The common name “coral bell” is used for several species in the genus Heuchera, which includes hundreds of varieties and hybrids. Coral bells are a traditional perennial with new varieties introduced each year. Native to North America, the plant forms round mounds with a woody rootstock or crown at its base and small bell-shaped flowers on tall stems in spring or early summer. The flowers are rich in nectar, attract hummingbirds and butterflies, and make beautiful cut flowers. Its leaves are round, lobed, hairy, evergreen or semi-evergreen, depending on the climate. In addition to the traditional leafy coral bell, newer varieties have leaves in shades of purple, pink, lime green, gold, and more.
Best planted in late fall or early spring, coral bells grow at a moderate rate, making them a great choice for woodlands, rock gardens, containers, borders, and groundcovers. But they are short-lived perennials; if they are not shared regularly, they will become extinct within a few years. Follow the article to know more about how to Care for Coral Bells.
Coral Bell Care
Coral bells are fairly easy plants to grow in partial shade in any well-drained, organic-rich soil. There are some hybrid strains that do well in full sun – although they need more water to thrive. This plant is a great choice for adding color to a shaded landscape.
While coral bells don’t require much maintenance, you can prune the entire flower stalk after flowering to use the plant’s energy for growing more leaves. If the leaves look a little messy, especially after winter, prune them back and new growth should come in quickly. The death of the often wilted flowers helps keep them blooming repeatedly throughout the summer and fall.
Most species of coral bell do best in partial shade, especially in warmer climates. Their color will wash off if kept in full sun, and too much light can cause their leaves to scorch. Keep in mind that coral bells planted in moist shade may be susceptible to fungal diseases – if your plants start to have problems, it’s best to move them to a drier location.
Coral bells prefer humus-rich soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0, neutral to slightly acidic. Good drainage is a must, especially in shady areas, as sitting in moist soil can cause the plant’s crown to rot.
This plant has a moderate water requirement and prefers consistently moist soil. Mature plants can handle some drought, but an inch of water a week is the best way to keep them happy. If you’re growing coral bells in full sun, plan to give them extra water — their shallow roots need extra water on hot, sunny days.
Temperature and humidity
Coral bells are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 9, although the exact hardiness range depends on the variety you grow and its lineage. Some Heucheras are hardy only in zone 7, while others do well in cold weather but not so well south of zone 6. Most coral bells prefer relatively dry air, but Heuchera villosa, native to the southeastern United States, thrives in both heat and humidity.
In regions with cold winters, coral bell crowns may rise above ground level in winter. Winter mulching helps prevent freeze-thaw cycles that cause plants to grow taller, and you should regularly check for exposed roots.
In spring, feed coral bells with a 1/2-inch layer of compost or a small amount of slow-release fertilizer. This plant has light nutrient requirements; you should avoid heavy application of immediate-release fertilizers, as this can inhibit flowering. Coral bells grown in containers benefit from feeding them a water-soluble fertilizer to supplement the nutrients leached from the soil. For quantity, follow product label instructions.
Types of Coral Bells
Several different Heuchera species, including H. americana, H. sanguinea, H. villosa, and H. parviflora, are usually sold commercially along with the named cultivar of each species. H. sanguina is considered the best ornamental species and is most often sold as a coral bell; other species are often referred to as Alumroot. Species plants have medium green foliage, but “Dale’s Strain” and “Purple Palace” were the first two to offer coppery and purple foliage. 3
But more popular are the many named varieties that result from crosses between species. These are usually just tagged with Heuchera. The exact lineage of hybrids is sometimes lost, but H. americana and H. sanguina are considered the most common parental species. The most striking differences between varieties can be seen in their leaf color and texture changes. There are dozens of these varieties, including:
Heuchera ‘Autumn Leaves’: As the name suggests, the leaves of this hybrid variety change color throughout the season, from red to caramel to ruby red.
Heuchera ‘Chocolate Ruffles’: This hybrid has frilled leaves with a rich chocolate color on top and a deep burgundy underneath.
- Heuchera ‘Green Spice’: This hardy hybrid has large green leaves with chestnut veins.
- Heuchera ‘Marmalade’: Another ruffled hybrid, this version has leaves that take on a tan to ochre hue.
- Heuchera ‘Lemongrass; this variety has bright chartreuse leaves that are great for brightening shady spots.
