It wasn’t long ago I was hiking around Blue Ridge, Ga., and came across a few terrific looking heuchera or coral bells, which I had only seen previously for sale in garden centers. All heuchera species are native to the United States including this Heuchera villosa native in the Southeast from Arkansas to Georgia and north to New York.

Heuchera was the Perennial Plant of the Year in 1991 and since then there are more hybrids and varieties, colors and variegations than we possibly could have ever imagined. When you look at a plant’s tag or a plant for that matter, it is next to impossible to identify which ones have the DNA from a species native to your state or region.

But then there are times when “by George” there it is, a variety like Carmel is labeled as a hybrid variety of Heuchera villosa. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everyone in the country should choose Carmel or one of the other varieties that might be identified as

H. villosa but to me, in Georgia, it’s a clue that it might have a little more heat tolerance since Savannah is far from ground zero for the heuchera.

Heucheras are considered perennial in zones 4-8 and tend to be evergreen in the warmer climates. It prefers moist, fertile organic rich soil that drains freely. In the landscape, we promote sun to part sun in the north and part sun to shade in the south. On the other hand, in the South it is an excellent component plant for sunny cool season mixed containers, boxes and even the landscape like you might do for a flowering kale, cabbage or mustard. It will look attractive until the end of June, which is long after the brassicas have bolted and flowered.

While I treasure the foliage, many have such colorful, ornately shaped foliage you could care less if they ever bloomed. However, the plants also produce tall airy flowers in pink, coral, red or white that attract hummingbirds. The plants can grow 12 to 16 inches tall and should be spaced 15 to 28 inches apart, or as recommended on the tag of the variety you select. Varieties like Amber Waves, Carmel, Creme Brulee, Georgia Peach, Lava Lamp, Mocha, Palace Purple and Peach Melba are just a tiny sample of the varieties available.

No matter where you live in the country, you have a season where the heuchera can perform as a stunning filler plant in your mixed containers. It is rare to find heuchera in the landscape as gardeners usually choose other materials.

It is an outstanding plant however, that deserves a place in the sun, part shade or shade. Plant them along woodland trails in front of shrubs. Great combinations can be made with wood fern, autumn fern and even artistically blended with hostas. In the South, you must try them as a sunny cool season component plant.

Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him at @CGBGgardenguru.

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