All About Growing Coral Bells
The garden plant Heuchera, that we know as Coral Bells (Heuchera sanguinea), has been undergoing a lot of changes in the past few years. Ever since the introduction of 'Palace Purple', there have been countless new introductions of coral bells, with ever more colorful leaves. You can still find the traditional green-leaved Coral Bells, with the charming coral bell-shaped flowers that hummingbirds love, but it has been joined by heuchera with leaves in shades of purple, rose, lime green, gold and variegations in between.
Heuchera are native North American plants that can be found, in some form, throughout the continent. Besides the coral bells we grow for their flashy leaves, there are tiny alpines (Heuchera nivalis) and tall heat lovers (Heuchera maxima).
Heuchera plants form round mounds with a woody root stock or crown at their base.
- Leaves: Leaves vary greatly among the cultivars. Most are somewhat rounded, lobed and hairy.
- Flowers: Small bell-shaped flowers are borne on tall stalks. The flowers can be petal-less. The stems have an airy appearance and make nice cut flowers.
Coral Bells, Alumroot
Most coral bells are hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8, although hardiness really does depend on the variety you are growing and how hot or cold it gets.
Coral bells do best in full sun to partial shade. The color can wash out in full sun and too much heat and light can cause the leaves to scorch. If you grow yours in full sun, give it extra water.
Mature Plant Size
Expect heuchera plants to grow 12-18 in. (h) x 12-18 in. (w)
Late spring/Early summer. Heuchera plants are grown for their foliage, but the flowers are very popular with hummingbirds, so let them stay.
Growing Tips for Coral Bells
Soil: Coral bells like a neutral to slightly acid soil pH, somewhere between 6.0 and 7.0.
Good drainage is a must, especially in shaded areas. Sitting in damp soil will cause the crown to rot.
Planting Coral Bells: You can start the species Heuchera from seed, but the hybrids will need to come from plants or divisions if you want plants that look like the parent.
When starting seed, sprinkle the seed on the surface of the soil in late fall or early spring. Don't cover the seed, they need light to germinate. You could also start the seeds indoors, a couple of months before you plan to transplant. Seeds take between 2 to 8 weeks to germinate. Transplant outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.
Plant container grown coral bells any time after frost. Keep them well watered their first year. Other than that, they shouldn't require more than some relief from extreme heat and a rich, well-draining soil.
Caring for Your Coral Bells
Cut back the entire flower stalk after flowering, to put the plant's energy into growing more leaves.
Divide coral bells every 3-5 years, to keep them from dying out in the center.
In cold areas, coral bells crowns can heave above the soil line, in the winter. Winter mulching after the ground freezes hard, will prevent the freezing and thawing that pushes the plants up.
Check periodically to make sure the roots are not exposed. Replant, if possible.
If the leaves get a bit ragged looking, especially after winter, cut them back and new growth should fill in quickly.
Using Heuchera in Your Garden Design
Coral bells make wonderful edging plants and really put on a show when planted in groups. The foliage color is great for playing up the colors of nearby flowers. Darker purple leaves can make yellow flowers, like coreopsis, glow. Butterscotch colored leaves even bring out the tones of simple green leaves.
Pair coral bells with lacy-leaved plants, like fringed-leaf bleeding heart or thread-leaf coreopsis, to high-light their form.
Suggested Heuchera Varieties
- Heuchera 'Autumn Leaves' - Changes color through the seasons, from red to caramel to ruby.
- Heuchera 'Chocolate Ruffles' - Ruffled leaves have rich chocolatey color on the top and deep burgundy on the bottom.
- Heuchera 'Green Spice' - Large green leaves are veined in maroon. Very hardy.
- Heuchera 'Marmalade' - Frilly leaves in shades from umber to deep sienna.
- Heuchera 'Tiramisu' - Chartreuse leaves, tinged with red. Changes color throughout the season.
- Heuchera 'Silver Scrolls' - Shiny silver leaves with dark veins and pinkish-white flowers.
Pests and Problems or Coral Bells
Diseases: Coral bells planted in damp shade can be prone to fungus diseases. If your plants start having problems, it's best to simply move the plants to a drier or sunnier site.
Pests: The larvae of the black vine weevil can bore into the crowns and roots of coral bells. The larvae are usually present in late summer/early fall. Affected plants will wilt and droop. You should be able to see the larvae and remove them by hand and destroy them.
Unfortunately, coral bells are also popular with 4-legged pests, like deer and groundhogs.