Pictured from top to bottom: Primo® ‘Pretty Pistachio’, Primo® ‘Mahogany Monster’, and Primo® ‘Black Pearl’. Photo by: Proven Winners

If you were to create a checklist for the perfect shade garden plant, coral bells (Heuchera spp.) would possess nearly all the traits you could possibly desire. Multi-season interest? Yes! Striking foliage? No question! Long-lasting flowers? Check! Minimal maintenance? Absolutely! Numerous color options? In spades! And I almost forgot the best quality of all: Versatility!

“Heuchera have gone through a revolutionary transformation from your grandmother's coral bells of years ago. With great diversity in leaf color and patterns, plant size and flower performance, there are many options for the home gardener in both sun and shade. Heuchera have the ability to provide the anchoring texture in container combinations or color and texture in landscaping," says Hans Hansen, plant breeder at Walters Gardens. "These hybrids of native woodland wildflowers have come a long way.”

It’s no wonder coral bells have become one of the most popular perennials, with hundreds of selections and new ones available every year. With all these options, recommending specific cultivars is a challenge. However, the varieties below are a good representation of the range of choices available.

On this page: Basics | Planting and Growing | Care and Maintenance | Varieties | Ideas for Using in the Garden

CORAL BELLS BASICS

Zones:

4-9. Heuchera plants are U.S natives that can tolerate a wide range of our natural habitats: woodlands, prairies, mountain peaks, and arid climates.

Height:

Neat mounds range in height from 6 to 18 inches; flower stalks grow to 2 feet or taller.

Spread:

1 to 2½ feet

Exposure:

Best in bright or dappled shade.

Bloom time:

Late spring to midsummer

Color and characteristics:

Today’s garden hybrids have leaves in just about every color imaginable, some with marbled patterns, dramatic veining, silvery overlays, and ruffled edges. Although grown mainly as a foliage plant, the tiny bell-shaped flowers have a charm of their own, swaying on tall, wispy stems above the foliage.

Dolce® ‘Appletini’ in bloom. Photo by: Proven Winners

  • The tiny flowers are rich in nectar and a good food source for butterflies and hummingbirds.
  • Many cultivars are exceptionally tolerant of heat, drought, and humidity.
  • Provide year-round interest, with the foliage often changing color throughout the growing season and retaining its color over winter. The leaves of some varieties even give you a “bonus side” by displaying different colors on the top and bottom.
  • Rarely bothered by deer and rabbits.
  • Outstanding resistance to foliar diseases and pests.

Heuchera vs. Heucherella:

Close cousins, and from the same plant family (Saxifragaceae), are foam flowers (Tiarella) and foamy bells (Heucherella). The latter is actually a marriage of Tiarella and Heuchera and has the same great foliage color but more pronounced bottlebrush-shaped flowers.

PLANTING AND GROWING HEUCHERA

Planting Black Pearl Heuchera

When to plant:

Early spring.

How to plant:

Plant 1 to 2 feet apart (depending on mature size), with the base of the foliage even with or slightly above the soil level.

Growing from seed:

Although they will grow readily from seed, most varieties will not grow true to the parent plant, so division is often the best method of propagation. However, check your plant label, as many specify no propagation (division).

Growing in containers:

Heuchera plants are among the best perennials to grow in containers because they provide year-round interest, are drought resistant, and don’t mind being confined. Plant them in a container with potting mix that drains freely and keep the root crown slightly higher than the soil rather than burying it deeply. If you plan to overwinter your container-grown plants, give the pots some protection from cold winter temperatures and don’t water them when dormant.

CARE AND MAINTENANCE

Light requirements:

They are most colorful when grown in partial shade (approximately 4 hours of direct sunlight daily). As a general rule, plants with pale leaf colors, like chartreuse or silver, need more protection from sun exposure than those with dark purple or maroon tones. Plants in cooler climates can often tolerate more sun if given enough moisture.

Soil requirements:

Your coral bells plant will grow best in humus-rich, well draining soil that is kept slightly moist. Avoid planting in soggy, wet soil, which can lead to crown rot. To help improve soil drainage and aeration, amend heavy garden soil with compost.

Watering:

Many are drought tolerant once they become established; however, due to their shallow roots, water your plants regularly during summer dry spells, making sure they get about an inch of water a week. Generally, little to no watering is needed during fall and winter. To prevent sun scorching of the foliage, water at the base of your plants to keep the leaves dry or water in the early morning.