- Heuchera ‘Electric Lime’: This showy variety has bright green leaves and blood-red veins.
- Heuchera ‘Fire Chief’: Bright red spring foliage that gradually darkens to purple as the season progresses.
The spread of coral bells
The most common way coral bells reproduce is by splitting root clumps. It works in fall or spring, although many gardeners prefer fall. Heuchera plants often develop small offsets around the parent plant, and careful digging and replanting of these offsets is a simple matter. The root cap of the partition should be planted so that it is just covered by soil. 5
Heuchera plants have a fairly short lifespan, and this division should be done every three to four years to prevent death. Propagating mature plants:
In fall or spring, scoop out the entire root ball with a shovel.
Cut the root ball into small pieces, each with several growing shoots. The woody middle part can be discarded.
Prepare the new planting site by mixing in plenty of compost or peat moss, then replant the partition, covering only the root cap.
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How to Grow Coral Bells from Seeds
You can grow coral bolls from seed, but results may be erratic when harvesting from hybrid plants. Commercial seeds will produce more predictable results. If you plan to propagate your plants by collecting seeds, it is best to start with purebred plants rather than nursery hybrids. Purebreds are most easily obtained from specialty nurseries or online retailers.
When starting sowing, spread the seeds over the soil surface in late fall or early spring, taking care not to cover the seeds as they need light to germinate. You can also start seeds indoors a few months before you plan to transplant. Coral bell seeds take two to eight weeks to germinate.
Once established, harden the plants for 10 days, then transplant the seedlings outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. You can grow coral bells from containers anytime after the threat of frost has passed. Keep them well hydrated for the first year – otherwise, they just need to be freed from extreme heat and fertile, well-drained soil.
Potted Plants and Potted Coral Bells
While it’s not common to grow perennials like coral bells in containers, it’s certainly possible, and the plant will do well when grown this way. Choose a well-draining container and free-draining potting soil. When growing in containers, keep the root cap just above soil level. If you decide to winter these plants in pots, you will need to move them to a sheltered location to protect them from the winter cold. During the winter months, leave the plants dormant without watering.
While the spectacular foliage might tempt you to consider growing coral bells as houseplants, they are not suitable for this use. These woodland plants can grow well in outdoor containers with a period of dormancy during the winter, but are rarely successful as permanent houseplants.
In warm climates, this plant usually remains evergreen in winter. Coral bells in cold climates tend to take root in winter due to their shallow root system. Covering the plant with a thin layer of mulch can prevent this from happening. In other areas, overwintering simply means removing plant debris to prevent fungi from overwintering.
Common pests and diseases
Coral bells are generally a fairly carefree plant, but they can be attacked by a variety of fungal diseases, including powdery mildew, rust, and bacterial leaf spot.
Potential insect problems include weevil and leaf nematodes. Black weevil larvae burrow into the crowns and roots of coral bells in late summer or early fall, causing infected plants to wilt and droop. 8 You should be able to see the larvae on the plant and be able to remove and destroy them by hand. If the infection persists, treat the plant with a mild insecticide or neem oil.
How to Make Coral Bells Bloom
Sparse blooms are usually not a major problem with these plants, as the color of the leaves is the most attractive. But the stems of airy, delicate red or pink flowers certainly have ornamental value, and when planted in good growing conditions, you can expect repeat blooms from late spring to fall. Avoid overfeeding these plants, as this can stimulate leaf development, which can hinder flowering. Some varieties bred to like the sun may not bloom well if planted in the shade.
Common Problems With Coral Bells
Coral bells are usually easy to breed, but you may encounter some common cultural issues:
Most species of coral bell do not like to grow in full sun, and if they get too much sun, they will show scorched leaves, especially in hot summer climates. Giving plants extra water during the hot season can minimize this scorching.
Plants die after a few years
It can sometimes be disappointing when there is a sudden decline in flowering coral bell plants, but this is normal as these are short-lived perennials that usually only live four or five years. You can extend lifespan by dividing the root mass every three to four years, resulting in new plants to continue the line.
Plants grow out of the ground
Coral bells have shallow roots and slightly exposed crowns. In cold climates, frost can push them completely out of the ground, requiring replanting. A layer of mulch immediately after the soil freezes can help prevent bulging due to repeated freeze-thaw cycles.
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