How to Grow Bergenia (Beginner’s Care Guide)

Bergenia is an extremely versatile flowering perennial that sprouts gorgeous petals season after season with MINIMAL care.

This plant is pest-hardy, cold-tolerant, heat-tolerant, drought-tolerant, and even grows in complete shade!

If you’re looking for a pretty flowering perennial to fill the gaps in your garden where there’s no sunlight, you can’t go wrong with bergenia.

There are dozens of different types, so depending on the type you’re growling, your care needs will vary.

Let’s dive in and learn about them!

Last updated: 8/5/21.

Quick care guide: Bergenia

Plant type Perennial
Origin Asia, Afghanistan, Himalayas
Scientific name Bergenia
Other names Elephant-eared saxifrage, elephant’s ears
Soil type Loamy, fertile, well-draining
Soil pH 5.8-7.0 (slightly acidic to slightly alkaline)
Sunlight requirement Shade, partial sunlight
Bloom season Spring, summer, fall
Colors White, green, yellow, pink, red, purple, maroon, orange
Max height 1-3 feet
Max width 12-18 inches
Low temperature -35F
High temperature 85F
Ideal temperature range 70-75F
Humidity Moderate
Watering requirements Often during first year of growth, spring, and summer
Fertilizer requirements Low
Fertilizer NPK 5-5-5
Days until germination 3-6 weeks
Days until harvest
Days until bloom 1-2 years
Speed of growth Moderate
Hardiness zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Plant depth 0.25 inches from seed
Plant spacing 10-20 inches
Plant with Ferns, hostas, bells, lillies, primula, brunnera, spotted nettle, or even grass
Don’t plant with Plants in the same family
Propagation Seeds, transplants, rhizome, cuttings
Common pests Vine weevils, gastropods, and aphids
Common diseases Downy mildew, root rot, blight, stem rot
Indoor plant No
Outdoor plant Yes
Grown in container Yes
Flowering plant Yes
Beginner friendly Yes
Care level Low (very easy)
Uses Decor, pathing, bordering, privacy hedge, filler plant, shaded plant

So, what’s bergenia?

Bergenia is a genus of pretty flowering perennials. It naturally grows in the deep woodlands where it fills gaps between places with no or minimal sunlight.

People grow it for its plant coverage, especially when planted in huge groups. It’s incredible hardy and can handle a variety of temperatures, pH, and doesn’t even need plant food.

It’s a tall, hardy plant that does well in a variety of different climates. You’ll be surprised at the different zones you can plant it in. You’ll find that it’s well adapted!

What does it look like?

Bergenia comes in a bunch of different colors, shades, and sizes.

Generally, it’s known for its large pink bunch of flowers complete with yellow or white stamen. The leaves are large and shiny.

Some bergenia have smaller leaves with wider flowers that almost look like bell-shaped, but nothing like Virginia Bluebells! Strains like purple pigsqueak have large purple leaves that become green over time.

Did you know that they’re called “pigsqueak” because they squeak when you rub their leaves together?

Others like B. stracheyi are pure pink with huge flowers that are super dense. It offers a lot of different varieties that you can mix and match to fill your garden with its summertime blooms.

Types of bergenia

There are multiple types of these plants that are commonly grown in the home garden.

If you don’t know which cultivar to start with, here are a few varieties that may interest you:

  • Winter Glow (popular, 16″ tall, 24″ wide, pink flowers on red stems)
  • Ballawley (biggest bergenia, 24″ tall, 18″ wide, red flowers on red stems)
  • Bressingham White (clusters of white flowers, short)
  • Solar Flare (variegated leaves, green and yellow leaves, 16″ tall, 18″ wide, purple flowers)

Other honorable names include Angel Kiss and Sakura.

Is it easy to grow?

YES. Bergenia is easy to grow and requires little maintenance provided that you have well-draining, fertile soil.

It’s a good plant for beginners and most will appreciate it even though it’s slow to bloom. Because of its ease of care, it’s found its way into gardens all over the world.

How to propagate bergenia

Pink bergenia flowers.
Look at those pink flowers!

There are different ways to propagate bergenia, as with most other flowering perennials. Most people start with rhizome division but don’t limit yourself.

You can go the old school route of starting from seed, or you can just buy a batch from your local nursery and get a head start.

Let’s go over each propagation technique.

Starting from seed

While sowing from seed isn’t the quickest, nor requires the least amount of work, it’s definitely the most rewarding out of all of them.

