In winter, the extraordinary bergenia comes into its own: the bright autumn colour remains throughout the winter. Creating a beautiful array of colours with snow and frost.
Bergenias (Bergenia spec.) not only have beautiful flowers and leaves but are also easy to care for and hardy. It is precisely for this reason that the plant was named Perennial of the Year in 2017 and has since become increasingly common in gardens.
Bergenia flowering time and origin
Bergenia are often referred to as elephant’s ears or heart leaf and are a member of the saxifrage family (Saxifragaceae). Native to the high mountains of Central Asia, Bergenia cordifolia is a naturally occurring species and is mostly used for cultivars. In Europe, in addition to the original elephant’s ear bergenia in garden centres, you can often find hybrids, which are the result of breeding. Bergenia leaves are about 35 cm in size, rounded and rich green. They are spirally arranged, short stemmed and evergreen. The beautiful autumn colouring in red, bronze and violet tones lasts until spring and makes the bergenia a must have in the winter garden. When the plant blooms from April to May, strong flower stems are formed, which emerge from between the leaves. The flower stems are 30 to 40 cm long and have a richly branched, winding flowerhead. Depending on the variety, the flowers are white, pink, purple or red. They provide a moderate supply of pollen and nectar for bees, bumblebees and other insects.
Tip: The flowers of the bergenia can be used as cut flowers and provide a nice, textural contrast to other flower shapes.
The most beautiful bergenias
The most popular varieties of Bergenia include those that show a special leaf colouration or flowering.
- Bergenia cordifolia: this species is quite commonly traded. It is also known as the heartleaf bergenia. This is a reasonably hardy and easy to care for species.
- Bergenia purpurascens: the red leaved bergenia gets even more intensely coloured foliage in autumn than Bergenia cordifolia.
- Bergenia crassifolia: one of the most beautiful wild species is the thick-leaf bergenia, which is also used to make Siberian tea. You can use them, for example, in rock gardens.
- Bergenia cordifolia ‘Snow Queen’: the initially brilliant white flowers turn to a soft pink after a short time. This spectacle is a great combination with the evergreen leaves.
- Bergenia cordifolia ‘Eroica’: the intense red colour on the underside of the leaves in autumn makes this variety special. Due to the robust stem, only their flowerheads are suitable for cut flower use. The flowers are red and purple.
- Bergenia cordifolia ‘Baby Doll’: with this variety the name says it all because it remains small, compact and grows only about 25 cm high. It has light pink flowers.
Bergenias thrive in a shady area that is not too dark, but bloom best in a sunny location. In general, the flowers are undemanding, they can be planted both in rock gardens and in open spaces, as well as on woodland borders. The soil should be rich in nutrients, humus and skeletal, that is, coarse-grained and permeable. A moderately dry or fresh soil is ideal, as the plants generally tolerate drought better than high humidity. When planting, be sure to provide a sufficient planting distance of 35 to 40 cm, as bergenia grows wider over time. You can plant about five plants per square metre. It is best to plant bergenia in the spring.
Follow these tips for planting:
- Dig a planting hole approximately twice the size of the root ball.
- If necessary, you can enhance the soil, for example, by mixing in our Plantura Organic Flower Compost. It is coarse, yet humus, which meets the planting area requirements of Bergenia.
- Place the bergenia in the planting hole. The plant may sit a little lower than it did in the pot.
- Fill in the gaps with soil and carefully press down.
- Water well.
Likewise, bergenia can be cultivated in pots. The container should have a volume of at least ten litres. For planting in a pot, it is best to use a humus-rich substrate, such as our Plantura Organic Flower Compost. Our organic compost is in the slightly acidic pH range and naturally contains all the essential nutrients to provide the ideal starting conditions for Bergenia. Creating a drainage layer for water drainage is highly recommended for pot culture.
Companion plants: Bergenias can be combined with other wild bergenia species and hybrids, as well as ferns and grasses such as sedge (Carex) or fescue (Festuca).
The plants are extremely easy to care for. In the spring, leaves that have turned brown can be pruned to make room and provide light for the new shoots.
