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Plant perennials like heuchera that pack a punch of color in their leaves

Plants known as coral bells grow with yellow, red and purple leaves.
Karin de Mamiel
Perennial heuchera, also known as coral bells, are native plants whose flowers provide color, but the leaves do, as well. Coral bells also grow well in our region.

Heuchera or coral bells are perennials in the evergreen family and come in many flower colors — but it's the pink, purple, and yellow foliage that packs the maximum color punch.

Coral bells or heucheras are a favorite perennial in many gardens. These plants are easy to care for and when it comes to decorative plants for your gardens or borders, coral bells can provide colorful flowers as well as foliage. And they attract pollinators and are resistant to deer.

Decades-long research at the Chicago Botanical Garden, led by trial manager Richard Hawke, tests plants like coral bells for plant growth, flowering, and the ability to ward off diseases and insects, as well as how they get through the winter.

And even though Hawke is researching ornamental plants in Chicago, the climate is similar enough that the research on coral bells can benefit home gardeners here.

Some of the plants Hawke researched and found to grow well are coral bells in the “Carnival” series. “Carnival Cocoa Mint" is a coral bell plant that is quite petite, only growing about 5 inches tall. It's got green leaves with veins that are purple and burgundy with some crinkling on the leaf edge. Because of their petite size when full grown, these are a great addition to small rock gardens.

Another in the “Carnival” series is called “Watermelon.” This one grows up 16 inches tall and produces bright pink flowers with bright salmon leaves. “Silver Gumdrops" is a deep purple one with silvery-purple leaves and beautiful red flowers that will come up in summer. And deep purple “Winterberry” grows up 15 inches tall with glossy leaves.

They also grow best in well-drained, organic soil that stays moist. And this time of year, if you've already got coral bells in your gardens, watch them for frost heaving because the roots are not very deep. If they get pushed out of the ground, the roots can dry out and kill the plant. And perhaps the key coral bell growing tip is to give them a little afternoon shade. This way, the colorful leaves won’t scorch.

Leave broken lilac branches or prune them way down?

Q: Hey Charlie, a spring pruning question for you: the wet snow and wind storms this winter trashed a lot of my lilacs and broke many of the main trunks. I've cleaned up and cut off all the broken branches but I'm wondering now if it would be best to trim a lot of the lilacs down to the ground and reshape them, instead of having tree stems that are cut off at 3 or 4 feet high. Nature is a messy pruner!
Andrew, in Adamant

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

In order to prune it so it will flower again, cut back all those broken branches to either a side branch or to the main trunk. If after doing that there's not much left to the main lilac shrub, it might be worth just cutting it right back down to about one foot tall. Then, in spring, let the suckers come up.

It will likely take another three or four years for those suckers to get old enough to produce flowers, but at least you have a nicer looking shrub while it's growing.

Help cleaning up a red raspberry patch

Q: I discovered an old, large red raspberry patch on my property. How can I rehabilitate it into a productive patch?
- Erica, in Ferrisburgh

A: At the moment, the wild raspberry patch might look worse for wear. It may even show signs of virus or disease, but it is possible to get back to being productive.

If you can, try mowing a pass through the patch and leave 3- to 4-foot-wide groups of wild raspberry bushes.

Next, thin them out by removing all the dead, thin or diseased branches, and favor leaving the thicker canes.

Lastly, spread a large amount of compost and arborist wood chips around the base of the bushes. Doing so will keep weeds out and help the raspberry bushes grow better.

Then, later this year, you should get a nice raspberry crop!

All Things Gardening is powered by you, our audience! Send us your toughest conundrums and join the fun. Submit your written question via email, or better yet, leave a voicemail with your gardening question so we can use your voice on the air! Call Vermont Public at 1-800-639-2192.

Listen to All Things Gardening Sunday mornings at 9:35 a.m., and subscribe to the podcast to listen any time.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.