If you’re impatient or don’t have the time to wait around for germination, then it’s recommended you start with a rhizome or transplant instead.

But if you’re looking for a neat little project that pays you back with all-season color, then seed propagation is your thing.

You can buy seeds from the store or use seeds from last year’s flowers if you saved them.

Note that if you buy seeds, READ the packet and follow the directions. They’re specific to your strain of bergenia.

First, you’ll need to cold stratify your seeds. Wrap them in a damp napkin and put them in a zipper bag. Put them in the fridge for 14 days.

This will expose them to the cold and simulate winter.

Bergenia seeds have a low germination rate, so you should do a bunch at once because not all of them will sprout.

Next, you can either sow into a starter kit and move them to your garden after the last frost, or you can sow directly if you’re in the right hardiness zone.

Sow the seeds into the soil. Make sure it’s a well-draining potting mix. If possible, use the same soil as the garden soil so there’s no plant shock when you eventually move them outside.

Place 2-3 seeds per compartment and backfill with 1/4 inch of soil. Water generously then cover with a humidity dome.

Place them near a sunny window. Keep temperatures above 70F. Keep the soil moist, but never wet. Monitor for any signs of mold or fungus. Dispose of if spotted.

Bergenia seeds are extremely slow to germinate. You should expect upwards of 180 days before they’re ready to move outdoors. This is why it’s NOT for the impatient.

When they sprout and develop their first two pairs of true leaves, you can consider moving them outside. 

This is why timing when to plant the seeds can be difficult.

Starting from transplant

For those that don’t have the time to wait for germination, buying a batch of bergenia from the nursery may be your best option.

This skips the entire sowing portion and lets you get a head start on them. For the premium you pay in price, it may be worth it!

The process is simple: buy the seedlings and then plant them in your garden. Use a depth similar to the container they came in.

Space them about 20-30 inches apart. Water generously, then reduce to regular amounts. Choose an area that’s shady, as this is not a full sun plant.

Note the size of your bergenia. If it’s established and large, you’ll want to use a larger space. Smaller plants use a smaller plot.

The hole should be 2-3 times the size of the root ball. It should be fully covered in soil when you plant it, but no need to push down on it.

Some people let new plants sit in their new environment for a few hours each day to harden them off. This lets them get acclimated to their new area.

Continue to monitor for the next few weeks. Note that seeing some of the flowers turn color or die-off is normal as it adjusts to its new environment.

Rhizome division/cuttings

If you have established plants, you can harvest the rhizomes and divide them to propagate your bergenia.

Do this during the fall after the flowers have wilted and fallen off.

Don’t do this during bloom season or else you’ll kill the plant. As winter approaches, the plant stops producing flowers so it’s safe to divide.

Gently uproot it by digging around the base of the plant.

Once you can dislodge it from the soil, pick it up and clean off the root ball. It may help to spray it down with water to loosen the dirt clumps.

Next, grab a pair of scissors and then sterilize them.

Cut the rhizome into equal parts. Each part should have at least 2” of rhizome with its own piece of root, bud, and runners.

Plant each piece of the rhizome into its new home. Use the same depth as the original plant. Space them accordingly (10+ inches apart).

Water generously.

Rhizomes that have been cut can also be stored for later use. They sit well in compost and are kept humid with a dome. When they root, you need to plant them though.

Starting from the rhizome is the quickest way to get your garden full of gorgeous pretty bergenia flowers.

This will also keep the color schemes the same because you use the same original plants in your garden. When you start from seed, you don’t know what you’re getting because you may get hybrids plants.

So if you’re trying to keep the same flower colors going, use rhizome reproduction for guaranteed results!

How to care for bergenia

Here’s the real meat of the guide.

Depending on the cultivar you’re growing, these instructions may vary. However, you can use these as a general guideline to start from.

Hardiness zone

Bergenia grows in zones 2-10, but the species will determine the “real” zone. You can generally direct sow after the last frost in spring has passed if you’re in these zones.

If not, you may want to sow indoors if it’s cold. Bergenia is cold hardy so it’s not usually an issue. If you’re in the right zone, plant it somewhere cool and shady in your garden. No need to worry about sunlight!

Note that these zones may vary depending on the cultivar you’re growing.

Soil

Chose a rich, fertile, well-draining soil that supplies plenty of nutrients for this hungry plant. Berg

Bergenia doesn’t tolerate wet feet and will easily develop rot or mildew if you let it sit in water. You need to ensure that your soil drains well.

