Did someone say ‘Heuchera?’ Do I say ‘gesundheit?’
By KATHY TOLLENAERE, Master Gardener | Jun 21, 2012The genus Heuchera (pronounced hoo-ker-a) of the family Saxifragacea contains at least 50 native species. These are an herbaceous perennial native to North America commonly called coral bells or alumroot. Plants you find in nurseries will most predictably be modern cultivars. Depending upon the individual variety, coral bells will thrive in zones 3 through 9.
Since the mid-1990s an “explosion” of sorts has occurred with regard to the development of new hybrid varieties. You can find hybrids with varying leaf size, shape, and color as well as flower stems varying in heights (up to 2.5 inches) and blossom color of white, pink, salmon, coral, or red bell-shaped flowers. You might enjoy a trip to an area nursery as well as a search on-line to view the variety of hybrids available. Most plants would be best suited to either the front of the garden or just behind it.
Generally, coral bells do best in light shade or dappled shade, at least during the hottest part of the day. Planting in full sun runs the risk that the foliage may discolor by scorching or die back during very hot spells in the summer. Most of my coral bells receive direct sunlight for up to four hours in the afternoon with dappled shade at other times. I have placed other plants in conditions receiving only dappled shade with very little direct sunlight. As a contrast, however, I’ve given “Green Spice” an especially large challenge, as once the deciduous oak tree leaves appear, it never sees sunlight. It doesn’t flourish as it would under better conditions, but it has continued to do fairly well during the past eight years, and it offers a nice contrast in foliage to the surrounding plants.
For the most part, Heuchera desire well-drained, neutral to rich soil. They do, however, tolerate many soil types. Plants in rich soil will be quite different looking – taller, and lusher, than they would in leaner soil. Under ideal and/or good conditions, these plants have few disease or pest problems. A problem I have experienced is “frost heave,” resulting in a plant that has been forced out of the soil when spring arrives. My answer to that problem seems to have been resolved by either of two solutions: 1) Adding additional soil and leaf mulch in the autumn, or 2) Adding additional soil and replanting in early spring.
Remove the old, unattractive leaves in the spring to encourage new growth. Deadheading (removing) spent flowers and their stalks encourages re-blooming over the course of the summer. Re-blooming is always a pleasant bonus!
Heuchera is not the sound of a sneeze, but I’d accept your “Gesundheit!” any day!
Kathy Tollenaere is a Master Gardener.