Fertilizing:

Heuchera plants are not heavy feeders and will often do fine if you apply a layer of nutrient-rich compost around the plants in the spring. Container-grown plants may require a light dose of all-purpose or slow-release fertilizer.

Dividing and transplanting:

Heucheras tend to be short-lived and benefit from being divided and transplanted periodically, which will prolong their lifespan and also give you more plants for your garden. Every 3 to 4 years, dig up the existing root crown, separate the rooted offshoots, and then replant them, discarding the old woody center. The best time to transplant coral bells is in spring, or early enough in fall so they can become well-established before winter.

Pruning and deadheading:

After blooming, remove the spent flower stalks at the base. This will allow more energy for new foliage production and sometimes encourage repeat blooming. Remove any dead or sun-scorched leaves to keep the foliage looking healthy. Because food is stored in the leaves, don't prune them back in fall; wait until spring, just as new growth is starting to emerge.

Winter care:

Because they are shallow-rooted, frost heave (caused when the ground freezes and thaws) is a common problem during the winter months, especially for older plants. If the woody root crown of the plant is visible above the soil level, you can reset the plant by pulling out the root ball, placing it into a deeper hole, and then covering the area with a few inches of compost. Crown rot can also be a problem in winter if the soil doesn't drain adequately.

VARIETIES

Swipe to view slides

Photo: Proven Winners

Primo® 'Black Pearl'Buy now from Proven Winners

Zones:

4-9

Exposure:

Sun or shade

Foliage height:

8 to 10 inches

Flower height:

18 to 20 inches

Spread:

26 to 30 inches

Bloom time:

Midsummer

Flower color:

Light pink

This dark beauty features nearly jet-black leaves with rosy purple undersides. Foliage color is at its most intense when grown in partial shade, but will resist fading even in full sun. Light pink flowers that bloom on 20-inch stems are magnets for butterflies and hummingbirds.

See the entire Primo® series.

Photo: Proven Winners

Dolce® 'Blackberry Ice'Buy now from Proven Winners

Zones:

4-9

Exposure:

Sun or shade

Foliage height:

8 to 12 Inches

Flower height:

20 to 26 inches

Spread:

12 to 16 Inches

Bloom time:

Midsummer

Flower color:

Creamy white

This stunning plant is almost iridescent, with black-veined purple leaves that develop a silvery overlay as they mature. They retain their color throughout the growing season and remain evergreen in all but the coldest climates. Creamy white flowers on maroon stems sparkle against the backdrop of purple foliage.

See the entire Dolce® series.

Photo: Proven Winners

Primo® 'Wild Rose'Buy now from Proven Winners

Zones:

4-9

Exposure:

Part shade to shade

Foliage height:

8 to 10 Inches

Flower height:

18 to 20 Inches

Spread:

26 to 30 Inches

Bloom time:

Midsummer

Flower color:

Pink

Everything about this aptly named heuchera is wonderfully rosy, from the striking rose-purple leaves to the burgundy-rose flower stems and buds that give way to rose-pink blooms. Dusky charcoal-gray veining only intensifies the foliage color, making this plant a real standout in shady areas of the garden.

Photo: Proven Winners

Dolce® 'Silver Gumdrop'Buy now from Proven Winners

Zones:

4-9

Exposure:

Part shade to shade

Foliage height:

6 to 8 Inches

Flower height:

20 to 24 inches

Spread:

14 to 16 inches

Bloom time:

Early to midsummer

Flower color:

Rose pink

Vibrant pink flowers rise nearly 2 feet above the low-growing foliage and almost steal the show. More compact than most heucheras, this variety works well in containers and smaller spaces. When grown in shadier gardens, the metallic foliage casts a lovely luminescent glow.

Photo: Proven Winners

Primo® 'Peachberry Ice'Buy now from Proven Winners

Zones:

4-9

Exposure:

Sun or shade

Foliage height:

8 to 10 inches

Flower height:

24 inches

Spread:

1½ to 2 feet

Bloom time:

Midsummer

Flower color:

Creamy white

A beautiful way to add orange to your garden. Large silvery apricot-orange leaves have bright pink undersides. Colors mellow in the warmer months. This heuchera loves partial shade, but will also grow in sun, and is also salt tolerant.

