Basic information about Heuchera/Coral Bells. Includes Origin, Care and Maintenance, Common Pests & Diseases, Interesting Facts & Uses, and Garden Design Tips.
The botanical name, Heuchera, was named by Linnaeus after his friend, a German physician, Johann Heinrich von Heucher, in the 1600s.
This plant has 2 common names, Coral bells and Alumroot. Coral bells is a reference to the small, bell-shaped flowers that are often present in shades of white, pink and red. Alumroot refers to the root, which is used in medicine and has a astringent taste.
All species in the Heuchera genus are native to North America.
Heuchera Care and Maintenance
Soft shade seems to be the best exposure for Heucheras (Coral Bells or Alum Root), although some (such as the darker-leafed varieties) can tolerate a range of full shade to full sun. Morning sun is preferred to hot afternoon sun. In general, Coral Bells with lighter green or white toned leaves prefer shadier locations to prevent burning, while deeper purple and red tones can withstand sunnier locations. It is best to check the plant description for a particular variety in order to locate a spot in your garden with the correct amount of light.
Because Coral Bells are naturally found on cliffs or slopes, they need well-drained soil that is rich in humus and feels soft and crumbly. It may be necessary to amend soil by adding in compost, rotted manure, chopped leaves, or other organic material. Organic matter will provide food for the plant as it decays, but just as importantly, it will add air pockets to the soil so the roots get oxygen. It is best to avoid heavy, wet soils. Many reports say heuchera can withstand a range of pH, but a slightly acidic 5.8-6.3 soil is preferred.
Dig a planting hole twice as wide and deep as the rootball and partially fill it back in with loosened soil. This will help the Heuchera’s fibrous root system to expand. Gently massage the rootball and plant at a height so the crown sits just at or slightly above the soil line. Heucheras like well-drained locations with rich soil, so poor soil should be amended with organic matter before planting. As the organic matter decays, not only will food be provided for the plant, but air pockets will develop within the soil, allowing oxygen into the roots. In order to avoid diseases like crown rot, take care not to bury the crown and allow enough room around the plant for air to circulate. A layer of mulch can be added to prevent weeds and retain moisture. Don’t forget to water!
Watering is often overlooked as one of the most difficult aspects of gardening and frequently, plants suffer from too much water rather than too little.
Many Heuchera originate from sloped habitats, and although they need moisture it is even more important that they have good drainage. Too much water in the soil can drown your plant! Rather than watering on a fixed schedule, take the weather conditions into consideration and feel the soil. Also, be aware that wilting can occur not only from too little water, but also too much.
Heuchera is not a heavy feeder and has low fertilizer requirements. Slow release or half-strength application is recommended to prevent damaging the Heuchera. A heavy dose of fertilizer leads to lush growth which inhibits flowering, plus it creates plants that require more water and then start demanding extra food to support its growth!
These plants often require extra protection in Northern gardens to survive the winters. They would like a thick layer of winter mulch (leaves, straw, etc) that is insulating and easy to remove in spring. Keeping the leaves on the plant through winter is also helpful.
See our Guide to Overwintering Perennials for step by step information!
Heuchera can be pruned in early spring to keep it neat, and deadheading during the season can encourage rebloom. This plant is susceptible to frost heaving, where its crown will slowly rise out of the ground. You can sprinkle it with soil to gently cover the crown, or lift and divide the plant (if it’s been 3-4 years). Replant slightly deeper if planting in the same hole.
In milder climates, Heuchera are evergreen, providing wonderful winter interest in the garden. The old and damaged foliage should still be removed in spring to allow new shoots to emerge.
Here’s a video demonstrating how to cut back your Heucheras to keep your garden neat and tidy!
Heucheras need to be divided when the center becomes woody and the growth slows down, which usually happens every 3-5 years. In some varieties, the crown will also raise up requiring it to be reset into the ground. It’s best to divide heucheras in the spring to allow the plant to recover and develop a strong root system before winter. The plant should be dug up with a sterile tool or trowel and gently pulled apart. The rosettes should be divided and replanted with the crown at ground level.
Common Pests and Diseases
Heuchera (Coral Bells or Alum Root) deserve a spot in every garden simply for the fact that they suffer from few pests or diseases.
