When I first saw Coral Bells in my friend’s garden, I was very impressed. The variety of colors was breathtaking; I liked the veined leaves the most. I immediately bought several varieties and planted them in my garden. Over the years, I have collected a considerable collection of these plants, their photos you can see in this article.
The genus Coral Bells belongs to the family Saxifragaceae, its scientific name – Heuchera. They grow in the mountains on the rocks. Accordingly, they are adapted to fairly harsh growing conditions—the homeland of these plants in North America. However, over the years, Heucheras has spread around the world and can now be found on almost every continent.
Hybridization does not stand; still, today, breeders have created a large number of new shapes, colors, and sizes of these plants, and even the most demanding gardeners will not remain indifferent.
As I mentioned earlier, Heucheras are very hardy plants, and they can grow in climatic zones 4-9. However, there are varieties derived from Heuchera villosa that are able to withstand the frosts of Hardiness Zone 3 and heat 11 Zone.
In this article, I will share with you everything I know about planting, growing, and caring for these wonderful plants. I will also give some tips and tricks related to Coral Bells.
Brief care information
|Name||Heuchera, Coral Bells, Alumroot|
|Hardiness Zone||4-9 (3)|
|Light||Shade, Partial Sun|
|Disease||Botrytis, Crown Root, Rust|
|Water||Сan withstand short droughts|
|Soil||Drained soil, Ph 5.0-7.0|
Quality planting material is the key to success
I always recommend checking the plants carefully before buying them. Of course, this is not always possible, for example, if you buy online. In this case, read the reviews of the online store; if they are positive, you can order plants.
If there is a garden center or nursery near you, visit it in person. The first thing to pay attention to is the general situation there. If everything is neatly placed, automatic watering is arranged, then there is a good chance that the plants are also of good quality.
Then you can start choosing plants. Containers in which plants grow should be large enough. I do not recommend buying small plants because they are harder to grow. Even if they are cheaper, I still recommend buying Coral Bells that have reached at least 15 inches in diameter.
Also, I do not recommend buying Heucheras if their size is much larger than the size of the pot. Many nurseries save on containers and do not transplant the plants into larger pots each year. In this case, the root system may not develop properly, and there may be further problems with planting.
Carefully inspect the leaves of the plant; there should be no spots. Spots on the leaves are a sign of fungal diseases; in this case, you should not buy these plants.
On the reverse side of the leaf, there should be no signs of insects; the leaves should not be damaged. Also, inspect the stem, it should also be healthy and undamaged.
The next step is to check the root system; in the picture, you can see what healthy roots should look like. Its color should be white, without signs of rot. Choose plants with a well-developed root system; then, they will take root better in your garden.
There should be no eggs or insect larvae in the roots. Very often, careless sellers do not treat their plants with pesticides, and they get pests. You should not buy plants from such sellers.
Ok, let’s say you found quality plants and bought them. Do not plant them immediately in the garden; even a closer inspection will not be able to identify all possible problems. Put pots of new Heucheras away from other plants for 1-2 weeks. Spray them with pesticide and fungicide and watch them. This is necessary to avoid possible infection if new plants are not healthy.
If everything is ok, you can start planting, and we’ll talk about it in the next chapter.
The planting period and weather are crucial.
Season and weather are important when planting. Heucheras cannot be planted at any time, so let’s talk about this in more detail.
Coral bells, like most plants, are best planted in the spring. As soon as the ground thaws and the air temperature becomes positive, you can start planting. For different states, it can be March or April. It will also not be too late to plant in May.
Spring is good because, at this time, the plants begin to grow intensively and easily take root in a new place. Also, at this time, the air temperature is not too high, and the humidity is just right for these plants.
I do not recommend planting Heucheras in mid-summer, especially in drought and heat. Yes, it is possible, I planted several times in the summer, but if you do not have the experience, it is better to avoid it. In order for Heucheras to take root in the summer, they need more attention and appropriate conditions.
An exception to this may be the beginning or end of summer when the heat is not so high. The first half of June or the second half of August may well be suitable for planting.
The beginning of autumn is the next favorable period, but you should not delay long. The plant must take root before the first frosts. It will be different for different climatic zones, but I recommend planting Heucheras no later than September.
If for some reason, you did not have time and planted later, then you can only hope that your plants will survive the winter. From my experience, I can say that such a probability is quite high.
Do not plant Heucheras in winter! If you purchased these plants in late fall, leave them to overwinter in pots. I have been growing them in pots for many years, and they tolerate wintering well in such conditions.
