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, or alumroot, (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 sold in garden centers today, with hundreds of selections available and new ones debuting every year. With this recent explosion in options, recommending specific cultivars is a challenge. However, the 10 varieties featured below are a good representation of the amazing range of choices now available.

On this page: Coral Bell Basics | Planting and Growing Coral Bells | Care and Maintenance | Coral Bell 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, from woodlands and prairies to mountain peaks and arid climates.

Height:

The foliage forms neat mounds ranging in height from 6 to 18 inches; coral bells flower stalks can grow to 2 feet or taller.

Spread:

1 to 2½ feet

Exposure:

Partial to bright shade; they do best in bright or dappled shade.

Bloom time:

Late spring to midsummer

Color and characteristics:

Originating from wild species with no-frills green foliage, today’s garden hybrids sport leaves in just about every color imaginable, some enhanced by marbled patterns, dramatic veining, silvery overlays, and ruffled edges. Although the foliage garners the most attention, the tiny bell-shaped flowers of coral bells have a charm of their own, swaying on tall, wispy stems above the rosettes of deeply lobed leaves.

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

  • The flowers, although tiny, are rich in nectar and a good food source for butterflies and hummingbirds.
  • Many cultivars — especially those bred from Heuchera americana and H. villosa, two species native to the eastern U.S. — are exceptionally tolerant of heat, drought, and humidity.
  • Provides year-round interest, with the foliage often shifting in 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 hues on the top and bottom.
  • Rarely bothered by deer and rabbits.
  • Outstanding resistance to foliar diseases and pests.

Heuchera vs. Heucherella:

Close cousins to coral bells 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 CORAL BELLS

Planting Black Pearl Heuchera

When to plant:

Early spring.

How to plant:

Plant coral bells 1 to 2 feet apart (depending on the expected spread of the plant at maturity) with the base of the foliage even with or slightly above the soil level.

Growing from seed:

Although coral bells grow readily from seed, most cultivars 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 asexual propagation (division).

Growing in containers:

Coral bells are among the best perennials to grow in containers, say Heims and Ware, because they provide year-round interest, are drought resistant, and don’t mind being confined. They recommend using a container and potting mix that drain freely and to keep the root crown above the soil height 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 during their period of dormancy.

CORAL BELLS CARE

Light requirements:

Coral bells will be at their most colorful when grown in partial shade (approximately 4 hours of direct sunlight daily). As a general rule of thumb, give plants with pale leaf colors, such as chartreuse or silver, more protection from sun exposure than those with dark purple or maroon tones. Plants grown in cooler climates can often tolerate more sun if given adequate moisture.

Soil requirements:

Your coral bells plant will grow best in a humus-rich soil that is moist but well drained. Avoid planting in soggy, wet soil, which can lead to rotting of the root crown. To help improve soil drainage and aeration, amend heavy garden soil with compost.

Watering:

Although many coral bells are drought tolerant once they become established, you should water your plants regularly during summer dry spells because of their shallow root systems, 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 the soil surrounding the base of your plants to keep the leaves dry or water during the early morning hours.

Fertilizing:

Coral bells 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:

Coral bells tend to be short-lived and will benefit from being divided and transplanted periodically, which will not only prolong their lifespan but also give you more plants to weave throughout 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 early spring so your plants become well-established before winter.

Pruning and deadheading:

After coral bells bloom, removal of the spent flower stalks at the base will put more energy into fresh foliage production and sometimes encourage repeat blooming. You should also remove any dead or sun-scorched leaves during the growing season to keep the foliage looking vibrant. Because food is stored in the leaves, do not prune back your plants in the fall. Wait until spring to remove old or discolored foliage, just as new growth is starting to emerge.

Winter care:

Because coral bells are shallow-rooted, frost heave 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 does not drain adequately.

CORAL BELLS 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

Named as the 2018 National Plant of the Year™ by Proven Winners, this dark beauty features nearly jet-black leaves with rosy purple undersides. Although the foliage color is at its most intense when grown in partial shade, ‘Black Pearl’ will keep its dark coloration without fading even in full sun. Light pink flowers held aloft 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

One of the newest additions to Proven Winners’ Dolce® series of heucheras, this stunning plant is almost iridescent, with black-veined purple leaves that develop a silvery overlay as they mature. The tidy mounds of foliage retain their color throughout the growing season and remain evergreen in all but the coldest climates. In midsummer, clusters of creamy white flowers on slender maroon-colored stems seem to sparkle against the backdrop of glistening 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

Another popular member of the Proven Winners’ Dolce® collection, ‘Silver Gumdrop’ has vibrant pink flowers that almost steal the show from the silvery leaves, rising nearly 2 feet above the low-growing mounds of foliage. 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 glossy, large mahogany-red leaves keep their color through the season and turn coppery as they age. They’re slightly ruffled and can get up to 6-inches wide. The thick burgundy stems hold loads of light pink buds that hold 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

This is the perfect for heuchera for lighting up your garden’s dark nooks and crannies, with neon-yellow leaves that emerge in spring with dazzling intensity and slowly fade to bright chartreuse. The foliage glows even brighter in the shade than when grown in full sun, where the color tends to bleach out and the leaves can scorch. A dense and uniformly mounded habit makes ‘Citronelle’ a great choice for growing in containers and smaller spaces. It’s also a standout when paired with dark-leaved heucheras, such as ‘Palace Purple’ and ‘Primo® 'Black Pearl'.

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 abundance of amazing purple-leaved heucheras available in garden centers today all started with ‘Palace Purple’, which created a sensation when it was introduced to the garden world in 1991 and named the plant of the year by the Perennial Plant Association. The large, glossy leaves range in color from dark olive green to deep bronzy purple depending on how the sunlight hits them. In summer, the dark foliage is offset by tall panicles of tiny white blooms. This tried-and-true performer does 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

Of the many heuchera varieties I have growing in my own Midwestern garden, this has to be one of my favorites, both for its spectacular foliage and resilience to high heat, humidity, and fluctuating weather conditions. The large, scalloped leaves range in hue from apricot to golden caramel and twist in the breeze to display reddish-purple undersides. For the warmest color tones, grow ‘Caramel’ in partial shade. When grown under more sunlight, the color can become increasingly yellow. Remains vigorous year after year with little attention.

IDEAS FOR USING IN THE GARDEN

  • Integrate coral bells into woodland and rock gardens and semi-shaded borders. Their shade tolerance also makes them ideal for use as understory plants for shrubs.
  • Plant coral bells 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 ethereal floral displays.
  • Create textural interest by intermingling coral bells with contrasting lacy-leaved shade-loving plants, such as ferns and astilbes.
  • Use coral bells 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 of coral bells 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:
Shade Garden Ideas
Container Gardens

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