Here's an in-depth look at the coral bell plants where you can learn about their characteristics, reproduction, growing conditions, and uses. We've also added some tips on how to grow and propagate these dainty perennials.
The genus heuchera consists of approximately 37 different species of evergreen perennial plants. Today we will cover the coral bell flower, which is a member of the saxifragaceae botanical family.
You may have heard of the coral bell species under the name of alumroot, though their most common name is more indicative of the quality of the plant. These plants bear bell shaped flowers that come in a range of warm colors, the most charming being coral.
Coral bell flowers are native to North America, but they come in all different shapes and sizes. Their flower color, growing conditions, and growing requirements will change based on different varieties. Cultivation of coral bell flowers is very popular due to their reliability and resilience.
Coral bells aren’t known for having the most stunning flowers, but they do have wonderfully attractive foliage. If you’re looking for more of a show stopping centrepiece flower variety, head on over to our list of Incredible Flowering Plants from all over the world where you are sure to find the right match for your green space.
What do Coral Bells Look Like?
Coral bell plants bear flowers in the form of dainty spikes consisting of numerous small, bell shaped blossoms. These bunches of flowers grow at the ends of long flower stalks.
Coral bell flowers are not particularly flashy or ornamental, but they are delicate and dainty. Flower spikes can come in a wide range of different colors, from white flowers, to light pink flowers, to light coral, to medium orange, to deep red. Flowers bloom from late spring to early summer or late summer.
Though their flowers are charming, coral bells are most commonly grown because of their beautiful foliage. The coral bell plant can produce a leaf that is any shade of green, pink, maroon, and sometimes even bronze or deep purple.
Leaves grow as basal rosettes at the base of the stem, occurring in lovely dense clusters. These rounded leaves are the main attraction of the plant.
Though leaf rosettes usually remain growing close to the ground, the stem of a coral bell plant can grow to be anywhere from 12 to 36 inches in height. Dainty spikes of flowers grow along the top third of the stem.
Where do Coral Bells Grow Naturally?
The coral bell is a native plant to North America, and different species grow naturally in different biomes. There is no one location or growing condition that fits every species.
For example, heuchera maxima is a species that is native to the channel islands of California, and can grow in rocky soil doused with ocean spray along the coast.
Heuchera sanguinea is a coral bell species that is native to Mexico, New Mexico, and Arizona. It prefers to grow in dry canyons in full sun conditions.
Heuchera americana is a species that can tolerate both dry and rocky soil conditions, and moist and humus rich soils as well.
Coral bell species can exist in USDA growing zones 3 through 9, though they tend to perform the best in zones 5 through 7. Plants that are happy as clams in Vermont are also capable of thriving in Texas!
How do you Propagate a Coral Bell Plant?
The best time of year to propagate your own coral bell plant is in the early spring, and since these plants are rather sensitive to winter temperatures, it is best that seeds are sown indoors before they are brought outdoors.
Firstly, fill a seed tray with 1 part perlite and 1 part seed starting mixture. Ensure that this mixture is moistened with water.
Next, place a seed in each individual cell, but do not cover with soil as seeds need sunlight in order to germinate. A seed takes about 2 weeks for germination, and then at least 6 weeks of a cold period prior to being planted outdoors.
At this stage, use a light mister to keep the soil moist. Roots establish themselves very quickly, and so it is best to transplant them outdoors when seedlings are still young with thin roots. This is so that lengthier roots don’t become damaged by the transplantation.
New coral bell plants can also be established through root division. This can be done in the late spring by taking a healthy specimen and digging up its fibrous root system. This can usually be done into 3 or 4 different bunches.
The roots can literally just be ripped apart into different bunches — they are so thin and fibrous that they can easily be ripped and this won’t cause detriment to the health of the plant.
Once a plant is established, it requires very little in terms of maintenance, which you will quickly discover in the following section.
What are the Growing Conditions of Coral Bells?
37 different types of coral bell species means that plants have varying preferences. Luckily, as a whole, they are a very low maintenance plant species and they can tolerate almost anything.
Depending on the heuchera variety, they may prefer more sun or more shade, more water or less water, or temperature preference.
Coral bells grow in woodlands in the wild, and this is a good indicator of how planting them should be done at home. The easiest way to make them happy is by mimicking this type of growing habitat.
Coral bells can tolerate a varying range of soil types, though the main common factor is that they must all be well drained.
Certain species will prefer to have their soil moist, whereas others will prefer to have drier soils. They can live in loamy or sandy soils, though no species tolerate clay – as it is poorly drained.
Sun exposure is another varying requirement for this species. A good indicator of how much sun exposure a cultivar will require is by observing its flower color.
If a flower has a lighter hue, it will most likely prefer partial shade or full shade conditions. If a flower has a darker hue, chances are that it prefers to exist in full sun conditions, but sometimes afternoon shade.
Knowing how much sun exposure your coral bell cultivar prefers will help indicate the amount of water it will require as well. All seedlings prefer to live in moist conditions.
When it comes to well established plants, water level requirements will vary. Shade garden loving varieties seem to perform best with a minimum of 1 inch of rain per week. Sun loving varieties seem to perform best when they receive a good 30 minute soak per week.
Coral bells are a relatively cold hardy plant, and they can exist in colder microclimates. They grow in USDA growing zones 3 through 9, though they really thrive in zones 5, 6, and 7.
Though the coral bells plant doe not generally re-bloom within a growing season, deadheading the plant will improve the overall appearance of the specimen.
In terms of fertilizer, coral bell plants respond very well to having organic matter incorporated into their soil. Compost can be mixed in with their growing mix once or twice a year, and this will completely suffice as fertilization.
As you may have noticed, it doesn’t take an expert gardener to keep coral bells happy, as they are wonderfully easy to maintain. They seem to completely thrive off of neglect! Just remember to keep in mind that they need well drained soil, they are drought tolerant though they prefer moderate water amounts.
How are Coral Bells Used?
Rather than a flower specimen, heuchera plants are more valued as an ornamental foliage plant, and since these are evergreen perennial plants, they help keep a rock garden green and lovely nearly all year round.
Their extensive array of geographic tolerances, sizes, shapes, foliage color, and blossom types, make them an extremely diverse and popular cultivar.
They also many for wonderful companion plants for other perennials, and they can be planted as container plants as well. They can also be kept indoors if so desired.
The leaves of coral bell plants have been used traditionally by certain Native American peoples to make herbal tea remedies, as it is said that leaves have natural anti-inflammation properties.