With fantastic foliage and fun colors, heucheras (also called coral bells) are the perfect plant for those less sunny spots! Planted in early fall or spring, this perennial plant is also rabbit- and deer-resistant. Learn how to grow heucheras.
Heuchera is a genus of evergreen perennials in warm climates that are semi-evergreen in colder locations. About 37 species are recognized. They are native to North America and have a mounding habit. Most heucheras grow 6 to 12 inches tall and 1 to 3 feet wide. Hybridization is common. Heucheras are hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9 and are tolerant of a wide range of light and soil conditions.
While some will flower, in many varieties the flowers are insignificant. Some cultivars will flower on tall coral, red, and white spikes.
The real star for this plant is foliage. Colorful leaves grow in rosettes, and foliage can be ruffled or smooth in many shades, from neon lime to pinks, burgundies, purple, and almost black. Many varieties have multicolored leaves.
Gardeners find them to be deer- and rabbit-resistant. The leaves are astringent, meaning they taste bad, and are often left alone after a quick taste test. Heucheras could be a good substitute for hostas if your yard suffers significant deer problems. Of course, in a pinch, deer eat anything.
Heucheras are wonderful for bringing color to shadier spots in your garden or yard. They can be planted in partial sun to full shade. Colors and size will be best if they receive 4-6 hours of gentle sunlight.
Lighter-colored heucheras will not tolerate hot sun as well as darker-colored plants. Pick a shadier spot for those lime green or pink plants. Gardeners at the southern end of heuchera’s range should choose a location sheltered from all afternoon sun. If your heuchera leaves are bleached or browning at the tips, it might be getting too much sun.
These plants will do best in rich, well-draining soil but can tolerate clayey and stony soils. Amend or make a berm if your soil is heavy clay. While they like evenly moist soil, they are somewhat drought tolerant once established as long as they are in the shade.
In the landscape, heucheras mix well with other shade-loving plants. For shady garden beds, match them with hostas, astilbes, ferns, and hellebores. In a partially sunny spot, mix them in with your geraniums, ornamental grasses, and daylilies.
When to Plant Heucheras
Heucheras can be planted or transplanted in spring or fall. If fall planting, try to get them in the ground at least six weeks before the ground freezes to let them have a chance to establish.
In spring, plant them outside after the last frost date. They’ll suffer less transplant shock if they aren’t immediately subject to freezing temps. Be sure to harden them off first if you purchased them from a greenhouse. Older plants can be divided and transplanted as soon as the ground is workable in spring.
How to Plant Heucheras
Heucheras purchased at the garden center can be any size. If your potted plant is large, you may wish to divide it in half before planting. Heucheras also do well planted in containers and can make an all-season splash.
Well-draining soil is essential. Although they like a site a little on the moist side, consistently wet soil may lead to root rot. Amend heavy soil with compost or make a raised berm.
Dig a shallow hole and loosen up the soil.
Place the new heuchera in the hole so that the old potted soil level matches the new ground level, and backfill with native soil, firming as you go.
When planting in groups, space them 1-2 feet apart.
Water heucheras immediately after transplanting and weekly for the next few weeks unless sufficient rainfall has occurred.
Although drought tolerant once established, they need a little supplemental watering while they develop new roots and during any exceptionally hot and dry periods.
Heucheras prefer partial shade and even moisture. If your hostas like it, so will the heucheras. Don’t overwater. Consistently wet soil can lead to root rot. Once established, water only when the top two inches of soil is dry to the touch.
Fertilizer is not needed for in-ground dwelling heucheras. Those in containers can be fertilized once per month with a general-purpose balanced fertilizer when watering.
Heucheras can start to look tattered as they get beat up by the environment over the season. Trim off any ragged foliage or broken stems.
If desired, deadhead to encourage more blooms.
‘Black Pearl’ is more than a pirate ship. This purple-black leaved beauty sports ruffled leaves and dainty white flowers.
‘Green Spice’ is a shorter variety, typically reaching about 9 inches tall but spreading to 16 inches wide. Unique green and silver foliage with purple veination. It makes a unique ground cover or low border.
‘Lime Marmalade’ is a brightly colored, almost neon variety with frilly ruffled leaves, great for brightening darker areas that need some color.
‘Paprika’ has foliage that matches its namesake spice. Vividly orange, pair it with dark purple varieties to bring attention.
Wit and Wisdom
Mix colors and sizes of heucheras to create a well-designed shady garden bed. In warmer zones, they can be a source of color all year long.
If you have a woodland edge, heucheras can be used to naturalize the area, providing interest after the daffodils have come and gone.
Heucheras should be divided every 3-4 years to renew vigor and avoid forming a hollow spot in the center. Visit this page from the University of Minnesota Extension for more information on the benefits of dividing perennials.