In some cases, correctly identifying a Coral Bells disease problem is difficult. Protect your garden from fungal diseases by using sterile tools, not overwatering, and allowing for light and air circulation. Although Coral Bells are considered deer resistant, it is possible for deer or other animals to be disturbing your garden. If a problem persists, you can consider relocating the plant.
Root weevils are perhaps the most challenging pest Coral Bells face. Their presence is often marked by notched leaves on azalea or rhododendron, a sign of adult beetles munching on the foliage. However, it is the larvae that cause the worst damage. The larvae hatch in late winter or early spring, and as they emerge they eat through the succulent stems and roots. In bad situations, you may see the entire crown decimated. They can be treated by a combination of drenching in the fall, and spraying pyrethroids (insecticide) in the spring. There are also successful reports of using predatory nematodes, but the soil must be at least 60F. An alternative, friendly method to try is dousing the plant with hot water during the winter or early spring – this kills the larvae and is only a shock to the plant.
There are many types of root weevils and it may help to identify what you’re battling. Black vine weevils (Otiorhynchus sulcatus) are commonly found in the East, and strawberry root weevil (Otiorhynchus ovatus) is seen in the West.
Nematodes tend to be more of a problem in warmer, southern climates. They are difficult to eradicate, and prevention is often the best tool. Be careful not to place Coral Bells next to other infected plants (as nematodes can move between species) and remember to use sterile tools.
As with many garden plants, Coral Bells can suffer from fungus if they have too much shade and water, and not enough airflow. A fungus will spread in wet weather, especially if it is hot and humid. If you suspect that your Coral Bells are getting too much moisture, it is a good idea to let plants dry out a bit between waterings. There are many safe fungicides on the market that can help with a fungus problem as well.
Heuchera rust is a fungal disease more problematic in greenhouses than in gardens, and is associated with cooler temperatures in the spring. It can be identified by orange/brown pustules on the bottoms of the leaves.
Interesting Facts and Uses
This plant is a member of the Saxifragaceae, a family that includes other beloved shade plants like Astilbe, Bergenia, and Tiarella, and is often hybridized with Tiarella to make the Heucherellas.
Heuchera flowers and foliage can be cut for use in floral arrangements, and have been used in White House arrangements and featured on the cover of Martha Stewart’s magazine.
The flowers last about a week in a vase, the foliage a month or more.
Long-lasting Heuchera flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees, making them an excellent choice for a pollinator-friendly garden.
Their origin is North America, so they are welcome in native gardens as well.
Leaves were traditionally limited to shades of green and/or burgundy, but breakthroughs in breeding have led to a wide variety of pink, purple, red, yellow, orange and almost black foliage colors in Heuchera. Leaf sizes and shapes as well as floral colors have also been extensively improved.
Some Heuchera go through (sometimes very dramatic) seasonal color changes.
A few species in this genus were used by Native American peoples for medicine and by European peoples after the discovery of America, mostly related to the astringent properties of the root.
Garden Design Tips
Coral Bells’ low, mounding form makes them a good plant for ground covers, borders/paths, rock gardens, woodland areas, and containers.
Their colorful blooms, long-lasting foliage, interesting textures, and variety of leaf shapes and sizes contrast and complement a wide variety of other shade perennials.
They do well in a garden with hosta, Astilbe, Tiarella, Brunnera, Astrantia, Aruncus, Epimediums, Aquilegia, Ajuga, Artemisia, Stachys, and many others.
Heuchera have so many colors and texture combinations they also contrast and complement each other! Planting a trio of Heuchera is a beautiful way to take advantage of this. Some particularly lovely combinations are as follows:
These can be purchased individually at our Buy Heuchera Page.
Our staff also frequently offer bundles and trios of Heuchera selected for their complementary characteristics; they can be found on our website’s Bundles Page.
More Heuchera Information
Here are some videos displaying Heuchera (Coral Bells) in various combinations and colors.
Marty DeHart of Hewitt Garden and Design Center showcases the color foliage of various Coral Bells (Heucheras).
Hampton Court 2010 – Vicky and Richard Fox of Plantagogo Nursery in Crewe, Cheshire in the UK, show their beautiful national collection of Coral Bells and Heucherellas.
A video filmed at Terra Nova – Bring year-round color and foliage to your garden with new and old Heuchera favorites!