May 31st, 2021
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, it can be challenging to keep shadier gardens looking bright and colorful, 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 in varieties, ranging in color from dark hues of purple and pink on varieties including ‘Obsidian’ and ‘Midnight Rose,’ to bright oranges and reds on varieties including ‘Georgia Peach’ and ‘Caramel,’ to bright yellows and greens such as the ‘Lime Marmalade’ variety, to even bright white variegation, seen on Heuchera ‘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. Heuchera also provide excellent blooms of interest to humans and pollinators alike.
Heuchera generally flower in late spring or early summer, blooming 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 when blooming, providing excellent color and interest to the garden and making for great, long-lasting cut flowers as well. These nectar-rich flowers are excellent for pollinators, providing an especially good nectar source for tiny bees and hummingbirds. And if you are looking for even larger blooms, Tiarella, or Foam Flower, also in the Saxifragaceae family alongside Heuchera, have been hybridized with Heuchera to create Heucherella (hue-kerr-ell-ah), or Foamy Bells, a hybrid plant that provides the foliage interest of Heuchera, with the wonderful large foam flowers 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.