As we move into the fall season and shift our containers from summer to an autumn and winter theme, one of the major staples to consider is the genus Heuchera. Commonly known as coral bells, breeders over the years have developed this plant from a simple florist perennial, grown for its colorful coral-colored flowers, into an incredible foliage plant. The colors range from a bright lime green to orange and all the way to purple and almost black. You can also find some that are green and white variegated and even a few that are dark purple splashed with pink. At times the options seem infinite.
‘Palace Purple’ was the first to come on the market and that was back in 1986. At the time, we all thought it was pretty spectacular with its dark purple foliage. But today it looks pretty drab compared to the new hybrids available. Names like ‘Frosted Violet’, ‘Chocolate Ruffles’, ‘Crimson Curls’ and ‘Obsidian’ bespeak of the new darker and more vibrant forms of the earlier ‘Palace Purple’.
A few years back, new apricot and peach colored forms were introduced like ‘Amber Waves’, ‘Marmalade’ and ‘Peach Flambé’. ‘Ginger Ale’ is a fun one too with ginger ale colored leaves.
If peach isn’t your cup of tea, maybe you should try the brightly colored chartreuse foliage of ‘Key Lime Pie’. It’s a real knockout, especially when combined with some of the dark foliaged Euphorbias. ‘Lime Marmalade’ is another one of my favorites in that color range. You can mix Heucheras with other sun loving perennials or annuals, or even shade lovers like ferns. They are great companion plants to combine in containers for year ‘round interest. And you can plant them just about any time of the year.
This week I perused our Heuchera tables and found three more outstanding varieties that you should consider this fall. ‘Spellbound’, introduced by Terra Nova nurseries in Oregon describes it as follows: “Marvelous ruffled foliage of dazzling silvers with tints of rose purple will leave you spellbound. The purple tones are more prominent in the spring and fall. Silver tones are more prevalent in shade.” It certainly dazzled me. ‘Berry Smoothie’, another Terra Nova introduction has bold round leaves that emerge in spring the color of, well, its namesake! The metallic rose-pink leaves combine well with cool-blue leaved hostas. This variety has four seasons of foliage interest. ‘Fire Alarm’, once again, a Terra Nova introduction promotes this variety as follows: “Bigger and brighter than 'Fire Chief' or 'Autumn Leaves', 'Fire Alarm' is bright red in spring and fall and darkens to a brown-red during the summer. 'Fire Alarm' complements almost every section of the color palette, but it can stand on its own."
You really can’t miss with Heucheras — they are easy to grow, non-demanding, happy with average soil and moisture and look magnificent in pots or in the ground. Because they are evergreen, they are perfect for winter containers when combined with ferns, some black mondo grass, and a pansy or hellebore. Come springtime, you can either leave them in the pots and add some summer blooming color or move them to the garden and start fresh. While you will never find all of these varieties in the garden center at one time, we are never without at least a dozen varieties to choose from in both 4-inch pots to gallon sized containers. For a little more pop and sizzle, try some of these new varieties out this fall. Stay safe and keep on gardening.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.