By Richard Flowers, ACCNP-Green Thumb Nursery-Ventura
Over the past several years an explosion of unique and interesting varieties with different leaf shapes and colors tones have appeared on the market that are waiting to beautify gardens and landscapes. Today, I want to acquaint with the darling little plant called Coral Bells and make you aware of the virtues of this under appreciated plant.
Coral Bells are sometimes called by another common name which happens also to be its genus – Heuchera, (phonetic spelling HEW-ker-ah) honors Austrian-born, Johann Heinrich von Heucher, who was a medical botanist and professor of medicine in Wittenburg, Germany in the 17th century. In 1709 he was professor of medicine in the same university (this position gave close connection between medicine and medicinal herbs, also included the teaching of botany). He participated in the founding of the Wittenberg Botanical Garden, the first catalog of which was published in 1711. Carl Linnaeus named the genus Heuchera in his honor. The common name of Coral Bells is aptly named because the shape of the flower resembles small bells that are said to have a coral-like color to them. Another common name, Alumroot, references the medicinal use of some of the species as an astringent to stop bleeding. In their surroundings, Native Americans used the thick roots for medicinal uses by drying and then pounding them into a wound dressing. Coral Bells are also edible and can be used in salads and sandwiches, even though the leaves have a slightly sour taste. For simplicity I will refer to them as Coral Bells.
Coral Bells are an evergreen to semi-evergreen perennial ground cover that grows in tidy clumps, often forming a rosette of decorative colored leaves ranging from lush green to bronze, silvery, yellow, lime, and reddish in color depending on the selection. The lighter-colored varieties stand out nicely in a lightly shaded garden. When using in the landscape, dark colored types can make yellow flowers like Coreopsis, glow. Butterscotch colored leaves bring out the tones of simple green leaves. They look lovely creating a tapestry of color and texture when planted under the shade of tall trees where broken light beams through the branches and leaves and planted amongst other plants.
If you want to add bold, colorful foliage to your garden, Coral Bells might be just the plant you’re looking for. They make a wonderful addition to the garden and can be used as edgings in perennial borders and group plantings. Try pairing them with Lilly Turf, Ferns, Hydrangeas, Begonias, Boxwood, Lilly- Of-The-Nile, Japanese Maples, and Kaffir Lilly. Use Coral Bells in small irregular groups for a woodland garden feel or in a naturalistic rock garden setting. In a more formal garden, use them as a mass focal point or as linear edging. They are excellent viewed up close for both foliage and flower enjoyment in smaller gardens. Try using them for “nestling” landscape boulders or to go around the base of a pedestal, fountain or tree. Coral Bells are ideal for pots, troughs, and even window boxes as a foliage accent. When planted in large swathes and groupings, Coral Bells looks magnificent. They bring out the color and adds contrast with other flowering plants . Coral Bells works well In containers or in the ground, as a filler and combined with other plants.
Coral Bells are native to the Russian Far East, portions of Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Their habitat usually consist of rocky sites and woodland areas of the Rocky Mountains, islands off the California coast, and the Gulf of Mexico. You are most likely to encounter them on thin soils, pretty much growing right out of the rocks, as well as along moist, high mountain creeks.
They can be grown in the sun or shade depending on the selected variety. Many varieties of Coral Bells develop their best leaf color in full sun. However leaf scorch can be an issue for plants grown in full sun during hot, dry conditions. With that said, they are best in at least part shade with good drainage. Coral Bells prefer a slightly acidic pH and moist soils that have been amended with organic matter like leaf compost or pine bark. Therefore, it is recommended to use an Acid Planting Mix when planting them. This plant is best planted in the late fall or early spring. Being a short-lived perennial means they should be divided regularly, about every 3 to 4 years to prolong their life. Deadheading the spent flowers will increase bloom production during the summer and into the fall. If the leaves appear ragged, prune them and new growth will appear. Mulching will protect the plant’s roots in the winter if the temperature drops
below freezing for a prolong percoid of time. It is always wise to supply a healthy layer of mulch to reduce water evaporation, conserve water, and keep the plants cooler during heat waves. Coral Bells are salt tolerant, easy to grow, deer resistant, fast growing, and can tolerate a dry soil, however they thrive better with regular water once established. On older, more established plants, the rootstock tends to grow upwards making them “woody” looking. When this occurs, lift and replant with the crown just above the soil every 2- 3 years in early spring. Feed with a balanced, slow release fertilizer during spring; then repeat mid-season.
Coral Bels have tiny bell-shaped flowers that attract humming birds and butterflies. Their nodding, airy flowers are housed in clusters and occur on slender, wiry stocks that rise above the foliage 1- 21/2 feet. They come in an array of colors ranging from white, pink, coral, rose or magenta. Though the flowers are not large at all, but when grouped together in masses they look quite lovely, especially when swaying in a light breeze. The inflorescence also make excellent cut flowers for bouquets .
Truly, Coral Bells are a great plants for difficult spots in the garden. Please stop by your favorite Green Thumb Nursery and check out these interesting and useful plants and other cool species that almost every gardener would crave.
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