Heucheras, sometimes known by their common names of coral bells or alumroot, are neat and hardy perennial plants. Suitable for both sun or shade, they are grown mainly for their foliage.
They vary in height from tiny, 2–4in (5–10cm) specimens to medium-sized plants up to 30in (75cm) in flower. They have a mound of evergreen foliage growing from a tight, slowly-spreading, rather woody crown. The leaves themselves can be 2–4in (5–10cm) across, are carried on stiff stems, and overlap together. They can be maple-like in shape, or have rounded lobes.
The chief glory of heucheras is their extraordinary variety of leaf colors, from almost-black to silver, crimson to purple, pink and marmalade-orange, and yellow, lime, and gray. Often they offer two or three colors in an intricate pattern with dark leaf veins. Some even change color as the seasons pass.
In summer, slender, upright, self-supporting stems emerge carrying many tiny bell-like flowers in shades of white, cream, pink, and red. These are much appreciated by bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds and last very well in a vase.
Overall, they're a lovely planting pick to complement all sorts of flower bed ideas, and learning how to grow heuchera isn't tricky. We've rounded up everything you need to know in this guide.
How to choose the best types of heuchera for your garden
Heuchera are adaptable plants, with varieties available for almost every situation.
Due to their weed-suppressing nature, they are a popular choice as a ground cover plant. However, because they tend to be compact in growth, plant them relatively close together – about 6–9in (15–23cm) apart. Look for 'Berry Smoothie' (dark-veined leaves the color of squashed raspberries), or, if you need to cover a large area, go for the more economical, seed-raised, bronze-leaved 'Palace Purple'.
Alternatively, use heucheras as edging plants. They won't invade paths or spread away from where you plant them. 'Southern Comfort' (in a range of bourbon shades), is ideal for edging azaleas, while the frilly green-leaved 'Apple Crisp' is a fine universal edger.
Coral bells are also a good pick for container gardening ideas – particularly the neat varieties with prettily patterned foliage, or types with subtle color changes as the months pass. Try 'Paris' with silvered green leaves and rose-pink flowers or 'Caramel', in warm orange with hints of pink.
And if you love growing cutting garden flowers? Varieties of heuchera with large flowers and a long vase life opening over many months and on tall self-supporting stems are ideal. Green-flowered 'Green Spice' is especially popular, as is 'Thomas'.
When and where to plant heucheras
Plant heucheras in spring, in fall in USDA zone 7 and zone 8, and also in winter in zone 8 or zone 9 – but never when the ground is frozen or parched.
Many heuchera varieties thrive in both sunny situations and shady sites. 'Chocolate Ruffles' (with crimped, chocolate-brown foliage) and 'Fire Chief' (glowing red) are especially adaptable.
Some varieties, however, do better than others in the sun. Filters on websites will often help narrow down your search for the best varieties but, in general, plants will take more sun in cooler areas and with constant moisture and will take less sun where summers are hotter and the soil dries out.
For sunny situations, consider 'Black Pearl' (genuinely black foliage), 'Blackberry Jam' (blackberry foliage with dark gray veins and a silver shimmer), 'Cherry Cola' (rusty leaves and cherry flowers), and 'Midnight Rose' (reddish-black with pink splashes).
Varieties grown for their cut flowers are also usually more productive when grown in a sunny situation.
In terms of soil types, they are not fussy about soil acidity but dislike wet conditions, which will cause the crowns to rot. Heucheras also dislike stony soil that dries out quickly.
Heucheras do well in containers where they can be kept constantly moist without being waterlogged. Fed regularly, they will look especially luxuriant.
How to plant heuchera
If you've bought your heucheras as ready-grown plants or are ready to plant out ones you have grown yourself from seed, the process is simple:
- The day before planting, water your heuchera with a general-purpose liquid feed, or even tomato food if you have nothing else. This will give them a flying start in their new planting place.
- Prepare the planting area by forking it over and removing any weeds and large stones. If the soil is very sandy and dry or has not been amended recently, add bagged garden soil, garden compost, or rotted manure to improve the moisture-holding capacity and add nutrients.
- Set your plants out where they are to go, checking the plant's tags for guidance on spacing. A spacing of about 9–12in (23–30cm) is usually about right.
- Use a hand trowel to make a hole for each plant, remove it from its pot, and plant it carefully. Firm gently with your fingers then water in with more liquid plant food. Then, get mulching, using bark or other weed-free material to prevent weed growth and help retain moisture.
How to care for heucheras
Heuchera care is easy as they need no special treatment. Just remember to irrigate them in very dry spells, especially in the weeks immediately after planting, as if newly planted heucheras dry out they can be difficult to rewet.
Also, to keep your plants looking fresh, cut off the older leaves as they begin to look ragged. Snip off the stems carrying faded flowers as they begin to lose their color, too – and some varieties have disappointing flowers that can be removed entirely as soon as they emerge. Always snip low on the plants, below the leaves, so that the cut stems are hidden.
How to propagate heucheras
If you forget to deadhead them, heucheras sometimes shed their seeds. The seedlings may pop up nearby, but any resulting plants rarely resemble the parent.
Bought seed will give more predictable results, but is not easy to get started. Sow seeds in mid-late spring, do not cover them, and keep them moist in a temperature of about 70F° (21C°). They should sprout in one to two months.
Rather than growing them from seed, it is much easier to separate pieces from the crown and grow them on separately to make new, free plants which will be identical to the parent. In late summer, snip off a piece of woody stem 2–3in (5–7.5cm) long with a cluster of leaves at the tip. Plant this in a pot of moist, fresh potting soil and keep it in a bright, but not sunny, place. Roots will sprout from the buried stem and in fall or spring, it will be ready for planting.
