Coral bells (Heuchera spp.) come in a rainbow of colours and thrive in nearly all sun conditions. These low-growing charmers are some of the most versatile herbaceous perennials for gardens in USDA zones 4 through 9.
Though they have plenty to offer on their own, where coral bells truly shine is alongside other ornamental plants. If you have a gap in your landscape design, I’m willing to bet a coral bell would fit the space nicely.
Good companion plants for coral bells are incredibly varied in both style and needs. In this article, I’ll introduce you to some of my favourites for a variety of garden applications.
What Are Companion Plants?
It’s not complicated. Companion planting is a technique of combining different plant species to create a garden bed that is more self-sufficient or otherwise improved.
The whole premise behind companion planting is that combining two or more plant types results in them growing better together than they would apart. Certain combinations can deter insects, attract more pollinators, and even add vital nutrients to the soil.
Tips for Companion Planting with Coral Bells
Companion planting is traditionally used in food gardens to both increase harvest size and reduce the need for resources like chemical pesticides, mulch, and structural supports.
While this practice is quite old, it’s still used today in countless home vegetable gardens with great results. Many modern practitioners don’t even really realize what they’re doing. They just know from word-of-mouth or personal experience that some plants grow better together.
Coral bells, however, aren’t an edible crop. So why would you utilize tenets of companion planting with this and other ornamentals?
In most cases, ornamental companion planting simply results in a healthier, more attractive landscape overall. You don’t need to follow the rules of companion planting to achieve this. But carefully chosen companions create a much more sustainable and harmonious — not to mention, low-maintenance! — garden than random bedmates.
Best Companion Plants for Coral Bells
As for how to start companion planting, the main thing to keep in mind is that all plants in a bed must have similar growing requirements.
For coral bells, that means choosing companions that enjoy rich, moist, and well-drained soil with a neutral or slightly acidic pH level. Sun requirements don’t matter very much since coral bells can tolerate almost any light quality.
There are an impressive number of ornamental plants capable of thriving alongside coral bells. These are just my absolute favourites:
Ajuga: Also known as bugleweed, this a fast-spreading herbaceous perennial that produces violet flowers in spring and early summer. It’s best used as a matting ground cover. (Ajuga sends out offshoots via specialized stems called stolons, similar to how a strawberry plant spreads.)
This is a great option for filling in sloped sections of landscaping or areas where other groundcover plants struggle to grow. Just keep in mind that it spreads aggressively — keep it away from naturalized areas — and is classified as invasive in some regions.
Creeping Phlox: Creeping phlox is a less-aggressive groundcover that is also low-maintenance and tolerant of many different growing environments. My favourite way to plant creeping phlox is as a ‘spiller’ along the edges of garden beds — around and in front of perennials like Heurecha.
Sweet Woodruff: Sweet Woodruff is another fast spreader that makes a good choice for a container or hanging basket flowers in the shade. It is also both deer and rabbit-resistant.
This perennial produces an extremely thick mat that can block out stubborn weeds and keep topsoil in place around your coral bells. However, it’s known to grow out of control and may need to be mowed or cut back to prevent self-seeding.
Impatiens: Tuck impatiens around your partially or fully shaded coral bells for a pop of seasonal colour. These little annuals tolerate shade incredibly well and are the perfect size for filling in small gaps in the garden.
If your coral bells are located in a sunnier spot, I recommend plating New Guinea impatiens instead. This variety is slightly larger than the regular impatiens but also more sun-tolerant.
Petunias: Petunias are one of the best flowering annuals with a spreading growth habit. While they need full sun to perform well, I really like using petunias as a border for mound-forming perennials like coral bells.
Begonia: Tuberous and fibrous begonias make great companions for partially shaded coral bells. Both types are annuals in the zones where coral bells grow but tuberous begonias can be dug up and stored through winter if desired.
Hosta: Hostas are known for enjoying the shade but certain varieties (i.e., those with more brightly coloured leaves) will grow in the sun. Since hostas typically grow taller and wider than coral bells, I recommend using them as a backdrop.
Astilbe: The feathery appearance of astilbe provides an excellent contrast to other leafy perennials. These flowering plants range in height (from about ½ to 2 feet tall) but most will tower over coral bells. Plant a number of different astilbes to prolong the flowering season for many weeks.
