Hooray for Heuchera! Beauty Made in the Shade

February 10, 2012 | By | Comments (12)

Although Grumpy loves to get his readers excited about cool, new plants, he wishes people could pronounce their names. Take Heuchera, for example. What the heck is that?

Heuchera (pronounced HUE-kerr-uh) is the catchall name for a whole group of plants you might have known in your youth as ”coral bells.” Coral bells (Heuchera sanguninea) bears tall, wiry sprays of showy red or pink flowers above a tuft of leaves. My mom grew it just for the flowers.

However, with the new Heucheras, foliage is king. Thanks to the manic plant breeding work of “Professor Heuchera,” Dan Heims, and the other folks at Terra Nova Nurseries in Canby, Oregon, we now have hardy perennials for the South that display of the most amazing and startling foliage colors imaginable. If you thought hostas ruled the shade garden, well…… they might just have been dethroned.

Do you doubt Grumpy? Enjoy a little ‘Southern Comfort’ and maybe you’ll change your mind.

Socomfort4
Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’

Whoa! That’s all I can say when I look at that plant! (Well, “Whoa!” and “Will somebody please buy me 12 of these?”) It grows into a mound about 14 inches high and 24 inches wide with white flowers in spring.

Thank You, Sir! May I Have Another?

You’d think having created the dazzler above, the boys at Terra Nova might take some time off for a beer or two, but nope. These mad scientists just can’t stop scrambling genes until they literally send gardeners into a crazed frenzy akin to that of vampires at the local blood bank. Have a trusted family member secure you in a straight-jacket before you dare take a gander at these:

Chocruff2

‘Chocolate Ruffles’ — purple spring flowers.

Eleclime2

‘Electric Lime’ — white spring flowers.

Ambwave1

‘Amber Waves’ — pink and white spring flowers.

Gepeach1

‘Georgia Peach’ — white summer flowers.

Firealarm1
‘Fire Alarm’ — white summer flowers.

Peachfl2

‘Peach Flambe’ — white spring flowers.

And Grumpy has only scratched the surface. There are dozens more. Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!!! I want them all!!

How to Grow Heucheras

DanWhen breeders first started working with these plants, they created beautiful things, but Southern gardeners experienced one little problem. As soon as it got hot outside (usually, some time in April), the heucheras croaked. They just didn’t like our climate. Then Dan and others began crossing them with heat- and humidity-tolerant Heuchera species like our native American alum root (Heuchera americana) and hairy alum root (Heuchera villosa). The result? They’ll take the summer heat of Zone 8, as well as the winter cold of Zone 4.

The brightest foliage always occurs with the first flush of growth in the spring. Summer heat tones down the show just a bit, but heucheras make up for it by being evergreen.

In the South, heucheras need light shade. They like slightly acid, well-drained soil that contains lots of organic matter. They make great companions for other shade perennials, such as hostas, ferns, pulmonaria, bleeding heart, and Solomon’s seal. And they’re fantastic in containers. Just make sure you don’t bury the crown of the plant. Another big key to their care, Dan (above) told me, is not giving them too much water. Let them go a little dry between waterings, even when it’s hot.

Where to Buy Heucheras

Terra Nova is a wholesale nursery, so you can’t buy directly from them. However, as heucheras become more and more popular, more garden centers are carrying them. You can also order them through the mail. Now is a good time to plant. Grumpy’s Approved Sources for Heucheras include: Plant Delights, Klehm’s Song Sparrow Perennial Farm, and Bluestone Perennials.

———

Photos of heucheras and “Professor Heuchera” courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries.

 

COMMENTS

  1. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Now is a good time to plant.

    March 15, 2012 at 1:49 pm
  2. el-e-e

    Oh, my, I want to try a few of these! It’s not too late to plant, is it? I’m in Atlanta.

    March 14, 2012 at 8:38 am
  3. Toni – Signature Gardens

    I haven’t had huge success with heucheras in the past in my Zone 8 Tx garden, but last spring I saw a new heuchera I just HAD to try. I planted ‘Southern Comfort’ and lo and behold it survived our horrible record-breaking Summer of 2011 and still looks great through our winter. Although we’ve had an extremely mild winter this year, I feel sure since they survive to Zone 4 that even if we had an extremely cold winter they would be fine. So your post confirms that I may have stumbled on a winner heuchera, finally :-)

    February 24, 2012 at 4:52 pm
  4. Jean

    I have a lime green one by the pond that does very well but I dont think it has ever bloomed. It does get sun for part of the day.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:07 pm
  5. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Heucheras are not invasive. They are not a favorite food of deer, but that’s not to say they’re deer-proof. It all depends on the kind of deer you have, how hungry they are, and what else you have planted.

    February 13, 2012 at 11:04 am
  6. UrsulaV

    I’ve got ‘em, but I think they’re getting too much water, alas. They haven’t died, but they also aren’t very interested in spreading. We’ll see how they perform this year.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:47 am
  7. SOUTH Dakota is not IN the South ;-)

    Whew! one thing us Northern gardeners with southern hearts don’t have to struggle to keep looking good all summer. Yea!

    February 11, 2012 at 5:33 pm
  8. andrew morrow

    Is Huerchera Invasive?

    February 11, 2012 at 4:06 pm
  9. Mary

    Are these plants deer-resistant?

    February 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm
  10. Molly

    I have never met a heuchera that I didn’t like! I have experienced the ‘burnout’ with some of them though; I am in plant zone 7. My favorite one right now is ‘Mocha’, with deep purple leaves. I have it in pots and planted in the ground. It looks nice planted with hostas or any lime green plant.

    February 11, 2012 at 10:19 am
  11. jen in nc

    Oooh, I’ll have to try these out!

    February 11, 2012 at 10:17 am
  12. Amy Overman Watkins

    These beauties are fantastic in containers plantings. So nice to have an option for folks who have less than full sun but want some color.

    February 11, 2012 at 7:51 am

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