw cycle. To reduce heaving, add a layer of compost around the plant roots after the ground freezes.
Heuchera rust can occur in very humid and moist conditions. Remove the affected leaves and spray with a copper-based fungicide for season-long control.
Heucheras actually can be grown under black walnut trees. Heucheras are resistant to the toxin juglone, which the roots of black walnut trees produce.
Foamy bells (x Heucherella) are a hybrid genus produced by crossing coral bells (Heuchera spp.) and foam flower (Tiarella spp.). Heucherellas are heuchera look-a-likes with the more pronounced Tiarella-type spiky flowers.
Heucherella thrives in part sun, but prefers moist soil. It will not tolerate wet soil. The changing seasonal colorations in the foliage keep color in the garden year round.
Foam flowers, grow best in woodland gardens. Native foam flowers are shade-loving plants found growing in the woodlands of the Pacific Northwest to the Gulf Coast. In your garden, they love shade with a few hours of dappled sunlight.
Foam flowers have bottlebrush-shaped flowers in spring and sometimes during the summer. Left undisturbed, they will form a leafy ground cover on moist shaded ground. There are two varieties, trailing and clumping.
Heucherella 'Redstone Falls'
Heucheralla 'Solar Power'
Heucheralla 'Sweet Tea
Photos courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries Inc., terranovanurseries.com
Heuchera Fact Sheet
Light: Sun, part sun, shade USDA
Zones: 3 to 9 Plant Type: Small herbaceous semi-evergreen perennial
Plant Height: 12 to 36 inches tall
Plant Width: 6 to 30 inches wide
Landscape Uses: Containers, beds and borders, slopes and as a ground cover
Special features: Flowers, attractive foliage, fall color, winter interest, cut flowers, attracts hummingbirds and is easy to grow
From State-by-State Gardening September 2012.