If you love dramatic foliage, you'll definitely want to learn more about coral bells. You can find foliage in nearly every shade of the rainbow, as well as many shapes, from ruffled leaves to scalloped or ivy-shaped leaves. All that, and they bloom, too!
Growing Coral Bells in Your Garden
Coral bells (Heuchera) are a perfect choice for shade gardens, either planted in beds or even in containers. The delicate blossoms make lovely cut flowers or filler for bouquets and also attract hummingbirds. Add in the fact that it's a low-maintenance plant, and coral bells are definitely plants worth growing.
Where to Plant Coral Bells: Light and Soil Requirements
Coral bells should be planted 12 to 18 inches apart depending on the cultivar. They can be planted in spring or fall, and most cultivars are hardy in Zones 3 through 8.
Heuchera grows best in full sun to partial shade. Some cultivars require more shade than others, so you'll want to double-check the exact needs of the one you're planting.
It will thrive in rich, moist, well-drained soil. However, it will also tolerate clay soils, especially if you amend the planting soil with some compost to loosen it up a bit. It grows best in neutral to acidic soil, which covers most soil types.
Plant coral bells 12 to 18 inches apart in spring or fall. Most types have a mounded form 12 inches tall with the airy flower stalks reaching another 12 to 24 inches.
Watering and Fertilizing
Coral bells like consistently moist soil. Plants that have been growing in the garden for a few seasons and are established can withstand short droughts, but they really do best with about an inch of water per week.
If you're growing coral bells in full sun, they'll likely need more water than if they're grown in shade.
Coral bells really don't need much in the way of supplemental fertilizer. Side dress the plants with fresh compost in spring and fall, and that's all they should need.
Pruning Coral Bells
Coral bells is a very low-maintenance plant. The only pruning you'll need to do is to remove the spent flower stalks after blooming, since doing this will often result in a second round of blooms.
Other than that, just pinch off any browning or discolored leaves to keep the plant looking tidy.
Coral Bells Pests and Diseases
True to its low-maintenance nature, coral bells really doesn't have many pest or disease issues.
- Powdery mildew can be a problem if they're planted in spots that don't get good air circulation.
- Rarely, the plants can be affected with rust, which causes sunken or raised dark spots on the upper sides of the leaves. Eventually, the center of the spot falls out, leaving a hole. The best way to treat rust is to remove any affected leaves as soon as you notice them (dispose of them, don't add them to your compost pile). If your plant seems to be overwhelmed with it, you can treat the plant with a fungicide. Rust is often caused by poor air circulation and can be exacerbated by the use of high-nitrogen fertilizer, which causes a flush of lush, green, tender growth and can inhibit air circulation as well.
- As far as pests, very rarely, coral bells suffer from vine weevil damage. They eat the roots and leaves of the plant. You can place some cardboard on the ground nearby and lift it in the morning; often, the weevils will be on the underside of the cardboard. Dispose of it, and repeat daily until you start getting fewer weevils. You can also apply certain nematodes, such as Heterorhabditis megidis and Steinernema kraussei.
Propagating Coral Bells
Coral bells are pretty easy to propagate, and there are two methods you can use.
- Dividing the plants every three years or so and replanting the divisions elsewhere will give you new plants with very little effort. Plus, this keeps your coral bells growing happily; older heuchera tend to look less lush, and the crown of the plant starts pushing up out of the ground after a few years. Dividing will reinvigorate them. It's best to divide coral bells in the fall, give them a side dressing of compost, and then mulch them well.
- You can also grow coral bells pretty easily from seed. Sow the seeds indoors under lights in late winter, or sow them directly in the garden after danger of frost has passed.
Growing Coral Bells: Common Questions
There are some fairly common questions gardeners have about coral bells, so here are your at-a-glance answers to some of the most common queries.
Do Coral Bells Prefer Sun or Shade?
In general, coral bells grow best in full or partial shade. However, some cultivars have been bred to grow in full sun. It's best to check the requirements for your particular variety, but when in doubt, a spot in partial shade is a good bet.
Do Coral Bells Come Back Every Year?
Yes, coral bells are perennial in Zones 3 through 8.
How Big Do Coral Bells Get?
Depending on cultivar, coral bells usually grow in mounds that reach 12 to 18 inches wide and equally as tall, but the flower stalks can grow as tall as 36 inches.
12 Beautiful Coral Bells to Grow in Your Garden
The sheer multitude of colors coral bells are available in makes this one of the most delightful plants to add to a shade garden. From deep, chocolate purples to arresting neon pinks or autumnal oranges, there's sure to be a coral bell (or ten!) that you'll want to grow in your garden.
'Amber Waves' has gorgeous, unique copper-colored foliage and cream blooms. It has ruffled leaves, which adds textural interest as well. 'Amber Waves' is hardy in Zones 3 through 8.
Reddish-purple leaves with black veins makes 'Blackberry Ice' one of the most dramatic coral bells cultivars. It's a heat-tolerant variety that blooms in mid-summer. 'Blackberry Ice' is hardy in Zones 4 through 9.
'Citronelle' has bright lime green leaves and is best grown in full shade. It's hardy in Zones 4 through 8 and is one of the more heat-tolerant varieties of coral bells.
If you love black plants, 'Creole Nights' is a plant you should definitely check out. It has glossy, dramatic black foliage and produces small white blossoms. 'Creole Nights' is hardy in Zones 4 through 9.
With foliage the color of ginger ale, this is definitely a unique coral bells cultivar to grow in your garden. The leaves have silver undertones and scalloped edges, giving it a soft, old-fashioned look.
This gorgeous, unique cultivar has bright yellow leaves with dark red centers. It does best in partial shade and is hardy in Zones 4 through 9.
'Marmalade' has frilly foliage that varies from warm umber to dark bronze. It has reddish-brown flowers and grows to about 18 inches tall.
'Palace Purple' has deep purple leaves and produces white flowers in mid to late spring. It grows in 12-inch mounds and has leaves that are ivy-shaped. It's hardy in Zones 4 through 9.
This stunning cultivar has silver-green leaves and produces delicate pink blossoms in summer. 'Peppermint Spice' grows to about 10 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 4 through 9.
'Pewter Veil' has silver leaves with purplish-gray veins. The undersides of the leaves are pink, and the plants produce small white flowers in spring. It's a unique color combination, and the plants grow to about 12 inches tall and wide. 'Pewter Veil' is hardy in Zones 4 through 9.
'Snow Angel' has large, bright green leaves that have lighter green streaks. It produces pink flowers and is hardy in Zones 3 through 9.
This cultivar has bi-colored pink blooms, which isn't all that common for coral bells. The foliage is lime green, and it's actually a pretty heavy bloomer. The flower stems are dark, contrasting nicely with the bright foliage. 'Sweet Tart' is hardy in Zones 4 through 9.
Good Companions for Coral Bells
Coral bells are most often used in shady borders or woodland garden plantings. They are wonderful placed in the foreground, with taller perennials and annuals behind them, along with shrubs. Good companions include:
Low-Maintenance, Season-Long Color
If you're a busy gardener who still longs for vibrant color in your garden, consider coral bells. While the flowers are pretty, the foliage of these plants truly shines, and they look great all season long.