Why don't my heucheras thrive?

sandyslopes z5 n. UTMay 25, 2014

I like them so much, but I'm becoming disillusioned with them. It's hard to enjoy a plant that gets smaller and smaller every year. Caramel is one of the few that thrives, but most start to shrink about year three.

I have sandy, alkaline soil, mostly on a slope. I plant them among hostas so they do get a lot of water but have good drainage. Varying amounts of sunshine around yard.

Do you all lift yours every other year? I tried that with three in a row. One looks great now, but the other two are pathetic. Not a good ratio of success for my efforts.

Do you have to fertilize them a lot? I never do, just some compost and mulch, if they're lucky. I'll make the effort if that's what they need.

Is my zone 5 iffy? I notice a lot that are great looking on this forum are in zones 7 and 8.

Are they just very short-lived plants? Too much time and $$$ spent for this to happen.

I'm getting close to throwing in the towel on them but not quite ready to give up yet. Any advice for me?

Here's a pic where I was focusing on the hosta, but look at about 2 o'clock and you see how so many of my heuchera get so small they're only a few inches. I don't expect much more growth than it has now. Opposite of thriving.

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tepelus(6a SW MI)

Do you have tree root problems? I've noticed that those that grow where tree roots tend to take over fail to thrive, but those that don't have to compete with tree roots take off. That may be one cause. Heucheras don't like root competition.


    Bookmark   May 25, 2014 at 5:20PM
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Space them from your hostas. Make sure the soil is good. I find mulching helps them. Make sure they are not planted too deep. I "fluff out" those larger bottom leaves. Neem oil every few weeks helps too for rust.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2014 at 10:09PM
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sandyslopes z5 n. UT

Hmm, some may have root competition, more from large shrubs than trees. But hostas do well, so I'd think they'd suffer, too, if that was the case. Maybe some are planted too deep, being sandy and on a slope they might sink down after a couple of years. I did lift those three and only one responded well, but I can try some more.

Looking at other threads some of the ones people say grow big for them are ones that are dwindling away for me. ~sigh~

    Bookmark   May 26, 2014 at 11:18PM
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Without a good close look at the stem of your plants I am only guessing, but here's an idea, have you divided them yet? Some of mine, not all, seem to put on a stunning show, then fizzle within a year or two. All I'm left with is the woody stem that usually pulls right out of the ground, that may have a few pathetic leaflets on it. It's happening right now to Ginger Ale and it's only on year two.
I need to lift the entire plant out of the ground and take a good look at it. Trim off all the dead stems and leaves, and if there is a long hard root stalk with no leaflets, trim that to a few inches from where there is growth.
My poor Ginger Ale has only one leafing area, but sometimes when you pull a coralbell, you find yourself looking at potentially MANY baby plants. You can leave those on the stem that are about the same depth when you replant the stem. Replant the stem where it came from and either pot up the new plants until they get bigger or tuck them into garden, which is what I do.
I have 10+ year old plants I have never divided, and plants I seem to be dividing constantly. I don't know why some whimp out or go woody stalk.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2014 at 12:54AM
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pandora(Z5 OH)

Gorgeous photo!
I love them too, but I have given up. Over a few years I bought 10. All different vendors, types, and planted different areas. They look great a couple years then shrink and disappear.

I decided to quit trying to force plants to grow. I'll buy more of what likes my yard.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 9:02AM
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It may be your soil. Heuchera tend to be plants that grow best in forest leaf humus, as far as I can tell. Not sandy soil. Mine grow best in leaf humus on level ground, in locations that do not get a great amount of direct sunlight.
I am in northern Va, zone 7A, so the very middle of the middle Atlantic. My Rave On coral bells are thriving, as are my Silver Scrolls coral bells. But my Peach Flambe coral bells are mediocre, maybe because they were bred for leaf color rather than vigor.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 5:51PM
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I don't have much luck with the newer ones, but I have many clumps of the older coral bells. They are still where I planted them over 45 years ago.
maybe somebody should try hybridizing with some of these old ones.