The plants require nutrient-rich soil, so they should be fertilised regularly from spring to autumn. So that you do not have to apply fertiliser weekly, a fertiliser with long-term effects, such as our Plantura Flower Food is ideal. It is lightly worked into the soil and soil organisms then gradually releases nutrients that the bergenia absorbs. The fertiliser lasts for several months, so fertilising in the spring is enough for the whole year.
Potted bergenia should be watered regularly, but do not have large water requirements. For outdoor cultures, it is sufficient to water during prolonged drought, but even a short dry period cannot harm the plants.
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Tip: After a few years, old stems of bergenia may look sparse because no new leaves have formed at the base of the creeping stem shoots. To prevent this, it helps to injure the creeping shoots annually with a sharp object such as a spade. The injury sets off a hormonal chain reaction that causes new leaves to sprout. Vigorous pruning and dividing plants will also provide more vigorous, dense and beautiful growth.
My bergenia is not flowering: what to do?
Although the plants are quite hardy, it can still happen that a bergenia simply does not bloom. This may be due to the following reasons:
- Hibernation: if potted bergenias are overwintered at temperatures that are too warm, they may fail to flower in the spring.
- Young plants: young bergenias need 12 to 24 months until they form the first flowers after propagation.
- Too shady location: if it is too dark, the bergenia should be transplanted to a sunny location.
- Too much fertiliser: over-fertilisation can also lead to failure to bloom. If none of the above causes apply, you should reduce fertiliser applications.
- Dampness: prolonged waterlogging will cause root rot, which will cause the plant to die. Therefore, you should make sure that water can drain well.
Are bergenia hardy?
In general, bergenia are hardy and evergreen. Bergenia cordifolia can even tolerate temperatures as low as -35 °C. However, frost damage may occur on some leaves. If they are considered a nuisance, they can be pruned in the spring. From autumn, the plants should not be fertilised and should be pruned so that they survive the cold season.
How to overwinter bergenia:
- Leave bergenia in the tub outside in winter and wrap with fleece.
- In spring, you can cover flower buds with brushwood or fir branches. The protection is removed only shortly before flowering to protect them from late frosts.
There are several ways to propagate bergenia. The simplest method is division of the mother plant. This involves digging up the healthy and vigorous mother plant in summer, dividing the root ball with a sharp knife or spade, and replanting the partial plants in a suitable location.
To get more seedlings from propagation, use bergenia rhizome cuttings for propagation in the autumn. For this purpose, you can take old, leafless rhizomes. They are simply dug up and cut off. Cut the rhizomes into 4 to 5 cm long pieces and press them into compost about 5 cm apart, for example in a seed tray. The roots should be oriented downwards, and excessively long roots are better trimmed a little. The upper half of the rhizome cuttings peeks out of the ground. Now the substrate is watered well and kept at about 21 °C. Keep the humidity high by covering, then after ten to twelve weeks transplantable seedlings will form that will bloom next season.
Alternatively, propagation by seed is possible. Here you sometimes find hybrids of different varieties or even species, or different bergenia planted next to each other, because they hybridise relatively easily. For propagation, the seed must be collected from the faded flowerheads in the summer. In spring, distribute the seeds in trays with compost such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost.
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The seed is not covered or only lightly covered with soil, which results in light germination. Place the trays in a bright spot at around 21 °C and keep the substrate moist. After about four to six weeks, you can expect seedlings to appear. After germination, the bergenias are placed at slightly cooler temperatures, at about 15 °C. Here they can form more leaves and then be planted outdoors. After two years the seedlings will then bloom for the first time.
Are bergenias poisonous?
No, bergenia are not poisonous. Bergenia crassifolia is used medicinally in Russia, Tibet and Mongolia and is also being researched in our country. However, because it contains the hydroquinone arbutin, which is liver-damaging and possibly carcinogenic and mutagenic in larger amounts, bergenia should not be consumed on a regular basis.
Bergenia is the ideal plant for a rock garden. Our special article reveals how to create a rock garden and what plants are suitable.