Heuchera (Coral Bells)
Perennial gardening in the heat of summer is a breeze for the brightest of prairie gardens and the driest of rock gardens, the hot summer sun providing an ideal environment for some of the best and brightest perennial flowers nature has to offer. As many gardeners know all too well, especially here in the woods of Minnetonka, Minnesota, it can be more challenging to keep shadier gardens looking bright and colorful throughout the year, but it is far from impossible. One of our favorite plants to brighten up even the darkest of shade gardens, providing bright colorful foliage throughout the season is Heuchera (hue-kerr-ah), also known as coral bells.
Native to North America, Heuchera are available in hundreds of varieties, ranging in color from dark hues of purple and pink like ‘Obsidian’ and ‘Midnight Rose,’ to bright oranges and reds of ‘Georgia Peach’ and ‘Caramel,’ to bright yellows and greens such as ‘Lime Marmalade,' to even bright white variegation, seen on ‘Snow Angel.’ Not only can Heuchera provide excellent pops of color to shadier locations with their rich, colorful foliage, but they can also help play up colors of more subtle nearby shade bloomers as well, and many can even help accent part-sun or even full-sun gardens, depending on the variety. Coral bells mature to a versatile mound of around one to two feet tall and wide, and also provide excellent blooms of interest to humans and pollinators alike.
Heuchera generally flower most abundantly in late spring or early summer, blooming intermittently throughout the season into late summer or early fall. As their name suggests, Coral Bells have wonderful panicles of small, bell-shaped pink flowers atop wiry stems, providing excellent color and interest to the garden and making for great, long-lasting cut flowers as well. And, if you are looking for even larger blooms, Tiarella, or foamflower, also in the Saxifragaceae family, have been hybridized with Heuchera to create Heucherella (hue-kerr-ell-ah), or foamy bells, a hybrid that provides the bright foliage interest of Heuchera, with the wonderful large bottlebrush blooms of Tiarella.
Heuchera are exceptionally easy to care for, generally preferring well-draining, evenly moist soil in part-shade locations, with some varieties preferring even full shade, while others can tolerate up to full sun if kept evenly moist. Coral bells are light feeders, requiring little additional nutrition, however it is best to apply a layer of rich compost around your plants each spring to keep them looking their best. Heuchera are also juglone tolerant and boast great salt tolerance for the winter months. However, be sure that plants are properly planted and mulched in for the winter, and check on exposed plants throughout the cold season as their shallow fibrous root system can sometimes be dug up by frost heaving that occurs during repeated freeze-thaw cycles.