The next important factor is the weather. I recommend planting in humid, cloudy weather. This is due to the fact that Heucheras are shade-loving plants, and the lack of bright sun is optimal for them. This does not mean that you need to plant in heavy rains; just the weather should not be dry and not hot.
If for some reason, there is no favorable weather, you need to water the plants well for 1-2 days before planting. As a result, they will get enough moisture and more easily tolerate transplant shock.
A place where Heuchera will grow best
This is one of the most important chapters of this article. Everyone knows that Coral Bells grow best in the shade, and it really does. Therefore, my recommendation is to plant these plants in shade or partial shade.
The best place is where the sun is scattered, i.e., the plant does not fall in direct sunlight but not full shade. Such conditions can be achieved by planting plants under not very dense trees. In general, this type of sunlight is difficult to achieve. For my collection, I created a metal frame on which I threw a shading net that takes away about 50% of the sun’s rays.
The next way to plant it may be behind other plants. The Heucheras will be exposed to direct sunlight in the morning and evening, but at noon they will be in the shade.
A similar method is planting on the east or west side of the house, as a result of which the plants will receive direct sunlight only half the day.
All of the above methods of planting allow you to achieve the brightest color of the leaves and the dense shape of the bush.
Many argue that in full shade, Heucheras do not have a very rich color, and the bush is not so thick. I partially agree with this; some varieties in full shade are really not that bright. In full shade, light varieties, such as Lime Marmalade, feel best. Variety Palm Pudding with dark leaves in such conditions has a less saturated color.
I know that many of you do not have enough shady places in the yard, so I want to talk about whether you can grow them in the sun and how to do it right.
The first thing is that only dark varieties are suitable for planting in full sun. Heucheras with light leaves will have pale leaves and will burn from excess sunlight.
Next, we need to define the concept of the full sun. For Hardiness zones, 4-6 full sun is 8-10 hours of direct sunlight. For zones 7-9, it is 4-6 hours of direct sunlight. From this, we can conclude that in the north of the United States, Heucheras can be planted anywhere.
If you live in the south, these plants will still need partial shade for half a day. Although on the Internet you can find various information on this topic.
In general, I recommend after the purchase to plant Heucheras in the shade, and then as you gain experience to experiment with light. I recommend planting in the sun only when you have already propagated your plants and have several plants of the same variety.
Also, to successfully grow Coral Bells in the sun, you will need to water them more often. This is due to the fact that plants evaporate more moisture than in the shade. However, there is another problem; with increased watering, there is a risk of overwatering your plants, and Heucheras do not like it. So plant them in full sun only if you have some experience in growing these plants.
I also want to say a few words about the height at which to place them. If the groundwater in your yard is high enough, then Heucheras are best planted a little higher. It can be a flower bed or just a mound of soil that can be decorated with stones. In short, it should be a place where water does not stagnate.
Which substrate is best?
The substrate is another important element of success. In short, the Coral Bells needs a light soil in which water does not stagnate. However, I would like to talk about this in more detail.
The general recommendation of experienced gardeners is to add a little compost to ordinary garden soil and mix it well. That’s what you should do. The compost must be free of fungi and pests. Also, add no more than a third of the compost relative to the amount of soil.
I use a more complex substrate. I take half the land and add 35% compost and 15% sand. Since Heucheras is not demanding to soil acidity, peat will not adversely affect growth. The reason why I recommend adding peat and not compost is that peat does not develop fungal diseases. Compost contains organic residues in which diseases can develop, but on the other hand, it is more nutritious than peat.
Sand is also an important component of my mixture, thanks to its moisture stagnates less.
Not all my Heucheras grow in the mix I recommend. Some of them are planted in ordinary garden soil because there is not always enough time and resources to create the right substrate. As a result, some plants are damaged.
Once, several of my bushes rotted over the winter and recovered very slowly. This is due to the stagnation of moisture that is inherent in ordinary soil.
If the soil in your yard is pure clay, then you definitely need to add compost. Otherwise, there may be problems with growing Heucheras.
How much space do they need?
This is a fairly common question, and I will try to answer it as comprehensively as possible.
On average, I recommend allocating an area of 15×15 inches for one Heucheras bush. For most varieties, this will suffice. In such conditions, the plants will have broad leaves and lush shape.
However, there are varieties that require more space. Take, for example, the Bronze Beauty variety, it belongs to the large varieties, and its diameter can exceed 1 foot. For such plants, I recommend allocating an area of at least 1.5×1.5 feet.
There are also varieties of small size. An area of 10×10 inches will be enough for them. Such plants are perfect for container cultivation.
