The genus of the purple bells (Heuchera) belongs to the family of the saxifrage family (Saxifragaceae). The purple bells are native above all in crevices and in coastal forests of North America. The various species are usually wintergreen to evergreen, horticulturally growing shrubs.
Appearance and growth
Purple bells are extremely attractive. Their tiny, funnel-shaped bell-shaped flowers appear in rich abundance of branched, long-stalked panicles and seem to float like a cloud over the compact eyrie. They flower from May to July and are white, pink or red.
In current breeds – mostly crosses of Heuchera sanguinea and Heuchera americana (H. x brizoides) – the attractive, lobed leaves of the purple bells represent the actual ornamental value of the plants. Countless varieties are available on the market and new ones are added almost every season. These impress with leaves in bright colours from tender to dark green, yellow-orange to dark red, silver, violet and bronze to tussock brown. In addition, the leaves are often nicely drawn, their edges elegantly curled, lobed or ruched. The smallest purple bells are 15 to 50 centimeters high, the larger ones 90 centimeters – measured by the flower stems.
Location and soil
Heucheras need a semi-shady or sunny location. If they stand moist enough, purple bells also tolerate sun in moderation. They prefer a fresh to moist, loose soil rich in nutrients and humus, which should be slightly acidic and does not dry out too much in summer.
Purple bells are placed as deep as possible in the soil, as the root ball pushes upwards over time. If the rootstocks protrude from the ground, they should be piled up with bark humus or compost.
Immediately after flowering, the withered stems should be cut as close to the ground as possible to the Heuchera. In spring the dry leaves are removed. If you want purple bells to grow bushy, you should prune the plants before they shoot. To do this, it is best to shorten them to about ten centimeters in February.
In order to keep purple bells vital, they are divided every three to four years after flowering in summer or at the latest in autumn. To do this, carefully dig out the plants, cut the bale into equal parts with a sharp spade and then place them back in the soil. The excavation should be improved directly with mature compost.
Wintering or winter protection
Especially the newer leaf ornaments of the Purple Bell are sometimes somewhat sensitive to frost. In rough locations and in snow-free winters, however, they should be covered with brushwood. If the Heucheras are standing in pots, they are moved close to the house wall and the vessels are protected with fleece. In frost-free periods you should water a little from time to time; on sunny and icy days it is advisable to cover the plants so that they do not get dry damage.
Purple bells are best accentuated in groups in the foreground of shrubs and borders and form a beautiful border with their closed, horny growth. They form a beautiful ensemble in the shadow garden next to Funkien (Hosta), Astilben, Storchschnabel-Arten (Geranium), ferns and shady grasses. If they are planted densely enough, purple bells can also be used as ground cover. Depending on the size of the selected variety, at least six specimens per square metre are used. On sunny balconies, purple bells are suitable for planting tubs and boxes and, with their colourful foliage, provide a beautiful sight even in winter. The Heuchera is also well suited as planting for graves that are not too dry or sunny.
Important species and varieties
Recommended Heuchera varieties are for example ‘Gracillima’ (tender salmon pink), ‘Red Spangles’ (scarlet red) or ‘Silver Rain’ (white). The orange ‘Crème Brûlée’ or the purple ‘Blackberry Jam’, for example, present splendidly coloured foliage. Beside all these hybrids two further types are offered: The garden silver bell (Heuchera micrantha) with reddish-brown, heart-shaped foliage, which blooms white from July to August and reaches a height of 70 centimeters, and the true or blood purple bell (Heuchera sanguinea), which blooms from June to July and reaches a height of 60 centimeters.
Heuchera ‘Crème Brûlée’ (left) and Heuchera ‘Blackberry Jam’ (right)
Purple bells are most easily multiplied by division after flowering in summer or autumn. However, they can also be propagated in spring as head cuttings of mature shoots. These should be about 15 centimeters long. You put them in the soil and cover them with a bonnet. After about six weeks the cuttings usually have formed roots and can be transplanted. Only Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’ variety can be propagated by seeds.
Diseases and pests
Waterlogging often causes root rot in purple bells, which can be recognized by the fact that the plants only grow poorly and the soil smells musty. If the disease is detected at an early stage, the plants can often still be saved. They are then replanted into a drier substrate, to which some sand is added; a good drainage should be a matter of course. Common pests on purple bells are the fat-mouth weevils. The Heucheras are particularly troubled by their larvae, which feed on roots and shoots. They are easy to combat with biological nematode preparations. The nocturnal beetles can also be collected at dusk.
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I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.