Plant perennials such as heuchera that contain a large amount of color in their leaves

Plant perennials such as heuchera that contain a large amount of color in their leaves

Coral bells or heucheras are a favorite perennial in many gardens. These plants are easy to care for, and when it comes to ornamental plants for your gardens or borders, coral bells can provide colorful flowers as well as foliage. It attracts pollinators and resists deer.

Decades-long research at the Chicago Botanic Garden, led by Experiments Director Richard Houck, tests plants like coral bells for plant growth, flowering, and ability to ward off disease and insects, as well as how they get through the winter.

Although Houck conducts research on ornamental plants in Chicago, the climate is similar enough that research on coral bells could benefit home gardeners here.

Some of the plants that Houck has researched and found to grow well are the coral bells in his “Carnival” series. 'Carnival Cocoa Mint' is a very small coral bell plant, only about 5 inches tall. It has green leaves with purple and burgundy veins, with some wrinkles on the edge of the leaf. Because of their small size when fully grown, these are a great addition to small rock gardens.

Another in the “Carnival” series is called “Watermelon”. This plant grows 16 inches tall and produces bright pink flowers with glossy salmon leaves. 'Silver Gumdrops' is a deep purple with silvery purple leaves and pretty red flowers that will appear in summer. Dark purple 'Winterberry' grows 15 inches tall with glossy leaves.

They also grow best in well-drained, organic soil that remains moist. At this time of year, if you already have coral bells in your gardens, keep an eye on them for frost because the roots are not very deep. If pushed out of the ground, the roots can dry out and kill the plant. Perhaps the main tip for growing coral bells is to give them a little afternoon shade. This way, the colored papers will not burn.

Leave broken lilac branches or prune them down?

Question: Hi Charlie, a question for you about spring pruning: This winter's blizzards and wet winds have destroyed a lot of lilacs and broken several main tree trunks. I have cleaned and cut all the broken branches but now I'm wondering if it would be better to prune a lot of the lilacs to the ground and reshape them, rather than cutting the tree stems at 3 or 4 feet high. Nature is a messy pruner!

Andrew, in Adamant

A: Broken lilac branches are never fun, especially when they break from ice and snow.

In order to prune it so that it blooms again, cut all those broken branches either to a side branch or to the main trunk. If there isn't much left of the main lilac bush after doing this, it may be helpful to cut it back to about 1 foot high. Then, in the spring, let the suckers come.

It will likely take another three or four years for these suckers to grow enough to produce flowers, but at least you have a nicer-looking shrub as it grows.

Help clean up the red raspberry patch

Q: I discovered a large, old red raspberry patch on my property. How can I rehabilitate it and turn it into a productive patch?

-Erica, in Ferrisburg

A: Currently, the cranberry patch may look worse for wear. He may show signs of infection with a virus or illness, but it is possible to return to productivity.

If you can, try cutting the trail across the patch and leave clumps of wild blueberry bushes 3 to 4 feet wide.

Next, thin it out by removing all dead, thin or diseased branches, preferably leaving the thick canes.

Finally, spread a generous amount of compost and tree wood chips around the base of the shrubs. Doing this will keep weeds away and help your raspberry bushes grow better.

Then, later in the year, you should have a beautiful berry crop!

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