If you plant Heucheras too close to each other, then the shape of their bush will not be very attractive. First, the number of leaves will be much smaller, and they will be smaller in size. Secondly, the stems on which the leaves grow will stretch upwards, the shape of the bush will be elongated and ugly.
In addition, the main stem will stretch faster, and you will have to prune it more often. Another disadvantage of close planting is that in conditions of thickening fungal diseases develop better, and this can seriously harm your plants.
Some of my Heucheras grow quite densely. So far, so good. Although I often treat them with remedies. The only thing that doesn’t suit me is their appearance. So in the near future, I plan to give them more space.
Separately, I want to say about the ground cover varieties of Heucheras, such as Plam Cascade or Happy Trails. They will need much more space, give them as much space as possible. For compact cultivation of such varieties, you can cut them more often or create support and let them grow vertically.
Proper planting of Heucheras
Let me tell you how I plant Heucheras. Suppose the planting site is already selected, and the soil is prepared. As I mentioned earlier, I plant these plants in spring and cloudy weather. I prefer to plant in the morning or evening, at this time the conditions are a little better.
In the place you have chosen, dig a hole twice the size of the pot in which the Heucheras grows. Pour drainage at the bottom of the pit. As drainage, you can use expanded clay or broken bricks, also suitable for ordinary stones. If the groundwater in your yard is not too high, then drainage is not strictly required. Otherwise, be sure to arrange drainage.
Next, place the plant so that the ground level in which the Heucheras grew was the same as the ground level in the garden. Fill all the free space in the pit with prepared soil. Here it is important not to cover the point of growth of the Heucheras. The point of growth is at the tip of the central stem. If you cover it with soil, then in the future, there may be problems with this plant.
After that, lightly compact the soil around the plant, if necessary, add more soil.
When planting, avoid damaging the plant. If the Heucheras has dry leaves, carefully remove it.
After planting water the plant with a little water, do it in two or three stages. You can also apply a small number of long-acting mineral fertilizers. We will talk in more detail about watering and fertilizing later.
How much water do they need?
Irrigation Heucheras is a separate complex topic. On the one hand, these plants are afraid of excessive moisture on the other in the absence of water; their leaves will burn.
I recommend that the soil around the Heucheras is always slightly moist, not wet, but moist. If you do not have a large number of these plants, you can water them from a hose. For a large garden, it is better to arrange automatic watering, but I repeat, do not overwater these plants.
If it rained for a week, then watering is not needed at all. Water only in dry weather when the soil around dries. This happens mainly in summer.
In autumn and spring, Heucheras mostly have enough water, so I rarely water at this time.
Do not water these plants in winter! At this time, the weather is quite humid, and the plants are dormant, watering will lead to rot.
The best way to water is once in the morning and once in the evening with a small amount of water. This method is good because you do not form a swamp around the plant, and the soil is saturated with water evenly. However, if you water this way by hand, it is an additional waste of your time.
I’ve heard a lot of opinions that Coral Bells are drought-tolerant plants, but I can’t agree with that. Of course, everyone has their own experience. When I did not have time to water these plants, their leaves dried up at the edges, and this, despite the fact that they grew in full shade. However, they recovered fairly quickly.
My general recommendation is to water these plants in drought once a week.
I also want to say about watering Heucheras in pots. I grow these plants in pots, and there they dry out fairly quickly. Therefore, in such conditions, I water them quite often.
And finally a few words about watering Heucheras that grow in the sun. In the sun, these plants need much more water. Water them more often, and with more water, otherwise, they will relieve burns.
Give them some fertilizer.
The issue of fertilization is also a complex topic. Heucheras, like all plants, will grow more vigorously in the presence of additional nutrients in the soil. However, the type of fertilizer and its quantity is very important. Let’s delve into this.
You can use two different types of fertilizer. The first is organic fertilizer, i.e., compost. As I wrote earlier, it must be mixed with soil and added at planting. As a result of the decomposition of organic residues, nutrients are released, and the plant receives additional energy as it occurs in nature.
However, fungal diseases also develop well in this environment, which can lead to plant death. If you are a fan of organic gardening, you can feed the plants with compost at your own risk.
Apply compost for the first time when planting. Then once a year, pour a small part of this fertilizer around the plant.
I do not use compost for any of my plants, so I feed them with mineral fertilizers. This type of fertilizer is clean and safe. However, it also has a dangerous side; it is possible to overfeed Heucheras.
I fertilize my plants with a small amount of long-acting fertilizer once a year. It is best to do this in early spring. Such fertilization of plants is quite enough; as a result, they grow a little more vigorously and get sick less.