1 Like    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 11:12AM
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marquest(z5 PA)

They are a fussy plant. As expensive as they are I backed off a lot and only buy them if I see them real cheap at my local nursery sales. I will not pay more than 5.00. If they survive fine if not I know not to buy that one again.

It seems any purple will survive in my gardens. The only light color I have had any success has been Carmel, Georgia peach, and Encore, Southern Comfort. The rest are purples or dark almost black.

I would not buy Terra Nova for years because they were putting them on the market so fast and they were dying in my garden as fast as I could get them planted. They really were not a good developer for my garden soil and weather.

All the ones I have gotten developed at The Primrose Path Nursery survive in my garden.

1 Like    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 11:21PM
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sandyslopes z5 n. UT

I appreciate all the thoughtful replies!

unbiddenn, you sound like a glass half full person. I take those sticks and dwindling leaves as a sign it's on the way out. You found a way to look at those tiny leaves and see new possibilities. I never thought to divide a plant that's getting smaller. But the woody sticks or stems sounds about right. The ones that have totally died out (Snow Angel, for instance) were just some long sticks that looked dead. Other ones (Tiramisu, Mocha, Creme Brulee, Crimson Curls, etc.) have teeny tiny leaves. I see a Brunnera, Jack Frost (?) in your photo. Those LOVE my gardens. They get bigger with more flowers every year. If only heucheras did that for me.

pandora, I'm coming around to that way of thinking. If they don't like it here, they just don't. Can't force a plant to do well.

Alangrr, it could very well be they don't like my sandy alkaline soil. Your observation about the leaf humus rich soil is helpful. Possibly I can narrow it down to the ones I like best and try to make sure they get leafy compost and see if that helps them. Can't hurt to try.

Flowergirl, I had no idea they could live that long! Forty five years would be great! It seems like when the plant sellers produce a lot of new plants that they want to get to the markets quickly, that a lot of the time the new ones aren't as foolproof as the old standards. The new echinaceas come to mind, also.

marquest, I'm glad to hear someone else thinks they're fussy. I bought a lot of Georgia Peach because they're such a beautiful, bright color, and they're wimping out, too. I also had four Purple Plums just fade away. I had many Lipsticks, a dozen or so, that put up so many red flowers it was a stunning sight. This year they're about 1/3 the size they were with a lot less flowers.

I guess there's no magic solution. I'll enjoy other people's pics and see if I can keep a few of my favorites going. Sugar Plum is my favorite this year. I can't coddle plants with everything I have to do in the gardens, so I'll take the hint the heucheras are giving me. They just aren't that into me, lol.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 2:44AM
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marquest(z5 PA)

Sandy I am coming to believe they are a zone 7 and up plant. Mild temps areas I notice people posting from seem to be having good luck. Anybody in zone 5-6 are having hit and miss short term plants.

I agree I do not have time nor the money to pay the high price for these short lived plants. If I see them on sale no higher than 5.00 I buy them and plant them with the mind that it is most likely a annual. I do not plant them as a basic plant for long term landscape.

The suggestion of leaf humus rich soil is a good tip. I have some planted under a tree with Hostas that are doing terrific for 3 yrs. but they are the common Purple Palace and other older ones not the pretty new fragile things. But in that area Caramel and some of the ones that have been around for awhile lasted 3+ years. I give them a little fertilizer in the summer also.

I tried something a couple years ago I noticed helped. I mixed some homemade compost and leaf humus in a coir pot liners that you use for summer baskets and planted them in those pots. Set them in the garden with some stones around and on to of the soil around the plant and that worked good. You could not tell they were in a pot and they could not heave during the winter because the stones kept them stable.

This gives them perfect drainage and good soil they need to survive.

