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Coral bells with a difference


This Primo Wild Rose Heuchera from Proven Winners is a lovely wine purple. These plants brighten up shady spots. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

New varieties come in eye-popping colors



This nostalgic favorite has a bold new look – thanks to clever breeding.

The little flowers above the leaves add
a cute touch in spring.
Coral bells, the common name for the Heuchera family, are relatively easy to hybridize. Different species and parents readily cross with each other, creating new varieties with all sorts of interesting characteristics. There are fewer than 40 species of Heuchera (including several native to California and the Southwest), but hundreds of named hybridized varieties.

Their often-variegated foliage comes in almost every color, from creamy white to silvery charcoal. As a bonus, charming sprigs of flowers – the bells – sprout from the low-growing mass of attractive deeply cut leaves.

Great choices for a low-water garden, Heucheras are naturally drought-tolerant perennials; they need only weekly or twice monthly irrigation. Most bloom readily in partial shade. And they’re super low care; just snip off the spent flowers. Like most perennials, they die back in winter, but come on strong each spring.

My favorite Heuchera right now adds a brilliant splash of wine purple in a shady spot next to the patio. Part of the Primo series from Proven Winners, Primo Wild Rose holds its unusual color throughout the year. The vivid leaves are veined in dark gray and glisten with a metallic touch. The pink flowers? They’re just cute.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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