All About Gardening and Gardening Q & A
by Pernell Gerver

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"You Gotta See These New Coral Bells!"

Coral bells is a perennial grown primarily for its showy foliage. It's a very easy-to-grow perennial that grows well in shady spots in the garden and it combines nicely with hostas and other shade-loving perennials.

Coral bells forms a tidy clump of foliage, and although it's grown mainly for its showy leaves, it does bloom and that's where it gets its common name. It bears small, bell-shaped flowers that dangle down from its stems. Flower color includes salmon, pink, coral, and white. The flowers are held on slender stems that stand well above the foliage. Most bloom in spring, but there are some that bloom in late summer and autum.

In recent years, hybridizers have been doing lots of work with coral bells, creating stunning new foliage colors and shapes. Foliage colors include purple, maroon, chartreuse, and green and many have striking contrasting silver or black veins. Foliage shape is also diverse, ranging from heart shaped to deeply-cut, maple shaped. Click on a plant name below to order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

Heuchera 'Miracle'One of the showiest new coral bells is called 'Miracle.' This is a color breakthrough in coral bells. Chartreuse spring foliage transitions to a rich, deep brick red with maturity, keeping a contrasting chartreuse margin around the edges. It’s a strong grower that bears pink, bell-shaped flowers on tall, slender flower stems in mid to late summer.

'Citronelle' has bright, citron-yellow, heart-shaped leaves that have silver undersides that really stand out in a shady spot in the garden. It forms a compact clump just 10 to 12 inches tall and 14 inches wide. In addition to its showy foliage, it also bears attractive flowers. In mid to late summer, two-foot-tall flower stems rise through the foliage and carry small, creamy-white bells.

'Beaujolais' has interesting foliage. Its rounded leaves are burgundy with a silvery cast and deep-burgundy veins. Tall flower spikes carry creamy-white-to-pink bells in mid summer. It forms a foot-tall mound of foliage.

'Earth Angel' has copper-colored, rounded leaves that have green edges. It bears red "bells" in early summer on 15- to 20-inch-tall flower stems.

'Swirling Fantasy' is a color breakthrough. It's the first coral bells with purple foliage and red flowers. Its purple foliage has a silver overlay and forms a handsome mound just a foot high and wide. Sprays of red flowers bloom above the foliage in May and June and the color combination is stunning.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Blueberries Sweetest When Dark Blue"

Q. I have had blueberry bushes for a number of years and after about the sixth year they became more tart each year. I was told to feed them with an acid fertilizer. I would love to make a blueberry pie again with my own blueberries, but it's impossible now. Thank you for your help.

A. Blueberries are one of the tastiest berries to grow in a home fruit garden. Here in western Massachusetts, blueberry picking time is just around the corner, from mid July to August.

Most varieties of blueberry grow into four- to five-foot-tall shrubs. They have small white flowers in spring and striking red foliage in autumn. They make a nice landscape plant.

A well-cared-for blueberry bush can produce as many as 20 pints of berries each season. It is also a long-lived shrub, living and bearing berries for up to 40 years. For the best yields, it's a good idea to plant at least two different varieties of blueberries for good cross pollination. Blueberries are classified into early-, mid-, and late-season varieties. By planting a bush or two of each type, you can have the longest possible picking season.

Blueberries do best in acidic soil with a pH range of 4.0 to 5.0. When planting new blueberry plants, mix a generous amount of peat moss into the planting hole. The peat moss will help acidify the soil as well as add organic matter. On established blueberry bushes, use an acidifying fertilizer such as ammonium sulfate each spring.

Regular watering is important in producing sweet berries. The sweetest berries are those that are dark blue. Don't pick them right away when they first turn blue since they will still be sour. Wait at least a week to allow them to fully ripen before picking. Since not all the berries will ripen at the same time, pick them once a week or so.

To help conserve soil moisture apply a mulch. A good mulch to use on blueberries is aged sawdust. Apply a four-inch-thick layer beneath the plants and replenish it as needed each year.

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