Santa Rosa has some for 2.99 that I ordered last week because I was ordering some sedum that I know will live a long time.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 12:54AM
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pandora(Z5 OH)

Sandy, lol, I like that ...they just aren't that into me. :)

Marquest, I think you are right, zone 7. I noticed that of the posters too. Good tip on potting and protection. For me right now, I am going to stick with plants happy to be in my gardens.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 8:33AM
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Windhaven(5- Midstate IL)

I use to have problems and bought and planted so many but lost so many plants each year. Here is what I was told from the guy at Distinctive Gardens in Illinois. DO NOT plant the grown deep. Since I have followed that advice, I've hardly lost one and I have 40+ different ones. Last year was a really bad one, I lost a couple of trees, lots of hosta's and other very tough plants, but not one Heuchera! It works!

1 Like    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 11:19PM
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The ones I have that are small and shriveled are the ones I moved in the fall and failed to adequately mulch so they had frost heave. In my garden they seem to like well drained soil, but heavy mulch to keep their roots cool and moist.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 11:02AM
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Does anyone think that they could benefit from a balanced fertilizer or do you just not fertilize them at all? I have about 90 of them, some thriving, some not, some lovely and huge, some on their way out the door. It is frustrating when you will have 2 of the same variety in the same location and one is huge and one, not so much.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2014 at 3:30PM
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I usually fertilize mine with a balanced fertilizer (triple 16) once in the spring time.

I know what you mean about some doing well and some doing poorly, even though they're given the same growing conditions and they're the same cultivar. I have yet to figure out why this is. I can only imagine that some plants are weaker to begin with.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 10:24AM
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I only fertilize the ones planted in places without tree root competition. For the ones planted under trees, I don't fertilize at all except mulching. The only one that has been slow is Fire Alarm. But it was planted right next to a big locust tree trunk so growing conditions are not so great.

On the other hands, I have 2 Georgia Peach planted in similar conditions. They are really good growers and now are huge.

In general, my heucheras (mostly dark colored ones except Paris) grow better then planted in places where they receive a few hours of morning sun.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 11:16PM
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josephines123 z5 ON Canada

Hello, fellow heuchera/heucheralla lovers! I see some of my hosta friends here too! What fun!

I started growing HEUCHERAS in the mid-nineties where my first one was...yes, the ever popular workhorse, 'Palace Purple'. It grew at the front of my house, a northerly exposure. It looked like it was on steroids...I don't fertilize per se....depends. Six years later I moved but it was still utterly huge and beautiful.

Here we are, 2014 and I have probably a dozen cultivars. Most grow with at least 5-7 hours of sunlight and are doing fine...but not all are growing at the same rate, of course.

Almost lost Green Spice...pulled it out - yes, I did, pulled it out - not dug it out, lol because I already knew how tough it was. Evidently pill bugs had taken up residence under the plant. I noticed its limp leaves were not perking up after watering. I started breaking off the sections, leaving as long a woody stem as I could. These I placed in a pot of water until I had cleaned out the area of bugs. Then I replanted the broken "crowns", ensuring that the woody stem sat high above the soil line...watered...and they came back this year looking healthy and are growing nicely.

I find heuchera to have "personalities" just like hostas. What one tolerates, the other may not, but generally speaking, all flowering perennials need a certain amount of sunlight to flower well. Heucheras grow larger leaves in shade, smaller leaves in sunlight but not significantly smaller in my garden.

In order for them to thrive, I've discovered that every three years or so, many of them benefit (some are a must) from being divided. I read that somewhere online...and a nursery staff informed me she divides regularly as well.

A few of mine hardly ever get watered and they grow regardless, lol. Others that I pay more attention to don't shout "she loves me more"...they don't look overly pampered as you would think.

Have lost a couple..,but that was before I learned a few things. A quick tip is that dark leaved heuchera can tolerate a lot of sun...they thrive in it....just like Sedum do. I treat them the same way.

I have seen astonishingly huge leaves on dark heuchera that lived predominantly in the shade. Hank said they didn't flower much but he didn't mind..it was the foliage he loved, sparse as it was (to my eye).

'Blackout', which I picked up at Walmart about 3/4 years ago deserves mention. It receives sun from sun-up until around 1:30-2:00, then shade. It is amazing and very dark, very shiny, currently with many flower stems.

