How to grow heuchera
Prized for their fantastic foliage in a choice of bold colours, from deep purple to zingy lime, these compact, well-behaved plants are perfect for containers and borders, thriving in light shade.
- Easy-to-grow evergreen perennials
- Range of striking foliage colours
- Form compact, rounded, leafy clumps
- Prefer dappled or light shade
- Grow in borders and containers
- Provide valuable colour in winter
- Produce dainty flowers in summer that attract bees
All you need to know
What are heucheras?
Heucheras are popular border and container plants, grown for their colourful leaves. They are perennial, so live for many years, are easy to grow and need little maintenance.
They form low, neat mounds (20–30cm/8–12in high) of evergreen leaves, which provide interest all year round. They also send up small dainty flowers on wiry stems in summer. Heucheras are hardy, so don’t need any winter protection. However, in colder regions the leaves of some plants may die off over winter, but will re-sprout reliably in spring.
Originally from North America, heucheras have been widely bred to produce many cultivars, with leaves in various bold colours.
Closely related tiarellas and heucherellas like similar growing conditions and make good companion plants.
How to choose heucheras
The foliage is the main attraction, and there is a huge range of bold, exciting colours to choose from, including:
pewter and silvery-greys (‘Burgundy Frost’)
oranges, peach, copper (‘Marmalade’)
The leaves may be marbled or have contrasting veins (‘Green Spice’), margins or undersides. The leaf edges may be wavy, ruffled (‘Sashay’) or scalloped, providing textural interest too.
Most heucheras are evergreen, especially in milder parts of the UK, providing year-round colour. In colder regions, or in especially cold winters, some leaves may die off, but plants will produce fresh ones in spring. If planting for winter interest in particular, choose reliably evergreen cultivars (avoid cultivars described as ‘semi-evergreen’) and/or plant in a warm, sheltered spot.
Heuchera leaves can be used to complement or contrast with other nearby plants, to great effect:
Silvery-grey foliage is ideal for brightening a shady spot or for teaming with other flowers in pastel hues
Dark purple, coppery or lime-green leaves work well in tropical plantings, contrasting well with bright, exotic blooms
Heucheras mingle well with other plants, as well as looking good en masse as ground cover, either a single colour or a tapestry of different hues
Bold or unusual colours, such as purple, maroon, peach or lime, are popular in contemporary-style gardens
The flowers are an added bonus, generally delicate and frothy rather than showy. They stand above the leafy mounds on upright wiry stems, and the tiny bells can be green, white, pink or red. Some have been bred to be more striking, such as bright pink ‘Magic Wand’ and ‘Lipstick’. They first appear in early summer, then often continue in flushes through to autumn.
The flowers are popular with pollinating insects, including bees.
To help support our declining bees, butterflies and other pollinators, fill your garden with our recommended pollinator-friendly plants
Heucheras are compact, with their mounds of foliage generally around 20–30cm (8–12in) tall and wide, so they’re ideal for small spaces and large containers of all kinds.
Most heucheras thrive in partial or dappled shade, where their bright leaf colours are particularly valuable. Darker-leaved cultivars can often tolerate more sun, and it may even enhance their colour, but paler-leaved plants can easily get bleached or scorched in a bright spot. Once established, many heucheras cope well in dry shade (just not bone dry for months in summer), so are valuable as ground cover under trees.
Narrowing down your choices
There are 14 heucheras with an RHS Award of Garden Merit, which means they performed particularly well in RHS trials, so are reliable choices.
To browse photos and descriptions of heucheras, go to RHS Find a Plant. You can also search by leaf colour, flower colour, growing position and RHS Award of Garden Merit.
How to buy heucheras
These popular plants are available nearly all year round in garden centres, nurseries and from online suppliers. In spring, young plants are often sold in 9cm (3½in) pots, while more mature plants in larger pots, up to 2 litres, are available through summer and autumn.
Some may also be available as small ‘plug plants’ from mail-order suppliers in spring. These are usually cheaper to buy, but need to be carefully looked after indoors for a month or more until they are large enough to plant outside. See our guide to buying mail-order plants for details of how to look after plug plants.
Where to plant heucheras
Plant in the ground or in large containers
Most like partial or dappled shade, although some dark-leaved cultivars can be planted in a sunnier spot to improve the depth of leaf colour. Paler-leaved cultivars tend to get scorched by too much sun
These compact plants deserve a front-row position – they work well lining the front of a border or mingling with other low-growing plants in a prominent spot
Many heucheras cope well in dry shade, so are useful for planting under trees or shrubs with a light canopy
For a bold splash of colour, plant in large groups, either a single colour or a patchwork of contrasting or complementary hues
When to plant heucheras
Spring and autumn are the best times to plant, when the ground is moist and warm, so they settle in easily
They can, however, be planted at any time of year, as long as the ground isn’t frozen in winter or parched in summer
If planting in summer, take extra care to water regularly, as they will struggle to get established in hot, dry conditions
How to plant
Heucheras, along with their close relatives tiarellas and heucherellas, are easy to plant, both in the ground and in containers. Simply follow our guides below.
