The Ultimate Guide to Growing Coral Bells (Heuchera)

Updated: Jul. 10, 2024

Coral bells deliver long-lasting garden color while feeding pollinators. Discover expert tips and the prettiest Heuchera varieties to grow.
Coral bells plants are a beloved for their colorful foliage.

For lasting color and swoon-worthy foliage, you can’t beat coral bells (Heuchera species and hybrids). With so many new varieties today, you can find almost any color and size, from pint-sized tabletop types to broad-shouldered bruisers that rival the biggest hostas. We asked well-known Heuchera breeder Dan Heims of Terra Nova Nurseries to share his best tips on growing a rainbow of coral bells plants in your garden.

Benefits of Planting Coral Bells

300786713 1 Lisa Klepacz Bnb Hpc 2022Courtesy Lisa Klepacz
Hummingbirds may visit coral bells for flower nectar

While many coral bells sport lovely bell-shaped flowers, it’s their gorgeous, ruffled leaves that bring the real drama. Offering a painterly palette of foliage colors including lime, red, metallic silvers, and black paired with their easy-going nature, coral bells are a garden designer’s dream.

The foliage lasts for months, sometimes through the winter in warm climates. Gardeners love that their flowers support pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. You can even use their leaves in floral arrangements! Dan says their leaves have an amazing vase life as a filler plant.

Are Coral Bells Perennials?

coral bells heucheraCourtesy Ingrid Benn
Frog on coral bells foliage

Heuchera varieties can range in hardiness from USDA hardiness zones 3 to 10, so double-check plant tags to find the right one for you. In the warmest zones, they retain that luscious foliage even in winter. Following proper planting and care recommendations will keep them coming back.

How to Plant Coral Bells

Choose the proper sun exposure for your variety, and plant in well-draining soil, burying the plant to the crown, says Dan. “The roots like to have some fluff,” he says. Drainage is a must to avoid plants rotting in wet winter soil, he says. However, he suggests avoiding high-wind locations that can dry them out.

Frost heaving can be an issue—fluctuating winter temperatures that cause the soil to alternately freeze and thaw can push/heave some plants like coral bells out of the ground. Check and gently push or reset plants back in place so the roots are covered and plant again growing at proper depth.

Do Coral Bells Plants Prefer Sun or Shade?

Heuchera Black Taffeta 1Courtesy of TERRA NOVA Nurseries, Inc.
‘Black Taffeta’

Thanks to extensive breeding, you can find a heuchera for most light exposures. Dan says that reds, purples, blacks, and greens tend to do best with more sun. Yellow-leafed plants prefer a shadier spot protected from afternoon sun.

Can You Grow Coral Bells in Containers?

Heuchera Timeless Glow Apj17
‘Timeless Glow’ Heuchera

Dan says heucheras love drainage and can thrive in containers, adding year-round leaf color and texture. If you live in a place with very cold winters, pots may need some protection such as wrapping or being moved against the house or in an unheated garage over the winter.

Coral Bells Care and Growing Tips

Heuchera Red Lightning 7 1Courtesy of TERRA NOVA Nurseries, Inc.
‘Red Lightning’

Once established, coral bells are somewhat drought-tolerant, says Dan. They prefer being a little dry to being overly wet. They don’t need very much fertilizer. He recommends a balanced fertilizer with a N-P-K (Nitrogen-Potassium-Phosphorus) ratio such as 14-14-14 annually as well as an annual top-dressing of compost. Dividing them every few years is an easy task that will help maintain the plants’ vigor for many years.

Are Coral Bells Plants Deer-resistant?

Heuchera Forever Red 1Courtesy of TERRA NOVA Nurseries, Inc.
Forever ‘Red

While deer generally don’t favor heucheras, they may sample them if hungry enough. “They are deer-resistant, not deer-proof,” says Dan.

Do Coral Bells Attract Pollinators?

“They are wonderful pollinator plants,” Dan says. “I’ve seen everything from gnats to bumblebees and hummingbirds.”

Pests and Diseases

Heucheras can get rust, a disfiguring fungal disease, when temperatures are cool—under 50 degrees—and humid. Beyond choosing rust-resistant varieties, clip off affected leaves and dispose of them in the trash. The plants should rebound as the weather warms up.
Dan says if you have root weevils, the top of the plant breaks off at the crown because larvae have chewed it. To restore the plant:
  • Remove the top and set it to the side
  • Inspect for insects, clean out any dead leaves
  • Pour a kettle of boiling water on the root ball to kill the root weevils in the soil
  • Replant the crown in a new location. Dan says, “The top throws adventitious roots and can reroot when plunged back into the ground.”

Coral Bells Varieties to Grow

Heuchera Northern Exposure Amber 5Courtesy of TERRA NOVA Nurseries, Inc.
Northern Exposure ‘Amber’

Dan is excited about the developments in heuchera breeding at Terra Nova, including dwarf varieties, saturated colors, and plants with many crowns.

Some of his favorites include:

  • Best black: ‘Black Taffeta,’ has silky black foliage and pink flowers in May and June. It’s the little black dress of the garden—it goes with everything.
  • Best red: FOREVER ‘Red,’ a fast grower with the reddest leaves so far that can grow in full sun to full shade. Flowers shine in late summer.
  • Best purple: FOREVER ‘Purple,’ which Terra Nova calls “the new standard” in purples boasting grape-jelly toned leaves in sun or shade.
  • Best lime: ‘Lime Marmalade,’ a frilly sport of ‘Marmalade,’ is said to be vigorous and adaptable in many climates, preferring partial to full shade.
  • Best orange: NORTHERN EXPOSURE ‘Amber,’ with mouth-watering color, offers longevity, persistent good looks all season, longevity, and rust-resistance.
  • Best bicolor: ‘Red Lightning’ glows in partial to full shade with red veins against gold leaves.
  • Best compact: LITTLE CUTIES ‘Sweet Tart,’ an adorable showstopper for partial to full shade whose cerise flowers pop against lime leaves from May through October.
  • Best large variety for landscapes: ‘Heuchera GRANDE Amethyst,’ spanning 28 inches across, makes a statement with large purple leaves in full sun to full shade.

About the Expert

Dan Heims is president of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc., noted for breeding programs that have produced numerous international gold and silver-medal winners, and an impressive 1,300+ plant introductions. He coauthored Heucheras and Heucherellas, with Grahame Ware (Timber Press, 2005) and was given the Royal Horticultural Society’s Cory Cup in recognition of his breeding work.