Calling all Heucheras: Please be seated
They have been glorious all summer, dazzling us with their sprightly blooms and unearthly color combinations. Come fall they add even more color to the ornamental beds. They are Heucheras and yes, they have done a smash-up job in the garden. But now it’s time to make sure they are properly seated, one of the ways to help them sail through the coming winter.
Wonderful for brightening up lightly-shaded areas and container combos with their multi-colored, intricately carved foliage, Heucheras thrive on good drainage, a rich organic soil with a pH around 6, enough but not too much sun exposure and adequate moisture. Plant Heucheras too deep (ie. bury the plant’s crown) and you invite disaster. In my shady yard, Heucheras have been contributing beautiful color and contrast every summer for years. I especially like them in my rock garden that provides plenty of good drainage — a must.
We went to the source for Heuchera information, Dan Heims, president of Terra Nova Nurseries — developer of many of the stunning new Heuchera introductions — to give us some tips on growing and maintaining these colorful plants during the winter months. Heucheras are natives, though the numerous, new eye-popping introductions from Terra Nova are creative hybrids of those perennials many know as coral bells.
“Heuchera hail from a diverse range of environments, from icy mountaintops to steamy-hot forests in the south,” said Heims. “Most Heuchera on the market today are a safe bet in Zone 5 (-15 F (-23 C )) as their hybrid origin instills more vigor than straight species. It is helpful to know the origin of a Heuchera specie to know what ‘package’ Mother Nature provides. External factors can lessen or strengthen a plant’s survival in winter.
“Heuchera from every biosphere must have drainage,” Heims explained. “In nature, Heuchera are found in vertical locations, typically with some moisture at the roots or on a forest floor with good drainage and some moisture beneath the compost layer. Winter-wet will cause rot. Wet kills. Heuchera need to be reset (re-seated) every two to three years.
“It is very beneficial to do one of two things; either dig a plant up, divide it, richen the soil and replant, or simply mound improved soil to the tips of the ‘necks’ of the plant,” he continued. “Early spring is the best time to do this or when soil is first workable. Mulching is highly desirable. Many Heuchera are used to having a fall leaf mulch which adds an insulating layer as well as providing a nutritional benefit. Compost or bark mulch can be placed over plants as long as they are not completely covered.”
The long-range prediction of heavy snow cover this winter is indeed good news for Heucheras, as well as many other perennials, shrubs and trees.
“Snow-cover is great!” Heims added. “I’ve heard from customers in Alberta, Canada, that they grow all of the Heuchera in Zone 3B (-35 Fahrenheit). They do have nearly constant snow cover ‘til spring thaw. Unprotected plants can be burnt off, especially in exposed, windy areas. Do your research! Informed buying decisions are paramount in knowing which plants do best in an area.”
For more information on Heuchera, Heims also suggested contacting local botanic gardens, garden centers or visit the Terra Nova®Nurseries website (terranovanurseries.com/gardeners/index.php ) to make a good choice for your landscape.
And there’s one more Heuchera tactic that some have been employing in recent winters. They are potting up and bringing Heucheras indoors for the season. In that case, follow planting recommendations as above and place pots in a sunny window. Americana species are reported to do the best as indoor plants. The ‘Little Cuties’ series, which includes ‘Blondie’ and ‘Ginger Snap,’ was bred with houseplant applications in mind. Now we can enjoy their color all year round. Their brilliant foliage is sure to brighten up any landscape, be it outdoors or in.
Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the Garden Writers Association’s Silver Award of Achievement, and she gardens in Camden. Got questions, or comments? Visit her blog, and join in the conversation at: gardeningonthego.wordpress.com or ”friend” her on Facebook to see what’s growing in the garden day-by-day.