If you’re looking for a wonderful shade plant to add colour and interest to the darker corners of your garden, look no further than heuchera. This hardy native of North America can withstand the cold, offers a wide range of colourful foliage all year round, and wispy flowers on long stems in the spring. Also known as coral bells or alumroot, this evergreen perennial is a must, and as an autumn bedding plant, is hard to beat. Here’s how to grow and care for it.
Heuchera grows in a wide variety of habitats in its native North America, from the salty shores of California to arid Arizona and New Mexico. It likes shade and semi-shade best, but some varieties will grow in full sun. It’s not particularly fussy about soil type either, although it doesn’t like to get too wet or too dry..
Growing from a crown at ground level, the foliage is this plant’s main attraction. Think purples, red, and burnt umbers at one end of the spectrum, and limes, yellows, and greens at the other, with every kind of variegation you could possibly wish for.
Where to plant heuchera
Heuchera is a shade-loving plant, but with so many varieties to choose from, there is considerable variation in terms of how much sunlight different specimens can cope with. As a rule of thumb, the colour of the leaves gives you a good clue as to where to site your plant; darker leaves are better at withstanding the sun’s rays.
A great plant for those who garden in coastal areas where salt-laden winds are an issue, the only thing heuchera really doesn’t like is heavy, wet ground which causes the crown to rot, or very sandy soils which can quickly dry out. Improve your soil by adding plenty of organic matter, choose well-drained soil, and water regularly but sparingly.
When to plant heuchera
You can plant heuchera any time the soil’s not waterlogged or frozen, but for best results, put yours in the ground during the spring or early autumn to allow it to establish without risk of frost damage. Dig a hole about twice the size of the root ball and add a handful of organic matter or blood, fish, and bone to give your plant a good start.
Remove your heuchera from its pot and gently massage the roots to separate them before planting and covering until the soil reaches the same level as it did in the pot. Avoid covering the crown itself or there’s a chance it will rot.
How to prune heuchera
After a couple of years your heuchera may start to become rather clumped and leggy. When you part the leaves, you’ll discover woody stems that lead back to the crown of the plant. To prune, cut the stems back to a just above buds of fresh growth at the top of the crown.
To propagate your cuttings, snip away any dead wood until you come to the sappy part of the stem before planting in potting compost; general purpose compost with added grit and a slow release fertiliser will also work. Roots will develop in three to four weeks.
Although it’s a tough plant, in recent years, the fungal disease, Puccinia heuchera, otherwise known as heuchera rust has become widespread in the UK. It’s a particular problem during wet summers and appears mainly as sunken spots on the top of leaves with orange rust coloured pustules on the underside.
If you’re buying new plants to supplement other, uninfected, heuchera in your garden, it’s a good idea to quarantine the new plants for three to four weeks to be sure they are unaffected. Check your plants regularly for signs of the disease, removing any affected material and destroy rather than compost it.
Because heuchera rust likes damp conditions, pay close attention to soil drainage, plant your heuchera where there’s plenty of air circulation, and water early in the morning so the leaf surfaces have a chance to dry during the day.