Long valued for their profuse sprays of flowers from spring to early summer, coral bells (heucheras) are now also being valued for their bold, showy foliage. This genus of perennials has received a lot of attention from horticultural breeding programs in the last decade, and the result is an introduction of wonderful variations in foliage colors, leaf shapes, and flower colors.
While most original coral bell selections produced light green early spring foliage which then matured to a darker green later in summer, newer varieties are now available in amber, bronze, burgundy, purple and ruby tones. Even the newest green-leafed varieties now come dressed up with silver veins, mottling or streaks. Many new cultivars also come with exquisite ruffled foliage.
Using coral bells in the landscape provides a contrast to other plants, making your garden more interesting. Adding bronze, red, or purple foliage to the landscape brings out a new dimension of color. When these vibrant colors are placed next to green plants, your eye is drawn to the entire landscape–creating interest and depth. Most coral bells form evergreen mounds less than a foot high and across; the flowers appear 1-2′ above the foliage.
Even the flower colors have benefited from breeding programs and now come in shades of bright pink, coral, red, cream, and white. The flowers provide an extra benefit to the garden by attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and beneficial insects to the garden. The spent flowers are easy to remove; you need only tug gently from the base of the stem to remove them.
While coral bells prefer partly shaded locations, these hardy plants can also tolerate full sun in milder summer regions of the U.S. They perform best in moist (but not wet) soils and need only a modest amount of feeding during the growing season. Don’t neglect them completely though, because the nutrients in plant foods help bring out a deeper, darker more intense color in the foliage.
Plant them in borders or in clusters of three or more, so that their sprays of blooms will have an even more dramatic effect in the garden. Coral bells also make great container plants because they don’t have an aggressive root system. Coral bells are just what you need to add some flair to your garden.