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SHADE PLANTS-HEUCHERAS

HToo 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 is better.

Coral Bells were once a common addition to gardens with very little to offer aside from small spikes of flowers above tidy round green foliage.

Heuchera ‘Tiramisu’

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 the South.

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 shady gardens.

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---

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