As I mentioned above, you can overfeed the plant with mineral fertilizers. I saw Heucheras, who was given a lot of fertilizer. Their leaves were large and soft, and the stems were fragile. Therefore, I do not recommend giving a lot of fertilizer, 20-30 granules per year will be enough, depending on the size of the plant.
I also want to tell you how I did foliar feeding of Heucheras. One day I decided to fertilize my plants with liquid fertilizer on the leaf. To do this, I dissolved it in the right amount of water and sprayed my plants. As a result, I did not notice any significant changes or negative consequences, so I no longer practice this.
You need to shorten them every year.
The constant growth of Heucheras requires that you prune them. Pruning is needed to make the plant more compact and lush. There are also a number of other reasons for this, which we will discuss below.
In early spring, before the start of growth, you can prune most of last year’s leaves. This is needed to make room for new leaves. It is also necessary to remove all dry leaves that have died during the winter.
Do not remove all last year’s leaves during spring pruning. Leave about 25-30% of the old leaves until the new ones grow. Only then can you remove the rest, you can do it in the second half of summer.
In autumn, the plant should have only annual leaves. In autumn, you do not need to pruneHeucheras, the more leaves left, the better it overwinters.
Try to prune the leaves with the stems where they connect to the main stem. This is necessary in order to avoid the development of fungal diseases that can form on the remains of leaf stems. At the same time, try not to damage the main stem.
The second case when you need to shorten the Heucheras is when the main stem becomes too long. Over time, the stem becomes longer and begins to curl. As a result, it can rot in winter. To avoid this, you should keep it no longer than 2-3 inches.
I recommend pruning it once a year in early or late summer. Just cut the stem at the height of 3 inches above ground level, and that’s it. You can dust the wound with crushed ashes. The cut part can be rooted, and you will get a new plant, how to do it I will tell below.
Protect your Heucheras from disease
Despite the fact that Heucheras are very strong plants, but they can still be affected by some diseases. In this chapter, I will briefly describe all the major diseases and ways to treat them.
One of the most common diseases is Botrytis. This is a fungal disease that manifests itself in the form of gray mold. Spores of this fungus are spread all over the planet and under favorable conditions begin to develop and affect plants.
This disease does not develop on living plant tissue, but only on dead stems or leaves. Then it releases toxins due to which the dead tissue on the plant becomes larger. If you do not take appropriate measures, you can lose the plant.
First, remove all the dead leaves and stems on which these leaves grow. Spray the plant with fungicides that are designed to combat this disease.
You should also constantly thin the Heuchera bush by pruning. Regularly carry out preventive spraying of plants with fungicides.
Next is Rust. This fungal disease is transmitted from plant to plant during reproduction. Manifested rust as orange spots on the leaves.
Control methods are to remove damaged leaves. Do not leave leaves in the yard, and do not make compost out of it. Throw the leaves away or burn it. The next thing you can do is spray the Heucheras with an aqueous liquid fungicide that is designed for this.
Another disease is a Crown root, and it is spread by spores that are in the ground. This disease enters the plant through wounds. Infection often occurs in winter when the plant can be damaged by frost, and there is excess moisture.
It is quite difficult to fight this disease. First of all, after pruning, treat the wounds with a fungicide and dust them with ground ash.
If the infection has occurred, then remove all damaged parts of the plant. Treat healthy tissues with a fungicide designed for this purpose. Over time, the plant will recover.
Another common ailment of Heucheras is root rot. The leaves begin to wither and turn yellow. Also, the plant begins to grow more slowly. The cause of this disease is an excess of moisture in the soil.
If this happens, you need to dig up the plant and transplant it to a place where there is no high groundwater level. Also, pour drainage into the pit before planting. Try not to water these plants.
Who can damage these plants?
Heucheras are rarely damaged by pests; in most cases, insects prefer other plants. However, sometimes when there is no other food, some pests can damage these plants. This is unlikely to lead to serious consequences, but the plant can lose its decorative appearance for the whole season, so let’s find out how to avoid it.
Aphids are the first most common Heuchera pest. In fact, it is a real problem for gardeners. These insects parasitize on most plants known to me; unfortunately, Heucheras is no exception.
Ants spread aphids because they feed on their sweet secretions. Also, sometimes a winged aphid is born, which flies to other plants. When these insects get on the plant, they suck on it and feed on its juices.
With a large number of these insects, the plant can be seriously affected, so at the first sign, you should spray Heucheras by remedies. There are two ways; the first is to apply Neem Oil, the second is pesticides.
