In recent years, heucheras have becoming increasingly popular among gardeners, and they deserve the attention they’re getting. New cultivars and hybrids of these native American perennials are being introduced regularly, giving us stunning new colors to use in our gardens that range from silver and gold to lime, burgundy, chocolate brown, purple, green and more.
Also known as coral bells or alumroot, heucheras are cold hardy in zones 4 to 9; some cultivars can tolerate the heat and humidity in zone 11. Graceful, bell-shaped flower clusters open in late spring, carried on spikes that grow about two feet tall.
The foliage of these plants is probably their most striking feature. The leaves are often large and heart-shaped or rounded, and many are variegated or ruffled. Because heucheras are evergreen, they bring year-round interest to the garden, even under a dusting of snow.
The plants prefer partial shade, but can take more sun in cold climates. Give them well-drained, moist, rich soil that’s neutral to slightly acidic, with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Other than keeping them regularly watered during their first year of growth, heucheras don’t require much care. Simply cut off the stalks after the flowers are finished, to help the plant put more energy into leaf production. Divide heuchera clumps as needed, or every three or four years.
Deadhead the flowers, to promote more blooms, which may continue into summer. If you wish, prune the foliage back in early spring, so new growth won’t be crowded. Few pests or diseases bother these deer-resistant beauties, although leaf scorch can be a problem in hot, full sun. Watch for soil heave in changing temperatures; this happens when the ground freezes and thaws, eventually pushing roots up out of the ground. Keeping the plants well mulched can help prevent this from happening.
Hummingbirds often visit heuchera flowers. Try using the plants alongside the foliage of ferns, caladiums and hostas. They’re also beautiful with shade loving perennials such as bleeding heart, iris and astilbe.
Varieties and cultivars to try:
‘Plum Pudding’ – Gorgeous, plum-colored foliage with dark purple veins. Plant in part shade for maximum color.
‘Ginger Ale’ – As the name suggests, this heuchera has ginger ale colored leaves with silvery tones. The heart-shaped foliage is scalloped on the edges.
‘Snow Angel’ – Big, bright green leaves bear streaks of lighter green. Snip stalks of the bright pink flowers to bring in for vases and arrangements.
‘Creole Nights’ –For a slightly “Goth” look in your garden, plant this heuchera, which boasts shiny black foliage.
For small containers, try ‘Blondie’ or ‘Sweet Tart,’ both of which are heavy bloomers. ‘Sweet Tart’ has lime foliage topped by bicolored pink flowers held on dark stems. ‘Blondie’ sports caramel-colored leaves with creamy yellow flower spikes. Both top out at around five inches high. Although both prefer average water, it’s better to keep them a little on the dry side after they’re established, than to keep them too wet.