« Summertime: Good Things in the Garden | Main | My Plants are Loving this Sultry, Soggy Summer »

Heuchera, Tiarella, or Heucherella: Which is Best For You?

In recent years there has been an explosion of brilliantly colored heucheras and heucherellas available to fit the fancy of any foliage lover, especially those who garden in shadier areas where many flowers bloom briefly or not at all (except for some time-consuming and often expensive annuals). With evergreen heucheras and heucherellas, gardeners can enjoy splashes of rich color through the seasons. Then there are tiarellas, which look very similar, although their leaves are primarily green. All are in the family Saxifragaceae. Which is what, and how do you know which is best for you?

Heuchera - also called Coral Bells and Alumroot

Heucheras are North American natives whose maple-leaf shaped foliage comes in hundreds of colors, often with ruffled edges and deep veining. In spring through summer, depending on the cultivar, they send up short to tall stems with spikes of bell-shaped flowers.
A small selection of heucheras.

Heucheras like semi-shade. They do need a bit of sun - morning sun is ideal; they won't do well in heavy shade. Heucheras with lighter foliage are likely to suffer leaf burn from hot summer sun. They are fairly drought-tolerant. All of them require well-drained soil, and they are likely to perish if their crowns are planted too deep or if they are over-watered. Heavy clay soil and wet winters may spell doom, my conditions exactly! Clay soil should be amended with lots of organic matter to increase drainage, or else grow heucheras in raised beds or containers with a good potting mix.

Heucheras are hardy from USDA hardiness zones 3-4 to 9. Some don't care for heat and humidity (my summer conditions!), though some are more tolerant than others. In hot, humid climates summer die-back due to fungus sclerotina may be a problem, and some heucheras suffer from rust. Over the years I have planted many heucheras in my semi-tropical climate, and few have flourished. 

Tiarella - Also called Foamflower

Tiarella cordifolia is a classic woodland plant. Native from eastern to mid-western North America, it is a clump-forming perennial that spreads by underground runners. It likes more shade than its cousin heuchera, and it also will tolerate more moisture, though it too does best in humusy, organically rich soil. Its evergreen to semi-evergreen leaves are heart-shaped, and it produces profuse clusters of star-shaped blooms on wiry stems. Its common name comes from the appearance of its blooms. Sometimes the leaves have striking, dark veins. Tiarellas do better in hot, humid climates than many heucheras, and they are not as prone to disease. 

Heucherella - also called Foamy Bells

Heucherellas are a cross between heucheras and tiarellas, and one gets the best of both worlds with these plants. They combine the disease resistance of tiarellas with the colorful foliage of heucheras. They also are more shade and moisture tolerant than heucheras. I have had much more success in my humid climate with heucherellas than with heucheras.Assorted heucherellasAbout all three: Heucheras, tiarellas, and heucherellas should all be planted in well-draining soil, and they should be divided every 3-4 years to maintain vigor. Heucheras especially tend to be short-lived unless divided. 

Although a hungry animal may eat anything, these plants, especially tiarellas, have an astringent taste and do not attract deer or rabbits. And just as good, their flowers do appeal to hummingbirds and butterflies.

Read the label when you buy one of these plants for information on shade and sun tolerance and climate requirements. You are sure to find some beautiful selections that will fill your garden with color and airy, attractive blooms.

Happy gardening!  Deb

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (14)

I have never kept a tiarella alive. I have a couple of Heuchras and one Heucrella. They must be tough. I have tried many different ones. I now buy them one at a time to see if I can make them grow. I garden in SW Indiana.

July 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLisa at Greenbow

Maybe I'll try a Tiarella. I had a couple of Heucheras long ago, but they disappeared--maybe because of too much shade or slugs or rabbits. The rabbits are so unpredictable--I can go years with no damage on a plant, and then--whop! Suddenly it's the most tasty thing a rabbit can chew. All these plants are beautiful, and I always admire gardens that feature them prominently. Great post!

July 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBeth @ PlantPostings

I love the plants of all 3 genera but, unfortunately, they don't care much for the hot, dry conditions here. I grew Heuchera semi-successfully in my former, cooler, shadier garden but the only variety that's survived in my current garden is H. maxima, a California native, and even it has struggled. It's too bad as all those new varieties, in their myriad colors, are luscious.

July 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

I killed a couple of tiarellas. Haven't tried heucheras or the hybrids. I tend to prefer plants that don't need frequent division to stay healthy. (Of course, killing the tiarellas solved the question of when to divide them!) ;-)

July 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

You have a beautiful collection! I keep trying but with not much luck, Have one hanging on but every time I walk by, I am thinking I should put it out of its misery.

July 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGone Tropical

Hi Deb,
Wonderful and informative post. I appreciate you gathering all this information and know that it took a while to do this. Thank you.
Heuchera grow very well for me. Foam flower does not and I'm a little irked now that I know it's a native! Haha. I have a Heucherella that isn't doing well either.....I will stick with Heuchera and am on the lookout for Cinnamon and Silver.....then I'll be "garden happy" for a minute.

July 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSally

My Tiarella survived many years and then it died. Maybe next time I have a vacant spot in the garden I will try a Heuchera. I really like the one in the second photo.

July 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

I have all three here, they seem to like the conditions that we have and are looking very happy indeed. They form lovely splashes of colour in the more shady parts of the garden, all were planted with lots of leaf mould added to our heavy clay.

July 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPauline

Informative post. I have a couple of Tiarellas that just sort of hang on. Now and then I've planted Heuchera but generally they don't last.

July 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJason

I would like to grow these in Zone 9 but they are seldom seen in plant nurseries. Probably because they don't do well here. After reading of your success with the Foamy Bells, I might order one this fall.

July 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSouthern Rural Route

Thanks for sorting these out for me, Deb. I'm in the process of re-thinking the planting in my Serenity Garden, which has ended up being more shady than originally planned. Many of the plants I originally put there (including heuchera) are barely hanging on and have stopped blooming. I'm thinking of trying some Tiarella.

July 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJean

What an explosion of color for a shade garden. Have had and still have a few heucheras ,heucherellas and foam flowers but they are buried right now...really need to get to work.

July 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPatsi

I adore all these plants and have tried them out in my garden, but they couldn't cope with the harsh tough love treatment and didn't survive long. But I guess I haven't had your persistence and tried out all the variants - glad you found heucherallas worked for you, Deb.

July 23, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercatmint

I have two heuchera varieties, neither are particularly stunning. I just don't have enough shade to get into them. But yours are so pretty!

August 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRobin Ruff Leja

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>