Trillium: These wildflowers are woodland natives that prefer moist soil and ample shade. In most regions, trillium and Heuchera sprout at about the same time. Trillium plants are short-lived, however, so can be interplanted with coral bells without risk of competition.
Fern: Japanese-painted ferns are one of the most popular ornamental varieties currently available but native species also make great garden additions. I recommend using ferns as a backdrop and leaving a good margin between them and your coral bells to prevent that latter from being swallowed up.
Bleeding Heart: Considered by many gardeners to be old-fashioned, bleeding hearts are still wonderful spring perennials for any partially shaded bed.
Most common varieties of bleeding hearts are ephemeral, meaning that they come and go within a matter of weeks. So if you want your garden to have season-long interest, I recommend also including some summer flowers in addition to your coral bells.
Japanese Forest Grass: Also known as Hakone grass, this is a mound- or clump-forming ornamental species that prefers partial shade over full sun. It is slow-growing and won’t spread aggressively like other grasses, making it ideal for use in perennial landscape designs.
Lady’s Mantle: Though unrelated, lady’s Mantle and Heuchera are very similar in general appearance. Lady’s mantle has large, low-growing foliage and feathery flowerheads. However, it lacks the range of colours seen in coral bells.
Using both plants in the same garden design will add variety without too much contrast. Just note that ladies’ mantle readily self-seeds and may be classified as invasive in your area, according to the University of Wisconsin.
Meadow Rue: This underappreciated perennial has an extremely delicate aesthetic but is surprisingly resilient. I commonly see it recommended for use alongside coral bells not just because both plants enjoy the same environment but also because they look nice together.
Some varieties can grow up to 8 feet tall, so be sure to plant meadow rue in the back of your garden!
Daylily: Clump-forming perennials — like daylilies and coral bells — tend to work extremely well together. Plus, both plants come in a range of unique colours that can be experimented with either together or separately.
Lupine: I have a soft spot for lupine in general but that has little to do with my recommendation here. Most lupine varieties are incredibly charming — looking like they came straight from a storybook — and pair up perfectly with companions like Heuchera.
Invest in native lupine strains for the best results. Introduced varieties may spread more aggressively than desired.
Pansies: Pansies are the ideal filler for any sunny patch of garden in the spring or autumn months. Depending on your climate and a bit of luck, some will return for multiple seasons but others must be reseeded each year.
Hardy Geranium: Also known as cranesbill, this herbaceous perennial is a mainstay in countless cottage gardens. I like to use it as a midsection filler between coral bells and taller perennials in the back of the bed.
Hardy geranium likes to sprawl out, so leave a healthy margin between the two when first planting.
Peonies: Placing coral bells around your peonies can help disguise the latter’s leggy growth and fill in empty sections of the garden. While peonies like to have plenty of elbow room around their underground crowns, I’ve found that coral bells rarely cause issues when planted several inches away.
Shrubs and Trees
Hydrangea: Coral bells are natural companions for hydrangeas of all kinds. Since coral bells can appear disproportionately small next to your typical hydrangea shrub, I recommend interplanting with hostas or other mid-sized perennials for balance.
Lilac: In my area, lilac shrubs are most often grown as standalone specimens. If you want to fill in the space surrounding a lilac, however, coral bells are a great option.
Rose: You can also incorporate Heuchera in your rose bed. I much prefer using coral bells for this purpose over traditional groundcover plants that may compete with the roses for resources and space.
Azalea & Rhododendron: An azalea or rhododendron shrub is a good candidate for use as a backdrop behind your favourite coral bells and any of the other low-growing plants recommended above. Opt for an evergreen variety for year-long interest.
What Not to Plant with Coral Bells
There aren’t any specific plants I blanketly advise against growing alongside coral bells. But it’s important to compare different plants’ environmental and maintenance needs as well as how they’ll look together in the garden.
Any plant variety that requires sandy or relatively dry soil will struggle to thrive in the same garden bed as Heuchera. This is also true of plants that prefer very deep shade.
Though coral bells partner up nicely with larger shrubs like hydrangeas and lilacs, be careful not to grow them too close together. Planting coral bells directly underneath a shrub’s canopy will deprive them of adequate sunlight and create competition for things like moisture and nutrients.
- University of Wisconsin Lady’s mantle plant profile
Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.