Wow, I'm sorry....this post is longer than I intended! If you got this far, you deserve a pic to look at! I'll go into PhotoGrid and gather up my heuchera to share with you which I will post immediately after.

Thanks for looking!


    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 1:23PM
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josephines123 z5 ON Canada

Still raining out there...pics as promised...have more varieties but not worthy of posting yet.

1 Like    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 3:50PM
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Wow, Jo! Your heuchs look happy and healthy. I especially like 'Binoche'. I don't have that one...yet! Thank you for sharing. :)

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 8:34PM
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mac48025 ( SE michigan)

My first visit to the heuchera forum and I'm glad I did. I went heuchera crazy a couple of years ago using them as ground cover in my hosta beds. Citronelle has done well for me as long as it's shaded. Obsidian and Midnight Rose did great the first two years but are struggling this year , but the ones Ioved this spring seem to be doing better. My Southern Comfort was amazing in 2012&2013 but don't look so good this year. Some look wilted but they aren't dry. Might need dividing. Caramel was growing great for me but foliar nematodes forced me to throw out 75 of them. Ouch ! The info gained here gives me hopes that I can rescue them by dividing them. Here are a couple of pics showing how the moved plants look better than the ones that are in their third year undisturbed.

The undisturbed ones.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 4:54PM
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mac48025 ( SE michigan)

Those Ioved this spring

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 4:55PM
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Wow...looking good! I love the large drifts of the same plants together with the hostas interspersed. Beautiful contrast in foliage.

Some of mine need to be divided this fall. I'll let you know how it goes. Others I have get a long, woody neck on them. Those I dig up and plant about 1" deeper and they flesh out again in about 4 weeks. Seems to do the trick every time.

This post was edited by flower-frenzy on Wed, Aug 20, 14 at 12:50

1 Like    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 12:49PM
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mac48025 ( SE michigan)

Thanks FF. Obsidian was twice the size last year. At first I thought I was due to the harsh winter but now I'm wondering if dividing them is the answer so I replanted them today and added heuchera sugar plum and paprika along with brunnera dawsons white and looking glass and some carex Bowles golden. I'm liking the new heuchera's a lot.

1 Like    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 8:39PM
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mac48025 ( SE michigan)

Sugar plum

1 Like    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 8:40PM
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I love all of the different colors and textures in pic #1. Paprika's color is definitely a knock-out! A bit on the slow side for me, and for others here as well. Don't give up in it, though, if that's the case for you. It does start to fill out after a while.

I have 'Sugar Plum' in my garden, too. The color really makes it stand out from the other purple/silver combos I have. I wouldn't be without that one. Everyone who visits my garden points it out as a favorite.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 12:57AM
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sandyslopes z5 n. UT

OP here. Some of my heucheras did do okay this year even with a slow start, so all is not lost. But I don't see them getting much bigger, either.

My problem is that so many of them shrink by year three and four, there's really not much to divide. I suppose I'm used to hostas and brunneras that do well without much attention, and I hoped heucheras would do the same.

I can relate to what some of you have said about having several of the same kind together and one looks okay, while the others in the same grouping are shrinking away. Frustrating.

Jo, hmm, you're in z5 and your plants look pretty good. I see you're in ON, Canada. Maybe your sun isn't as harsh so they get the benefit of all that good sunlight without being fried in the summer. Whatever you're doing, they look good to me!

mac48025, Ouch is right! Throwing out 75 due to nematodes would discourage me no end. So far Caramel has been the best grower for me. I'd hate to lose that one. Good luck with your experiment with dividing them.

I am also loving Sugar Plum this year, but it's year two or maybe three for me. I'll feel lucky if they stick around and get bigger next year.

