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Heucheras

If you are looking for a low maintenance plant to add to your garden then check out these hardy heuchera plants.

Looking for a hardy, pest-resistant, drought-tolerant plant that can handle sun or shade, has an extended blooming period and comes in a whole range of colors? If you answered yes, you've been saved by coral bells (Heuchera).

Contrast can make a garden really interesting, and one plant family that offers lots of contrast is Heuchera. These ever-reliable plants are the subject of cutting-edge breeding programs that are responsible for introducing the world to never-before-seen foliage colors and characteristics. Heuchera breeder Dan Heims discuss the magic behind these magnificent perennials.

These plants come in a variety of colors, including bronze. "What bronze foliage does in the landscape is to create a new dimension," says Heims. "If you place a bronze plant with green plants, the contrast gives you a certain depth and interest, drawing your eye."

Bronze is just the beginning when it comes to Heuchera color possibilities. At Heims' testing ground, there are some 50,000 field plants, and only one or maybe two of those plants will meet the rigorous requirements necessary to make it to the tissue-culture lab. There, genetically superior plants are divided and grown in petri dishes before being transplanted into potting soil. The result of this work are healthy Heuchera selections in a dazzling display of new colors, flowers and shapes.

"We're using all sorts of fabulous purples, and we're getting ruffle colors, blacks, amazing silvers, and of course we're combining some great flowers with great foliage so you get more in the same plant," Heims says.

Coral bells are versatile in climate as well as color. Many are hardy to USDA Zone 3, and if you're running out of patches of sun in your garden for planting, don't worry: Many varieties, such as this 'Green Spice', are made for the shade.

"My best recommendation is to check the label when you buy the plant, and that'll explain what kind of light it wants," says Heims.

As your coral bells grow and mature, you might notice that the middle sections of your plants will start to look a little ratty. This is a sign that the plant needs more growing space.

Coral bells are very tough plants, so you don't have to baby them. Heims digs a large Heuchera in need of more space out of the ground to divide it into shoots. This process is often referred to as "popping the Heuchera." For every shoot you have, you can start a new plant. As soon as Heims removes the shoot from the plant, it gets a buzz cut. For a fuller plant, divide the clump into two or three sections before cutting, since most of the food is held in the stems.

When it comes to planting, coral bells love a good soil with lots of organic matter blended in. Never bury the crown in the soil when you plant since that will smother the plant. Allow a bit of stem to peek above ground. Cuttings are even faster to plant. Just plunge a shovel in the ground, pull back the soil, push the cutting into the ground, and pack the soil around the plant. Once you get the cutting in the soil, give it a good soaking and you're done.

Extra nutrients give the foliage a deeper, darker color. In this picture of side-by-side 'Purple Petticoats', the one on the right received no fertilizer, but the same variety on the left got a regular dose of timed fertilizer.

Don't discount the value of this plant's tiny flowers. After all, good things can come in small packages. "One thing that's great about Heuchera is the bell-like flowers, and these attract bees, butterflies and a lot of hummingbirds," says Heims.

Heucheras aren't the only plant Heims is hard at work breeding, he's also cross-breeding them with foamflowers (Tiarella) to create lovely new plants called heucherellas. So whether it's coral bells, foamflowers, or even heucherellas, this vast and wonderful family of plants can add contrast, color and year-round interest to any garden.

And if the landscape in your yard is full, coral bells make great container plants because they don't have aggressive root systems. So go ahead and incorporate the hues of Heuchera into the coldest of climates; just bring the containers indoors during the winter.

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