Coral bells are interesting foliage plants that can add both foliage color and texture to any landscape.
These perennial plants form lovely low-growing mounds which makes them suitable for a variety of different garden areas including rock gardens, raised garden beds, borders, and woodland settings.
Although coral bells do have small, bell-shaped flowers on long flower stalks, they are mainly grown for their interesting and colorful foliage.
The large palm-shaped, rounded and ruffled leaves range in color from dark red and purple to lime green and gold. Some varieties exhibit dark foliage in deep green while others have reddish leaves with pink undersides.
Coral bells do not have showy blooms but the tiny flowers that do appear in late spring, are rich in nectar and very attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies.
They are also useful for use as cut flowers. The flower color can vary from white to orange, red, and pink.
There are around 55 species of coral bells that are all native to North America. You might be amazed to learn that coral bells were exported to Europe as early as the 1600s. This makes them one of the earliest cultivated plants in this region.
In their natural habitats, each species would adapt naturally to its environment. This means that there are now species that don’t have a problem with too much sun or direct sunlight while others are perfectly adept at dealing with only morning sun.
Since their cultivation began, many commercial growers have produced an immense range of cultivars and hybrids to suit different conditions. Some of these can grow happily in warmer climates while other proven winners are sold primarily as woodland plants.
|Scientific name||Heuchera spp.|
|Common names||Coral bells, alumroot, rock geranium|
|Height||Up to 18 inches|
|Width||Up to 24 inches|
|USDA Plant Hardiness Zone||4 to 9|
|Flower colors||White, orange, red, and pink flower|
|Blooming season||Spring and summer|
|Plant/Flower special features||Colorful foliage that adds texture to most garden areas|
How to Grow Heuchera Species
Coral bell plants should be planted in the garden either in late fall or early spring. They can also be grown in containers and are great for adding some interest to outdoor entertainment areas.
Unfortunately, if left to their own devices, coral bells are relatively short-lived but you can easily extend their life by dividing them regularly. They are perfect for growing in a woodland setting in areas that receive part shade or even full shade.
When planting coral bells in your garden, make sure to position the root crown slightly higher than the surrounding soil. This will allow the plant to grow freely and will also avoid fungal diseases from attacking the crown.
One of the best ways to use coral bells in your garden is to utilize them as edging plants around shaded areas. Because they’re fairly low-growing, they are a great way to add some softness, color, and texture to flower beds that are adjacent to paved or concrete paths.
Heucheras are also great for planting around tall trees as they add another dimension to the understory.
How to Propagate Coral Bells
The easiest way to propagate coral bells is by division. This should generally be done in spring or fall. It’s also possible to dig up the offsets that they will produce and replant these in a different spot in the garden. In addition, coral bells can also be grown from seed.
When you plant coral bells, dividing older plants is fairly important to stop them from dying out.
Therefore, dividing your existing coral bells every three to four years will ensure that you always have coral bells growing in your garden and that you’ll have plenty of new plants to keep or give away to your friends or family.
How to Divide your Coral Bells
Here’s how to divide your coral bells:
- In spring or fall, dig up each clump of mature plants, making sure that most of the roots are intact.
- With a sharp knife, cut each clump into several pieces, ensuring that each piece has plenty of healthy roots still attached and numerous new growth shoots.
- Replant each division into well-draining soil that has been enriched with compost.
How to Grow Coral Bells from Seed
Rather than collect your own seeds, it’s prudent to buy commercially available seeds. This is because seeds collected from hybrids will not grow plants that are identical to the parent plant.
However, if you are growing some pure species plants, you can easily collect some seeds from these once the flowers have finished and the plant starts producing seed pods.
Here’s how to grow these species from seed:
- Prepare a seedling tray by filling it with a good quality seed-raising mix.
- Sprinkle the seeds on top of the mix and do not cover them. These seeds need light to germinate successfully.
- Put your seedling trays in a bright spot that receives only filtered light.
- Make sure that the mix is kept moist.
- The seeds should start to germinate within 2 to 8 weeks.
- When the little seedlings have grown large enough, you can plant them out in the garden. But make sure that any danger of frost has passed.
Coral Bells Care and Maintenance
The coral bells plant is fairly easy to care for and requires minimal maintenance. These shade-loving plants are great to fill in areas of your garden where sun-loving plants won’t grow.
They are also ideal for cooler climates and can be protected from cold winter temperatures by covering their crown with a thick layer of mulch.
The Heuchera plant likes nice loamy soil that has been enriched with organic material and drains freely. The soil pH should be slightly acidic in the range of 6.0 to 7.0.
In addition, the soil should be well-drained as these plants can be prone to fungus problems if they’re growing in constantly damp soils.
This is particularly important for plants that are grown in shady areas in the garden.
Coral bells do appreciate consistently moist soil but it must be well-drained. In other words, they don’t really appreciate wet soil, especially in the winter months.
They are also not particularly drought-tolerant and will require regular watering during long periods of dry weather. On average, you want to give your plants around one inch of water per week.
These plants have quite shallow roots which is why they will require more water than other plants in your garden. If you have some cultivars that can grow in full sun, then you should be prepared to water them more frequently when the weather is hot and dry.
It should also be noted that container-grown plants will need to receive enough moisture, especially during hot spells.
Coral bells are not heavy feeders. They only need a light application of slow-release fertilizer in spring. If you’re growing Heuchera plants in containers, you can feed them with a liquid or water-soluble fertilizer during their growing season.
