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A Plant Out of Place

One of the clichés of horticulture is that a weed is a plant growing in the wrong place. Perhaps you’ve grown some perennials that freely self-sow all over your garden (Lychnis/Maltese cross, Asters, Great Blue Lobelia, Panicum grass, for example) or spread from their intended space by rhizomes (underground stems) like Oenothera speciosa/white evening primrose, Monarda/beebalm, or pretty much anything named “mint.”

Heuchera ‘Caramel’

I find Heuchera (Coral Bells) to be challenging to grow; generally having a lifespan ranging from about a week after I bought it to several years.  But like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, I keep trying because they are just so cool.  Good drainage is essential, just the right amount of sun and shade. I’ve done best in a raised planter that defines one edge of my carport, with a Heuchera ‘Caramel’ that is about ten years old, and a Heuchera ‘Stainless Steel’ that is at least five years old. We won’t talk about the other thirty or so.

Most of the heuchera on the market are hybrids of several species, often including Heuchera villosa in the parentage, which is native to rocky woodland slopes in the southeastern US.  We find the hybrids that include villosa to be better for our area because they bring heat and humidity tolerance to the mix.

Heuchera villosa (with the catchy name of “hairy alum root”) has light green, fuzzy leaves, and white flowers in the fall.  There is a named clone called ‘Autumn Bride’ with a better flower display than the average villosa.

commercial planting, left and heuchera weed, right

So, about five years ago a commercial planting went in around a parking garage in Rockville, and they installed Heuchera villosa ‘Autumn Bride,’ the idea (I surmise) was that it would become a nice, native-plant ground cover on a narrow sloped area between sidewalk and driveway.  Many of them died, leaving a mostly mulched bed with a few heuchera.  But darned if they haven’t seeded out and are coming up in cracks along the edge of the building and the sidewalk.

You can just hear Mother Nature laughing off in the distance.

by Larry Hurley, Behnke horticulturist

Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I have one of these. I didn’t know the name of it. I have it in the front garden. It has brownish/redish leaves. I hear the more sun it gets the more colorful it can be, but it will also work in shade.

    1. The color of the leaves depends on several factors. Of course, the most important is the genetics of the plant variety. The heuchera can vary from green to red to yellow or orange, purle, variegated with white, nearly black, nearly black with pink spots, silver, just about anything but a true blue.

      Sunlight is a factor as well. Plants that develop red pigment in the leaves tend to fade to green in the shade, or at least become less vibrant. An example would be the houseplant, croton. Another factor is temperature, especially night temperatures. The colors are more vibrant with the cool evenings of spring and fall. Many of the varieties (cultivars) of Heuchera on the market are developed in Oregon, and they really look better there in the summer because of the cooler nights than we have.

      Just for fun, you might go online and look at the website for Terra Nova Nurseries, which has bred many of the best perennials on the market today. They have a section of the website geared with information for gardeners, and the photos are outstanding.

      Terranova Nurseries

      Larry Hurley

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