Neem Oil is a fairly affordable product, dilute one teaspoon of soap in a gallon of water. Then add two tablespoons of Neem Oil and mix well. Spray the plants with this mix. After a while, the aphids will disappear.
The second method is the systemic insecticides. This is a very effective way, and it protects the plant for a long period of time. Yes, it’s a bit toxic, but it’s worth it. There are many pesticides on the market that are designed to control these pests. As in the first case, you need to dissolve it in water and spray the Heucheras, and the problem is solved.
The second most common pest is the weevil. It can do more damage than aphids, but it spreads more slowly and is more noticeable.
Ways to combat it are the same as with aphids. The first thing you can do is apply Neem Oil. However, many claims, and I agree with them that Neem Oil is not very effective against this pest. If this helped you, then everything is ok. If not, then you should use pesticides that are designed to control weevils.
In general, I recommend spraying Heucheras twice a year with systemic insecticides for prevention.
How to multiply them?
Heucheras is slightly different in the method of reproduction from other similar plants. Here I will try to briefly describe the main ways of reproduction and give some tips.
The first way is by dividing the crown. Over time, several new plants are formed near the main stem, which may even have its own roots. All you need is to separate these plants from the mother and plant them in a pot with clean soil and transfer to a greenhouse. After a while, they will take root and begin an independent life.
I also want to give you one tip. A week before separating these plants, I recommend spraying their leaves with liquid fertilizer. This will saturate them with all the necessary minerals, and they will take root better.
The second way is to root the cut top. As I wrote above, the Heucheras needs to be trimmed from time to time. Insert the cut part of the stem into a pot with clean soil, as in the previous case. I recommend covering the wound with crushed ashes. Next, the pot should be transferred to the greenhouse. In most cases, the cuttings will take root soon enough.
As in the first and in the second case, you need to spray your plants with a fungicide after you transfer them to the greenhouse. This is necessary in order to avoid possible diseases, as cut plants are very vulnerable to fungi.
The last method of reproduction is by seed. You need to collect the seeds after flowering and dry it. Next spring, sow them, then sometime after germination, it is necessary to transplant new plants into pots. Heucheras seed propagation is a topic for a separate article, I plan to write it soon, so I will not delve into it now.
How about winter?
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that Heucheras are very hardy plants. They grow well from 4 to 9 Hardiness Zone. If you live in a colder climate, then before buying, you need to find out whether these plants will grow in you. Some species and varieties can overwinter in 3 climatic zones.
I live in zone 6, so I had no particular problems with these plants. One year in the spring, there were late frosts, and my Heuchera froze a bit, but they quickly recovered. Let’s consider what can happen to them in winter and how to prepare them for it.
The biggest problem in winter is that the stem can rot. In nature, these plants grow on rocks or on rocky soil where moisture is not retained, so they have no problems with excess moisture.
In the garden, another situation the soil around holds a lot of water, and during the winter, the plant may be affected by Crown Rot, to avoid this, the plant should be constantly cut so that the stem is not too long (2-3 inches above the ground).
Another way is to deepen the plant. Dig a Heuchera with roots and earth. Dig a deeper hole in the same place and plant it there. The stem, as I said, should not be higher than 2-3 inches above the ground. Do not take into account the height of the leaf stems! Here I mean the length of the central stem from the ground to the point of growth where the young leaves appear.
You can also solve this problem by pouring a little soil around the stem, i.e., raise the ground level. However, this method is not very effective because, during the winter, the land is washed away and settles. One year I poured the soil, but the plants were still a little damaged.
Do not prune Heucheras for the winter! It will be too difficult for them. Yes, they may survive, but it will be very difficult for them. Also, do not remove the lower leaves in the fall, let the plant overwinter with them. I recommend removing old leaves in the spring.
How to transplant Heucheras?
Transplanting these plants is not as easy as it may seem at first glance. Compared to Hostas, it is more difficult to transplant them, so there is something to talk about.
Heucheras do not like damage to the root system. Therefore, when transplanting, you should be careful. Dig the plant together with the soil in which it grew; the roots should be intact.
Next, move the plant to a new location and plant it there and then water.
If the plant is large, you can prune it a bit. After pruning, the evaporation area will decrease, and it will be better established in a new place.
That’s all you need to know about growing these wonderful plants. Over time, you will gain your own experience and learn many new things that I have not written here.
Finally, I want to tell you about one trick, in order for Coral Bells to grow bigger and have a lush shape, cut the flower stalks with flowers. Seed production takes a lot of energy from plants, so if you do not plan to sow seeds, just remove the flowers, and your plants will grow more vigorously.