Flowers on Friday: Heuchera

Last week I started a series of plant profiles writing about Echinops. This week I thought I would talk about heuchera, partly because I just bought a new one, but partly because I do actually like their tiny little flowers. The vibrant red spikes of my coral forests are looking particularly nice at the moment. They are a useful plant providing evergreen structure over winter, suitable for pots or the border and filling shaded spots beautifully.

Heuchera are part of the Saxifragaceae family which puts them alongside saxifrages (obviously), Astilbes, Rodgersias, Heucherellas, Bergenias, Tiarellas and more in the same family. They are native to North America with most cultivars originating from Heuchera americana. Hybridization is common with around 37 species intermingling. They are distributed across a variety of habitats including mountains and beaches, but in general, they prefer part shade. They can be grown in full sun if they are provided with suitable moisture levels. Some varieties can cope better with the sun. Plantagoggo offers an extensive range and you can filter by conditions. They enjoy moist well-drained soil but can tolerate periods of drought. They will often look the worse for wear after hot weather but they are a tough plant capable of bouncing back with some care.

They are largely grown for ground cover and as foliage plants. The foliage comes in an amazing range of colours from lime greens through orange and reds and dark purples to almost black. They are a garden centre favourite for placing at the front of shops in autumn and winter where they will attract customers. The leaves remain evergreen through winter. Then in spring, they benefit from a spruce up. Pulling away dead leaves, clear the chaff and then a top dressing of compost around being careful not to bury the crown.

The flowers are very popular with bees. It came as a surprise to me how popular when I started growing them but the garden bumblebees love them. They flower for good periods too which is of great benefit to the bees. If you cut the flower stalks down they will often produce more.

While few people grow them for the flowers many are quite attractive, especially where they have a strong contrast to the leaves.

The wide leaves combine well with a lot of different plants within designs. They look good alongside other shade-loving plants like ferns and hostas. But equally, look good with the thinner forms of grasses. They can be grown in a variety of situations. I use them within the border where for much of the year they don’t stand out much. But come winter when much of the border shrivels away they carry on adding structure and colour through the darker months. I use them hidden amongst taller plants where they don’t show for much of the year but come into their own in winter. But I have also had good success growing them in containers as in the hanging basket above. Though, in containers, they are vulnerable to vine weevils.

They are vulnerable to a few pests and diseases with some varieties seeming to be more susceptible. Heuchera rust can be an issue in summer, particularly when warm and damp. This appears first as dimples on the leaves and can affect the look and vigour of the plant. When it strikes you cut the leaves off back to the crown, taking care not to cut the crown and remove them from your garden. Don’t compost them as this may put rust back into your soil in future. Leaves return pretty quickly. Heuchera rust will only affect heuchera so it rarely causes much of a drama. Vine weevil on the other hand love heuchera and can move onto other plants. Vine weevil are a beetle that eats the leaves. The bigger damage comes from the grubs that eat the roots. Often the first sign you get is when you lift part of a plant and the whole plant lifts off the ground. I have written previously about how I tackled them here. So far it seems to be working with the nematodes forming the main defence. My lighter green heuchera such as lime marmalade seem to have been more affected by both rust and vine weevil. It might be a coincidence but it does put off buying more of these cultivars unless cheap. This is a shame as they are some of my favourites as they contrast well against many other plants.

They can be propagated by several methods written about previously. The most common method being division. They spread well over a couple of years. They often get a bit too woody so division is good for refreshing the plant. I did have some success with rooting cuttings, but it was slow with a high failure rate. Divison and cuttings have the advantage that the plant will be a clone of the parent. So, if you want a particular colour you need to use these methods. They do also self-seed quite freely. However most offspring I have ended up with a return to a block colour. The attractive veining on many cultivars hasn’t been present in the offspring. I grew heuchera from seed last year. I tried a few varieties but I think greenfinch was the most successful. Initial germination was high. But many didn’t survive when potted on. Many people reported that they found the seedlings grow so far and halted growth. I found they benefitted from a regular liquid feed to get them past this point. It was worth growing from seed as even with the losses along the way I’ve probably still ended up with double figures of plants.

I hope that was useful to some of you. It’s useful for me to carry on writing them to secure my knowledge ready for RHS exams. It’s a plant I’ve made use of a lot. It’s a good time of year to look for purchasing them as the retailers stock more ready for autumn and winter interest.

Find me on Twitter.

4 thoughts on “Flowers on Friday: Heuchera”

  1. You are right, they are lovely foliage plants and some do have interesting flowers, which is why they also go under the name of Coral bells – dainty bell-shaped flowers. I find heucherellas and tiarellas difficult to keep hold of, whereas the heucheras are as tough as old boots. One thing I do like about them is that in general the S&S leave them alone! And Heucheraholics is a very good online nursery too. https://www.heucheraholics.co.uk/ with good information about culture and diseases.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s