Before planting, dig lots of organic matter (such as garden compost at roughly a bucketful per sq m/yd) into the whole planting area, not just into the planting hole. This will improve the soil and encourage the roots to grow outwards.
Take care to position plants at the same level they were previously growing, or slightly higher, as heucheras are prone to rotting if their crown (centre) is buried.
Water newly planted heucheras well, to settle them in. Then continue watering regularly for at least the first growing season
When watering, avoid wetting the leaves, as this can encourage fungal diseases and rotting
Established heucheras should only need watering during long dry spells
Plants in containers dry out quickly, because there is only a limited amount of compost. So they need regular watering through spring and summer. In hot weather you may need to water daily. Don’t let the compost get waterlogged though, especially in winter – if they are getting soggy ideally move containers to a sheltered spot over winter, such as at the base of a wall or fence, protected from heavy rain
Water: collecting, storing and re-using
RHS video guide to watering efficiently
Lay a thick mulch of organic matter (such as garden compost) around the plants each spring. This will help to deter weed germination and hold moisture in the soil through summer. Just take care to leave a gap around the crown of the plant to avoid rotting.
Heucheras are prone to lifting out of the ground over winter if the soil freezes or heavy rain washes light soils from around the fleshy stems, so mulching in spring also helps to fill any gaps that have developed around the roots.
Heucheras growing in borders don’t generally need feeding. However, to give plants a boost you can apply a general-purpose fertiliser in spring, such as Fish, Blood and Bone, Vitax Q4 or Growmore. Follow the dosage instructions on the pack.
Plants growing long-term in containers will benefit from regular liquid feeds in spring and summer, as the compost will run out of nutrients after a few months.
Plant nutrition: feeding plants
Caring for older plants
Heucheras are shallow rooted and have a tendency to lift out of the ground slightly over winter, particularly on heavy clay soils. Check plants every spring and if necessary replant so the crown is just sitting on the surface.
Plants can also become straggly or woody as they age, and produce fewer leaves and flowers. So they are best divided every three to four years, to keep them vigorous and healthy. See Propagating, below.
To keep the clumps looking their best, you can cut out any dead or damaged leaves at the base of their stems at any time of year. Evergreen heucheras form a leafy clump all year round, but individual leaves will die or start to look tatty with age, so cut these out at the base.
In cold regions, the leaves of some cultivars may die off over winter. In this case, try to resist the urge to tidy up all the dead leaves until spring. They will protect the crown of the plant over winter and also provide shelter for overwintering insects.
You can also deadhead the flowers if you wish, as each stem fades. Or, once the display is over, trim off all the flower stems at the base. This ensures the plant doesn’t waste its energy producing seeds, but should instead focus on producing further flowers and fresh leaves.
The easiest way to make new plants is by dividing mature heucheras in late spring, once growth has started:
Dig up the clump, then pull off several small, vigorous sections from around the edge. Make sure each section has several roots and two or three healthy shoots
Discard the old woody centre of the plant
Plant the small sections individually into pots of free-draining potting compost with about 25 per cent added grit
Place in a sheltered, shady spot to root, and water regularly, especially in hot weather
Take care not to leave them in soggy compost, as they are susceptible to rotting
The resulting plants will be exactly the same as the parent
RHS video guide to dividing perennials
Heucheras can be grown from seed, although packeted seeds are not widely available. If you collect seeds from your own plants, the resulting offspring may differ from the parent, perhaps producing new and interesting leaf or flower colours. ‘Palace Purple’ and some variegated cultivars often ‘come true’, producing offspring that are identical to the parent.
Sow seeds indoors in spring, into pots or trays of free-draining seed compost. The seeds are tiny and need light to germinate, so don’t cover them with more compost
Transplant the seedlings into individual pots as they grow
Once the young plants are robust and growing strongly, move the pots outdoors into a sheltered spot, cool greenhouse or coldframe
They should be ready to plant into borders by autumn and should flower the following summer
Heucheras are generally healthy and trouble-free, but they are susceptible to:
Heucheras are not generally troubled by slugs or snails, so are ideal for planting in gardens where these pests are abundant.
If you’re a member of the RHS, you can use our online Gardening Advice service, via MyRHS, for all your gardening problems and queries.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.