Another popular orange heuchera hybrid is ‘Georgia Peach’.

Photo: Proven Winners

Primo® 'Mahogany Monster'Buy now from Proven Winners

Zones:

4-9

Exposure:

Sun or shade

Foliage height:

12-16 inches

Flower height:

32-38 inches

Spread:

16 inches

Bloom time:

Midsummer

Flower color:

Ivory

The large mahogany-red leaves keep their color through the season turn coppery as they age. They're slightly ruffled and can get up to 6-inches wide. Thick burgundy stems hold loads of light pink buds that give way to white to ivory flowers. For a plant with similar attributes, you can also try Heuchera ‘Mahogany’.

Photo by: Stevenson / Shutterstock

Heuchera 'Marmalade'

Zones:

4-9

Exposure:

Part shade to full sun

Foliage height:

10 inches

Flower height:

16 inches

Spread:

18 inches

Bloom time:

May to June

Flower color:

White

This showy cultivar features highly ruffled leaves that range in color from umber to burnt sienna with bright hot-pink undersides. Even the stems are colorful — deep red, bearing an abundance of tiny white flowers. Performs equally well in sun and shade.

Photo by: GardenPhotos.com / Alamy Stock Photo

Heuchera 'Citronelle'

Zones:

4-9

Exposure:

Full shade to partial sun

Foliage height:

6 to 12 inches

Flower height:

14 to 16 inches

Spread:

14 to 18 inches

Bloom time:

Late summer

Flower color:

White

The perfect plant for lighting up your garden’s dark spots, with its bright lime green foliage that slowly fade to bright chartreuse. The foliage glows brighter in shade than in full sun, where the color may bleach out and leaves can scorch. A dense and mounded habit makes this a great choice for growing in containers and smaller spaces.

Photo by: Anna Gratys / Shutterstock

Heuchera 'Green Spice'

Zones:

4-8

Exposure:

Partial to full sun

Foliage height:

8 to 10 inches

Flower height:

24 to 28 inches

Spread:

14 to 16 inches

Bloom time:

Summer

Flower color:

White

Another selection good for brightening dark spots in the garden, the leaves have purple veins and are overlaid with silver tones. Also a good choice for containers, this variety provides a burst of contrast wtih foliage and summer flowers.

Photo by: Walter’s Gardens

Heuchera 'Palace Purple'
Heuchera micrantha

Zones:

4-9

Exposure:

Partial shade

Foliage height:

12 to 18 inches

Flower height:

Up to 2 feet

Spread:

1 to 1½ feet

Bloom time:

Midsummer

Flower color:

Blush white

The large, glossy leaves range in color from dark olive green to deep bronzy purple depending on the sunlight. In summer, the dark foliage is offset by tall panicles of tiny white blooms. Best when grown in partial shade, which will prevent the leaves from scorching and fading.

Photo by: Walter’s Gardens

Heuchera 'Caramel'

Zones:

4-9

Exposure:

Partial to full sun

Foliage height:

10 to 18 inches

Flower height:

24 inches

Spread:

1 to 2 feet

Bloom time:

Late spring to early summer

Flower color:

White

A favorite, both for its foliage and resilience to high heat, humidity, and changing weather conditions. Large scalloped leaves range in color from apricot to golden caramel, with reddish-purple undersides. Grow in partial shade for the warmest color tones; with too much sunlight, the color can become increasingly yellow. Remains vigorous year after year with little attention.


Love perennials? Learn more, along with timely planting advice, garden design inspiration, tips and more in our weekly newsletter.

DESIGN IDEAS

  • Integrate coral bells into woodland and rock gardens and semi-shaded borders. Their shade tolerance makes them ideal as understory plants for shrubs.
  • Plant in large groupings to create an attractive evergreen groundcover and to showcase the foliage color on a broader scale. Mass plantings also increase the visibility of the floral displays.
  • Create textural interest by mixing them with contrasting lacy-leaved, shade-loving plants, such as ferns and astilbes.
  • Use as a colorful addition to container combinations, or even as an unusual houseplant. In fall container arrangements, purple-leaved varieties are a great substitute for ornamental cabbage and kale.
  • Because some varieties are more sun tolerant than others, start your plants in containers you can move around the garden until you find the sun-shade combination that gives you the best foliage color and performance.

RELATED:
20 Great Shade Plants
Shade Garden Ideas
Container Gardens

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