Heuchera plants prefer to grow in a semi-shaded position so they are perfect to add some color to shaded areas of your garden. However, there are new hybrids and cultivars that will actually grow in more sun and even some varieties that will grow in full sun.
Most Heuchera species need some protection from direct sunlight because their leaves can be scorched if they are grown in full sun. Therefore, they are best grown in at least partial shade.
Temperature and Humidity
Different varieties of coral bells enjoy growing in quite a wide climate range. Many varieties can be successfully grown in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9. However, there are some that don’t like too much heat and can only be grown up to USDA zone 7 while others don’t like zones below 6.
When grown in colder climates where the ground freezes, coral bells have the habit of heaving their crowns up and out of the ground. This can be avoided with heavy mulching during the winter. Heucheras grown in colder regions will also be semi-evergreen.
In general, Heucheras don’t like high levels of humidity and do prefer dry air. However, one species, Heuchera villosa, is native to the southeastern USA and can grow happily in highly humid regions.
In general, these hardy plants don’t require a lot of pruning. However, it is wise to cut back the spent flower stalks after the blooms have finished. This allows the plants to put their energy into growing many more new leaves. Flowers can also be deadheaded during the blooming months in order to encourage more flowers to grow.
In addition, you can tidy up the coral bells in early spring by cutting back any foliage that has become damaged or is ragged looking.
Pest and diseases
Even though coral bells are fairly hardy and are rarely bothered by pests or diseases, there are some fungal diseases such as powdery mildew, bacterial leaf spot, and rust that you need to look out for on the foliage.
The best way to avoid these is to ensure that your Heucheras receive good drainage and that their roots are not sitting in water.
You should also keep a lookout for black vine weevils. The larvae of these pests will bore into the root crown. If you inspect your coral bells regularly, especially in late summer and early fall, you should be able to see these pests and remove them by hand.
As mentioned, coral bells don’t have too many problems as long as they are grown in conditions that they’re suited to. However, sometimes you might find an issue with your plant that you need to remedy.
If the leaves of your coral bells are starting to look brown and dry around the edges, it could mean that they are being scorched by too much sunlight. In this case, you need to ensure that you are giving your coral bells plenty of water and maybe even consider providing them with some additional shade.
Commonly, coral bells flowers are short-lived perennials that generally only live for around 4 to 5 years. So, if it looks like your plant is declining, it’s time to dig it out of the ground and divide it up into smaller sections. You’ll find that this will give the divided plants an extra lease of life and they’ll continue to grow happily.
For this reason, you want to consider digging up and dividing your mature plants at least every 3 to 4 years if you don’t want to lose them completely.
Growing Coral Bells In Containers
Although coral bells thrive in many outdoor garden areas, they can also be successfully grown in containers as long as they are kept outdoors. Heucheras are not suitable to grow as houseplants though because they do need a period of dormancy over winter.
When choosing a suitable container, make sure that it has good drainage holes. It’s also important to select a high-quality potting mix that has been enriched with compost. This mix must also be free-draining.
When you place your coral bells flower into the container, remember to ensure that the root crown is slightly above the level of the potting mix. Remember, that you need to provide adequate moisture for your coral bells during their growing period in the warmer months of the year.
Once planted up into pots, you can place these around your outdoor deck, veranda, or even the patio at your front door. They will add some lovely color to these areas.
When winter arrives, move the pots into a more sheltered spot so that your coral bells are protected from the really cold winter temperatures. But remember to let the plants go dormant during winter. This means that you should not water them during the colder weather.
Uses of Coral Bells Plant
Primarily, coral bells are grown for their interesting foliage and for their ability to grow happily in full or partial shade. They are the ideal addition to any shade garden where it’s difficult to grow other types of flowering or foliage plants.
Common Varieties and Cultivars
There are a number of primary species that are readily available as well as many hybrids or cultivars with different colored foliage and flowers. There are new hybrids being added constantly and some of these exhibit brighter flowers to light up those partial shade areas in your garden.
Some of the more common coral bells varieties include:
- Heuchera americana
- Heuchera sanguinea
- Heuchera villosa
- Heuchera parviflora
Many of the cultivars and hybrids are considered proven winners by commercial growers in North America because of their beautiful foliage. These proven winners include:
- Heuchera ‘Autumn Leaves’ – foliage that changes color from red to orange
- Heuchera ‘Green Spice’ – green foliage with maroon veins
- Heuchera ‘Citronelle’ – bright yellow to green foliage
- Heuchera ‘Amber Waves’ – copper foliage with pink buds and creamy flowers
- Heuchera ‘Silver Gumdrop’ – metallic foliage with rose pink blooms
- Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’ – foliage starts as rose pink with pale pink flowers in late spring
- Heuchera ‘Toffee Tart’ – suitable for container combinations with rich amber foliage
- Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ – deep purple foliage with a silvery sheen
Coral bells are ideal for shaded gardens. Their pretty ruffled leaves will add some much-needed color to areas where other species won’t grow. The foliage color can range from dark green to deep red and different shades in between including lime green.
The tiny white flowers start to appear in early summer and will continue right through the warmer months. Different varieties of coral bells can even exhibit orange, red, or pink flowers, so you will find that the flower color will vary depending on which varieties you choose to grow.
For more flowers to grow, check our list of different types of flowers.
*image by maryviolet&azadjain001/depositphotos