I didn't add any new heucheras this year. :-(

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 3:56AM
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I know I am not on here a lot and I don't consider myself an expert at gardening, but hope I can add my 2 cents. I am in a zone 3b most years and some times it changes to a zone 4, We are right on the line. I have had a lot of different varieties and most do not do well here in the winter. Miracle died the first winter. The bright green ones never made it much past their second spring-I think I had Lime Rickey, Pistachio and Lemon something or other. I really like snow angel but it was just not good enough to survive our winter. BUT Hercules did quite well until 2012 when we had a horrid winter and I lost a lot to crown rot along with a lot of established good Hostas(Sagae, Francis Williams, even my sun Power went from going on almost 4 foot wide to being a super tiny lucky to be 7 inches tall!)So I will chalk all that loss up to perfect winter weather! I have dark loam mixed with some clay and most of my yard that had the Heucheras in it doesn't get a lot of sun but stll flowered well. My best Heucherta was Dolce Licorice and it was only in 2 hours of sun grew bigger/faster than my Gold standard and I had to split it twice in 3 years. Plus They all reside under maples and apple trees. Oh and I never fertilize only because by the time I remember too it is too late for my zone. The ones that absolutely thrived for me had been Dolce Licorice(it is more of a constant deep mahogany for me) Georgia Peach, Sparkling Burgundy, Plum pudding, Midnight rose(the remaining one is small this year but it had been in a pot in the 2012 worst winter and I planted it last year in the ground,plus I have not been watering this year and there is not much rain this summer), Autumn Leaves,Purple Petticoats, and Berry smoothie. I had to move a few in more sun like Sparkling Burgundy and Autumn leaves. Sashay did awesome here living in less than an inch of dirt in pots even over wintered like champs back in 2011 Again had it not been for the horrid winter I would still have them.

I say just try some different ones and maybe even trying to move some into more sun. Maybe add some loam if you soil is too sandy.

I have forgotten how to add pics so I can't load any.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2014 at 3:32PM
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Has anyone thought of using peat moss...Mine did just as your did until I amended the soil with lots of peat moss...

I wondered why they always did good in pots with peat. So I tried it and the only ones doing fantastic are the ones in peat or compost and the other that I have not bothered with continue to shrivel away...Could it be the pH? Not sure But I do know that peat adds acidity and makes the area well draining.


    Bookmark   October 23, 2014 at 11:35AM
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sandyslopes z5 n. UT

Mike, I do have alkaline leaning soil, and heuchera don't seem happy here, so you may be on to something. I could add some peat moss, but I can't have plants that need too much special attention. Maybe a few choice plants can get some peat.

alyciaadamo, I've got quite a long list of heucheras I've tried, but I'll keep watching for any info on ones that do well for others consistently. So far I can say that about Caramel, and that's about it.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2014 at 2:30AM
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I'm in zone 4, Southwestern WI, in a valley. On higher ground supposedly there are areas that are zone 5, but it gets too cold in the valley where I live to be much more than zone 4b, and probably really stretching it to say possibly zone 5a. I have had Kassandra in the ground a few years, and Redstone Falls in the ground a couple years. Kassandra looks fantastic, and I think Redstone Falls is better off in a container. I have quite a few other varieties, but they are either in the container I bought them in or are replanted in another container and over-wintered in a shed. Mainly because I had knee surgery and wasn't ever able to get them into the ground. They overwintered last year beautifully, except for the large container that was on one side of my front door. Those little black worms, supposedly millipedes, dug into the pots and must have eaten the roots. They got a hardy Hosta that was in the pot too. Obsidian does fantastic in containers. I always plant my Hosta and Heuchera with equal parts peat moss, topsoil and the existing soil. I throw in a little composted manure too. I have a lot of clay in my soil so I need to add this mix. It was recommended to me by a local garden center, and it's relatively inexpensive so I mix the peat moss with the topsoil in a wheelbarrow, then throw in the extra good stuff. When I dig up the soil where I'll be planting something, I mix that in a bucket with the other mix. It is important to use at least a third of the existing soil. If you use only the soil amendments you've bought, the roots of the plant will keep circling around that and won't venture out into the existing soil. Everything that I have planted does much better this way. All I've read up on states Heuchera prefers average, well drained, moist soil. They don't want to be waterlogged though. You can let the ground dry between waterings. I think one of the plants I bought stated, "Better too dry than too wet". Also, many people want to plant their Heuchera deeper than what they prefer. A lot of the stems needs to stick up, out of the ground, for this plant to thrive. Heuchera do not like to be fertilized and prefer a one time application of slow release fertilizer placed in the spring.