Common pest problems with heucheras and how to solve them
Heucheras are generally pest-free perennials but there is one serious problem that is sometimes encountered – black vine weevil.
This bug attacks heucheras in two ways. The adult bugs, which are black with a distinctive T-shaped growth on the front of their head, feed on the foliage, chewing rounded notches in the edges of the leaves. They attack a wide variety of other plants in the same way.
More damaging are the grubs, which are C-shaped with an orange head. They feed out of sight by chewing through the roots and eating into the woody stems. As a result, plants stop growing, look lackluster, and on a windy day the whole top of the plant may simply break off and blow away.
Prevention is better than cure. Only buy from reputable sources (avoid farm gate or roadside sales where plant hygiene may be poor) and check plants carefully. The best control is to use parasitic nematodes which are mixed with water and watered onto the plants. An especially cold winter may also kill the grubs.
Common disease problems with heucheras and how to solve them
Rust is the most common heuchera disease and is easily recognized by small bumps or depressions on the upper leaf surfaces, and raised rusty spots on the undersides. It is more common in humid conditions.
Help prevent rust disease by taking your best secateurs and cutting off all the old leaves in spring. Burn them or put them in the garbage – not in the green waste. New foliage will quickly develop, and, if you would like to try a fungicide, this is the time for the first spray.
Some varieties show resistance: try 'Fireworks' (bronze), 'Mahogany' (copper and red), 'Paris' (silver veined green leaves and pink flowers), and 'Spellbound', which has large purple and silver leaves.
Are heucheras hardy everywhere?
Heucheras will grow well in all but the coldest of areas.
In the UK, they can thrive everywhere. And in the US, all are hardy in USDA zone 4. For zone 3, look out for the 'Northern Exposure Series'; in seven foliage colors. These have been specially developed for their ability to thrive in colder regions.
Heucheras are usually evergreen, but in zone 4, some may lose their leaves in winter. This is not harmful – simply tidy the plants in spring by snipping off dead or damaged leaves.
It is also worth remembering that heucheras grown in containers are more susceptible to our fiercest winters than plants grown in the ground. It is wise to assume that plants in containers are growing in one zone colder. If necessary, take actions to protect your plants from frost – the pots can be moved into a cozy sheltered place for winter, for instance.
Will deer eat my heucheras?
No, deer do not usually eat heucheras, but they may feed on them when their preferred foods are not available. If you notice deer damage or see deer eating them, treat them with one of the scent-based deterrents that are readily available.
If deer are a common pest in your plot, it may be worth choosing some deer-resistant plants for your borders.
Are heucheras native to the US?
There are over 30 wild species of heuchera that are native to North America. They can be found wild in every state except Florida and also in parts of Canada. Different species are native in different states and, while some species are found growing in the wild across a wide area, some are only found in a few places.
If you prefer to grow native plants, check to see which species are native in your area – your local Cooperative Extension Service should be able to help. American alumroot (Heuchera americana) is one of the more widespread species, growing over much of the east of the country. The roundleaf alumroot (Heuchera cylindrica) and the crevice alumroot (Heuchera micrantha) are both more widespread in the west. Heuchera sanguinea are native only in Pennsylvania and Arizona.
Do I need special varieties of heuchera to grow in hot climates?
If you live somewhere where temperatures are high, such as the southern states of America, growing coral bells in containers or garden borders can be tricky. Fortunately, plant breeders have worked to develop varieties that do well in the south and thrive in the hot and humid climate.
Varieties of the hairy alumroot (Heuchera villosa), which is native to the deep south, were among the first to prove reliable and are well worth looking out for. These include 'Caramel' (orange and pink), 'Citronelle' (lime-yellow), and 'Georgia Peach' (silvery, peachy red). 'Plum Pudding' (purple and silver), a universal favorite, has also proved itself a success in the south.
In the hot and dry southeast, varieties of Heuchera sanguinea do very well and these include 'Ruby Bells' (ruby red flowers) and 'White Cloud', which sports pretty white flowers.
Where to buy heucheras
Heucheras are usually sold as plants that are ready to plant in containers or in your yard, sometimes in full bloom. Available pot-grown in sizes from pints and quarts to two gallons, larger sizes are usually only available in retail outlets and not by mail order as their excessive weight can result in high shipping charges. However, because the foliage is the main feature of most heuchera varieties, a large plant makes an instant, and all-season, impact.
Smaller plants, usually pints or quarts, are available for mail order delivery. Sometimes packs of three of the same variety are offered at a discount – useful if you're on the lookout for cheap garden ideas.
As mentioned, it is possible to raise heuchera from seeds, but the best varieties are not readily available in this form. So, unless you need large numbers, it definitely pays to buy plants.
Our quicklinks below list some of our favorite suppliers to help start your search for your own.
Where to buy heucheras in the US:
- Shop heucheras at Amazon
- Shop heucheras at Walmart
- Shop heucheras at Bluestone Perennials
- Shop heucheras at Garden Crossings
- Shop heucheras at I Love Hostas
- Shop heucheras at Wilson Brothers
- Shop heucheras at Burpee
Where to buy heucheras in the UK:
Graham Rice is a garden writer who has won awards for his work online, and in books and magazines, on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been the Gardening Correspondent of two national newspapers in Britain, published more than 20 books, and has written for Organic Gardening magazine, The American Gardener, Fine Gardening and Amateur Gardening. He is the recipient of the 2021 Garden Media Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. For many years he was a judge at the Chelsea Flower Show and is a member of a number of Royal Horticultural Society committees. He gardened in Pennsylvania for 20 years, but has recently returned to his native England.
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