Too often, we gardeners think color has to
come from flowers. Not so. Shade plants without flowers can give us
color all season long. Newer sometimes
Coral Bells were once a common addition to gardens with very
little to offer aside from small spikes of flowers above tidy round green
Coral bells have come a long way, Baby. Now, they are more often called by their
botanical name, Heuchera. The change in designation isn’t all
snootiness. It denotes the change in
focus of the plant itself.
Sure, some heucheras still punch up multiple stalks covered
with little dangling flowers. One,
called 'Vesuvius', gushes more than
once with abundant flower stalks.
Most heucheras are
low, mounding plants. They increase in
size from year to year but are slow to multiply. Their leaf structure can be rounded or
lobed. Many leaves are toothed, which
gives them even more interest and texture.
What’s more, they are evergreen in most parts of the country-green in
this case denoting staying power, not color. Most thrive in USDA Zones 4-9. They make a good winter container plant in
One of the first to
burst onto the landscape was Heuchera
micrantha var. diversifolia
‘Palace Purple’. Its large purple
metallic leaves are reminiscent of maple leaves. It is still easily found and very popular in
More dark leaves
have come along for those of us still in our purple-black phase. Heuchera
‘Obsidian’ was the darkest black until H.
‘Blackout’ came along. Obsidian has
lustrous purplish-black leaves. Blackout
is nearly jet-black and very glossy.
It is always good to
play off a dark leaved variety with a light tone. Otherwise, the dark is lost in the
shadows. Heuchera ‘Pistache’, a bright lime green or H. ‘Citronelle’, a sunny yellow or even H. ‘Earth Angel’, a small copper leaved variety with dark veins
would all push the dark leaf colors.
We can deduce, from
some of the names, that the breeders either hadn’t had lunch or were on a
diet. Heucheras ‘Marmalade’, ‘Peach Flambé’, ‘Green Spice’, ‘Chocolate
Ruffles’, ‘Plum Pudding’, ‘Tiramisu’, ‘Mocha’, and ‘Caramel’ all conjure up
delightful images of yummy desserts.
Then there are the
fine wine Heucheras: ‘Pinot Noir’, ‘Pino
Gris’, ‘Beaujolais’, and ‘Sparkling Burgundy’.
Heucheras grow best
in part shade. In the hotter areas, the
shade should come in the mid-day. Moist,
woodsy soil a little on the alkaline side grows them best. If your soil is acid, add some lime every
year to the planting bed and work it into the soil.
Heucheras tend to
grow a woody center above ground as they age.
Mulch them every year to cover the buildup. When the heuchera leaves are getting sparse,
most likely every 4-5 years or so, you will need to rejuvenate them. In early fall, dig up the mound and plant it
deeper, with most of the woody center below ground. Be sure to keep the crown above the soil
surface. The crown is where all of the
leaves emerge from the center of the plant.
Be sure soil does not cover this area.
---Anne K Moore July 3, 2009---