Someone posted about having plants grow in the same garden or same area, but not do as well as another of the same kind of plant, in that same garden. It's probably because one gets more sun than the other. I went around my land, and did sun-tracking. Every hour from sunset to sunrise, I kept track in a notebook, where the sun was hitting all around my house and in my gardens. I have 4 Guacamole Hosta in the same garden, next to one another in a row. One of the Hosta in the middle was considerably smaller than the other three. It ended up getting approx. two hours less sun per day.

I am including some notes that I have taken from books I've read about Heuchera. I can't site what books because I did this a long time ago, and may have also taken notes from sites on-line. I hope we both have success this year. Although I need another surgery, I also need to get the Fifty-some plants I have in my shed planted. They are mostly Heuchera and Hosta, along with some other perennials that were in bad need of division. It's sure to be exhausting, and unfortunately, painful work, but I'll sure be glad to have it done.

Heuchera are easy perennials to grow and fit nicely in the front of any border, rock garden, or container. They grow most vigorously and have the strongest colors when grown in partial shade (preferably afternoon shade). They can also be grown in full shade but their growth rate will be very slow. Some varieties can withstand full sun in northern climates if they have consistent moisture, but their colors tend to fade with the intensity of the sun. The soil should be amended with organic matter prior to planting (such as leaves). It should also have good drainage and a neutral pH.

Heuchera are evergreen in areas with mild winters. If properly sited out of the way of winter winds and with reliable snow cover, gardeners in northern regions may also find their Heuchera acting as evergreens. If the plant looks tattered by early spring, shear off any damaged leaves to make room for the vibrant new foliage which will fill in quickly.

Heuchera can be grown under Black Walnut trees because they are resistant to the toxin Juglone which the trees emit from their roots.

Heuchera are also Deer resistant and possible rabbit resistant.

Heuchera are also salt tolerant. They are useful in the north along pathways which are salted in winter or for people gardening in coastal regions. Occasionally in northern regions, Heuchera have a tendency to heave out of the ground because of the freeze/thaw cycle. To combat heaving, add an extra layer of compost (Maybe dirt mixed with leaves or the compost I buy) around the plant's roots in the fall. In the spring, if the plants have heaved at all, the new roots will grow into the fresh new layer of compost.

Don’t plant Heuchera too deep. Grow in well-draining soil for great success

Good draining soil is important, in particular. In addition, oxygen in the root area creates healthier plants.

Do NOT use wood chips for winter cover as May cause your plants & their roots to rot.

Cover all first year perennials. In particular coral bells planted later in the season. Beware of voles and mice as they will eat the roots of the plant.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2015 at 8:52PM
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sandyslopes z5 n. UT

Thanks for all that info, Kristen. I've amended planting holes here and there, but I've never kept good enough records to know if those plants did any better than the ones I planted straight into my soil with nothing more than a good watering.

Heuchera seem picky about planting depth. I try not to plant too deep, but do yours hoist themselves out of the ground over the winter? I've had some do this, and thought I should plant them deeper again. So it seems hard to get right.

You're keeping good sunlight records. I know the sunlight is very inconsistent in my yard because being built into a hillside, some plants only get direct sun when it's high in the sky and HOT. The rest of the year it dwindles and may only be bright light in spring and fall.

I find hosta, astilbes, and tiarellas are easy to grow without too many special needs. I was hoping heucheras would fit into that mix better.

Good luck with your surgery, and if it's too painful to plant your 50+ plants, you seem to be having good enough luck keeping them going in pots, so take it easy if you have to. And when you do get out there, pictures of happy heucheras and hostas are always nice. :)

    Bookmark   March 8, 2015 at 11:23PM
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Great thread! I'm going to try some of this advice. Thank you!

    Bookmark   last Wednesday at 8:03PM
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