Paint your yard with the vivid hues of heuchera, also known as coral bells.
Splash some color into your landscape with the brightly tinted leaves of Heuchera. Coral bells is the common name of this beauty, and these days at the garden center, you’re likely to hear either name brandished about by gardeners or written on pot tags. This perennial offers leaves in a rainbow of colors, including neon gold and lime, as well as almost-black. Coral bell plants are a go-to choice for adding color to shady settings.
The vast array of modern heucheras hail from North American natives, Heuchera americana (coral bells), Heuchera micrantha (crevice alum root) and Heuchera villosa (hairy alum root). Coral bells breeding breakthroughs first hit the market with the deep-purple leaves of ‘Palace Purple’ coral bells (Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’). The next newcomer was ‘Montrose Ruby’ coral bells (Heuchera ‘Montrose Ruby’), which boasted deep-purple leaves highlighted with silver marbling and deep green veins.
For many of today’s coral bells hybrids, the focus is on foliage. Leaves steal the spotlight in gardens, as homeowners position Heuchera hybrids to inject season-long color courtesy of colorful foliage. But leaves aren’t the only showpiece this plant offers. Flowers open atop wiry, foot-long (or longer) stems that stand well above foliage. Blossoms resemble tiny bells and can be white, red, coral or pink. The flowers beckon butterflies and hummingbirds like crazy. Clip flower stems after blossoms fade.
In the garden, give coral bells (Heuchera) a spot with well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter. You’ll see the best color from plants grown in part shade. In full sun, leaf colors can fade, while in deep shade, growth slows. In the South, shade during the hottest part of the day is a must. An open woodland is the ideal setting in a Southern garden. In general, coral bells thrive in the same conditions a hosta would. The most important things are to protect plants from intense afternoon sun and to make sure soil drains well.
Leaves typically grow to form a mound that is 6 to 18 inches tall, depending on the variety. Spread varies from 12 to 16 inches. Most heuchera are hardy in Zones 4 to 9. In regions with mild winters, coral bells remain evergreen through winter. Even with snow cover in Zone 5, plants can remain full colored beneath snow.
You’ll frequently see coral bells on lists of deer- and rabbit-resistant plants. Use caution when planting coral bells if you already battle deer and bunnies in your garden. It’s a good idea to cover plants with plastic bird netting until they’re established, because these critters can and do nibble these plants.
In many cases, rabbits and deer leave coral bells alone through the middle of the growing season, but are quick to devour it when frost kills other plants in the garden. Deer will also paw through snow to reach plants for a winter-time snack. In early spring, coral bells are also particularly vulnerable to wildlife when they’re the only colorful leaf in the garden. Toss plastic bird netting over plants during these timeframes to protect them.