Entries in native plants (9)


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


Virginia Sweetspire, A Great Native Shrub

I am very pleased with Virginia Sweetspire, Itea virginica. Several of these shrubs grow on the outer edge of my woodland garden, farthest from the house. I almost forgot about them this year, until their abundant 4 inch long tassels of white blooms caught my attention.

How beautiful, I thought as I examined the mildly fragrant racemes of flowers. I have done little for these shrubs since I planted them a couple years ago. How nice that they rewarded me without any fuss. 

As lovely as the late spring to early summer flowers are, the most outstanding feature of this deciduous shrub is its fabulous autumn foliage. The names of several popular cultivars reflect that attribute, including 'Henry's Garnet' and 'Merlot.'Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet' grows in my woodland garden. I love the gorgeous colors of its fall foliage.

Itea virginica is native to the eastern part of North America, and it reminds me of how little maintenance is required of plants that are indigenous to a region. In the wild, Virginia Sweetspire naturalizes easily. It has an erect form with arching branches. My young Virginia Sweetspire is about three feet tall.It will spread by root suckers and can form thickets. It is an excellent plant for erosion control. The root-sucking habit is more pronounced in moist soil. If one doesn't want the plant to spread, the suckers can be removed easily.

Growing in planting zones 5 to 9, best color and blooms occur in full sun to light shade. It likes well drained soil rich in humus, but it adapts to clay soil and is tolerant of both wet and dry situations once established. Rootball division is the easiest form of propagation. Depending on the cultivar, Virginia Sweetspire will grow from about 2 to 6 feet tall and wide. For most prolific blooms, fertilize yearly. Pruning may be done for shaping or to control size but otherwise is not necessary. Because it blooms on old wood, or the previous year's growth, any pruning should done right after it blooms. Pruning earlier in the year will remove the flower buds. Of course, dead wood may be removed at any time.

Virginia Sweetspire is a great shrub for the woodland or wildlife garden. The flower nectar attracts butterflies and other pollinating insects, its seeds provide food for birds, and the dense mass of leaves offer cover for wildlife.