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Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Perennials

Heucheras: Versatile, Colorful Natives (page 3 of 3)

by Lynn Ocone

Heucheras for Flowers

Heucheras with airy clusters of tiny bell-shaped flowers (usually called coral bells) are much cherished as cut flowers. And hummingbirds love them, too! Most start blooming in May or June and continue into July or August. They brighten woodland gardens and perennial beds, and are useful container plants. For a shower of heavenly blossoms, plant groups of the same variety together.

Neighborhood nurseries specializing in perennials may be the best indicators of which of the dozens of varieties will perform well in your area.

Heuchera brizoides (hybrids of H. sanguinea, H. micrantha, and perhaps H. americana). There are many named varieties in a range of flower colors. Some to look for include deep rose 'Chatterbox', cardinal red 'Mt. St. Helens', pure white 'June Bride' and in mixed colors, 'Bressingham Hybrids'. In flower, plants reach approximately 18 inches.

Hybrids from California

Among the outstanding choices for western gardeners are hybrids developed by the late Dara Emery at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. These include Heuchera 'Canyon Pink' (bright pink flowers with light centers) and H. 'Canyon Delight' (rose pink flowers).

There are several excellent introductions of Heuchera sanguinea and H. maxima hybrids from Bart O'Brien at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. One is 'Genevieve' with deep pink, white-centered blossoms on stems to two feet. The attractive two- to three-inch leaves are green mottled with gray. Others most readily available in California are H. 'Santa Ana Cardinal' (red flowers) and H. 'Susanna' (pink flowers).

Generally available at retail nurseries and botanic gardens, the California heucheras are still hard to find outside the West, and are not generally available through mail-order catalogs.

How to Grow and Care for Heucheras

Depending on where you live and the varieties you grow, planting and maintenance needs vary. Generally, heucheras grow best in reasonably well-drained soils that are rich in organic matter. In northern gardens and mild coastal areas, some can handle full sun. More often, heucheras look best grown in partial shade. To help prevent mildew, space plants to allow good air circulation between them. Once established, heucheras require moderate to little watering.

Heucheras usually need dividing every four or five years, though some need it when younger and others can look great even at nine years without dividing. When the stem becomes woody, the plant falls open at the center or flowering is reduced, it is time to divide. The best time is in spring just before growth begins in earnest.

One of the few insect pests of heuchera is the small beetle known as the strawberry root weevil. The larvae feed underground on plant roots. Extensive feeding will eventually cause the plant's crown to die and break off at the soil level. One nontoxic control for the weevil larvae is parasitic nematodes. Mealybugs may also be a problem. Treat infested plants with insecticidal soap. Consult your local nurseryman for more information about these pests and their management.

Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association

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