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Coral Bells Care

Coral Bells or Heuchera is a perennial genus of evergreen plants in the Saxifragaceae family, indigenous to North America. 

These plants have lobed leaves growing on long stalks with a thick and shallow rootstock. Carl Linnaeus was named after the famed botanist Professor Johann von Heucher, who lived in the 1700s. There are roughly 37 species, but classifying the genus is challenging as the species often cross with each other, resulting in hybridization and the flowers noticeably change in size as they develop. Several varieties and their hybrids are cultivated as ornamental plants.

These plants grow in varied environments, with some species looking quite different from each other with varying requirements in temperature, soil, and other factors. One variety is found growing on windy, rocky, and salty ocean shores of the Channel Islands in California, while another is found growing in the dry and warm canyons in the southwest. The plants growing in the Mid-Atlantic areas of the U.S prefer growing in shade.

The bulk of these plants sold for cultivation are hybrids from H. Americana. Horticulturists and gardeners have created several hybrids between different species with a broad assortment of flower colors, sizes and shapes, leaf types, and environmental tolerances.

They are popularly grown for their foliage, creating rosettes with their leaves in an array of colors such as bronze, green, and pink, often textured or variegated; with long inflorescences of green, red, white, or pink flowers in spring.

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Sunlight

These plants grow well under partial shade, particularly in hotter climates. Their colors can become faded or washed out when they’re grown in full sun and can also cause their leaves to become scorched.

One thing to keep in mind is that these plants, when grown in the damp shade, could be susceptible to fungal diseases—if you notice the plants developing problems, it’s better to relocate them to a drier area.

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Water

This plant has needed moderate watering and prefers moist soil consistently. Plants that are well established become drought-tolerant, but generally, they should be watered once every week to keep them happy. If the plants are growing under full sun, their shallow root systems need extra water on hot, sunny days.

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Humidity

Hybrid plants vary in their tolerance for cold, heat, and humidity. Species from the East are more tolerant of heat and humidity than western species.

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Temperature

These plants require temperatures between 59-64oF under full sun. When cultivated in partial shade, these plants can handle higher temperatures.

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Soil

These plants prefer a humus-based rich soil with a neutral or slightly acidic pH of 6.0 or 7.0. Good drainage is necessary, particularly in shaded areas, since damp soil will cause stem rot.

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Repotting

Since these plants have shallow and fibrous root systems, they don’t need to be repotted frequently. Rootbound plants rarely happen but if it does, radically trim the roots and return the plant to its container, filled with fresh soil.

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Propagation

These plants can be propagated from seed, but hybrid varieties need to be divided or grown from leaf cuttings to stay true to the parent. When propagating from seed outdoors, sow the seeds on a prepared bed of soil in autumn or spring – don’t cover the seeds since they require light for germination. The seeds take 2-8 weeks to germinate. The seedlings can be transplanted around late spring and watered well in the first year. 

Cuttings

Prepare a planting pot with damp perlite starting soil. Take a few leaf cuttings from a healthy and mature plant in late summer or autumn. While the leaf sizes vary between different varieties, make sure to leave about an inch of stem attached to each leaf cutting.

Make a 1-inch deep hole in the starting soil with a finger and insert the stem into the hole so that the leaf’s base is in contact with the medium. Cover the stem with soil, keeping the soil slightly wet, but not soggy as this can make the cuttings root. The cuttings should root in 3-4 weeks and can then be transplanted to larger pots or in a permanent bed in your garden.

Divisions

Divide a plant by cutting into the roots with a small shovel, or lifting the plant out with a shovel and dividing it into sections with a knife. Each new section must possess healthy roots and leaves. Replant the sections in a prepared pot filled with fresh soil and water the sections to allay transplant shock and encourage the development of new roots. Every 3 years or so, you should divide these plants to keep them growing healthy.

Additional Care

These plants prefer light feeding so feed the plants with a layer of compost or a little slow-releasing fertilizer in spring. Avoid heavy feeding as too much feeding will inhibit flowering. Container-grown plants prefer feeding with liquid fertilizer to replace nutrients that leach out during watering.

While these plants don’t require plenty of maintenance, you can cut off the flower stalk after flowering is done to divert energy towards growing more leaves. If the leaves look damaged or poorly, particularly after winter, prune them back and new growth will quickly fill in.

Common Problems

Black vine weevil larvae can bore into the roots and stems of these plants, causing infected plants to droop and wilt. These larvae can be visible on the plant – manually remove and destroy them. If the infestation persists, treat the plants with a suitable insecticide or neem oil.

Fungal problems become more noticeable in hot and humid environs, so always monitor the plants. Judicial watering practices can usually prevent fungal problems, but if you want to treat it, use a suitable fungicide. Frequently remove damaged or infected foliage but if the problem becomes too severe, the plant will have to be destroyed.

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