It likes gritty soils, so you can add some grit mixed in to help it grow.

Consider adding some rocks to the base of the plot to help drainage. Loamy soils do just fine. Humus-rich soils are good too. Sandy, clay, or heavy soils are also excellent candidates for growing bergenia.

Soil pH

Keep the pH between 5.8-7.5 or higher. It’s not too picky about the pH range and will thrive in a variety of different values. It can tolerate acidic, neutral, or alkaline pH.

You can amend if needed to bring the pH to alkaline levels. If you don’t know your pH value, use a soil test kit to find out.

Depth

If you’re planting seeds, you only need to plant them a quarter-inch deep.

When planting rhizomes or seedlings plant them back in the same depth they were when you dug them up.

Spacing

Space your plants 10 inches apart. Provide more space if possible. This will provide your plants ample room to grow. Remove any weeds or competing plants nearby.

Watering

Water when the top 1 inch of soil is dry. Allow it to dry out between waterings. If still moist, let it dry out before you water again.

You can use a moisture meter for precise measurements if needed. Again, they hate to be wet. When you water, aim at the base of the plant- never water the leaves or the flowers. This will lead to rot, mildew, or mold.

Of course, account for rainwater, the current season, and more. If it rained, you don’t need to water that day. Exercise common sense.

Fertilizer

Bergenia is a light-feeding plant and doesn’t need much to thrive.

You can supplement with a balanced general purpose plant food if you want, but it’s not necessary, especially for potted plants. Don’t feed any plant food during the first year of growth, only the second season.

Use a liquid-based fertilizer (5-5-5 NPK). The nutrition from the soil column should be enough if you’re using a rich, fertile soil. Thus no need for plant food.

Sunlight

Plant in the shady areas around your garden.

If you’re in a warmer zone, plant them in the northern part of your garden. Facing north or northeast can get them that morning sunlight exposure and none of the harmful afternoon peak sunlight.

While bergenia is traditionally a shady plant, it can be planted in full sun or partial sun if you’re in the right zone. Some people like full shade, others like partial sun. A mix between the two extremes is good, providing 3-6 hours of dappled sunlight will be enough.

You can help reduce the damage from sunlight by planting near taller plants, using an umbrella, or even adding some mulch around the base of the plant.

Mulch is an insulator, which will help reduce the effect of drastic temperature changes. It also helps reduce watering by keeping it moist. But never cover the root crown of the plant.

If you plan them in full sun, they’ll wilt from the heat of the afternoon rays. You may notice stunting growth, smaller flowers, burnt leaves, or yellowing of the leaves as well.

These can do fine in full sun if you’re in a cooler zone with mild summers. But for the rest of us, plant it in the shade! It’s the perfect choice for shade gardens.

Cooler climates (zones 2-5) are OK for full sun planting. Warmer climates (6 and up) are best suited for shaded planting.

Temperature

The ideal range for growing bergenia is between 70-80F. But it can tolerate ranges as low as -35F to 110F. That’s quite impressive.

Although bergenia likes shade, note that this doesn’t mean they like the cold weather. If the temperatures are too low, the flower can be damaged by it.

The leaves of bergenia do fine since they’re more resilient to the cold, but the flower buds will be harmed.

Humidity

Bergenia is a low humidity plant and doesn’t tolerate wet feet.

Because of its dense flowers and foliage, it can lead to root rot or mildew.

You can avoid this by regularly pruning spent flowers, not watering the leaves, and spacing each bergenia plant at least 30 inches apart from one another.

If you have humidity issues in your garden, consider spacing them out further, reducing watering, switching to drip irrigation, or pruning them more often.

Pruning

Bergenia requires little maintenance or pruning other than trimming off the spent flowers. In the springtime, remove any flowers or leaves that wilted over wintertime.

Don’t go crazy over this, as you only want to remove flowers that are seriously damaged so bugs don’t come and eat them.

Since bergenia is a slow-growing plant, removing excess inhibits the ability of the plant to protect itself over the next winter. You’re basically taking its clothes off and throwing it out into the cold. Don’t do that.

The same goes for spent flower stalks.

You can deadhead them before the winter to prevent them from being destroyed from pests getting their last meal in for the winter. No reason to leave any wilting foliage behind.

To keep it simple: if you see wilting leaves, cut them off. If you don’t, do nothing.

Companion plants

Some of the best plants to pair with bergenia are other flowering plants. Then you can really have a garden full of color.

Consider complimenting your bergenia with ferns, hostas, bells, lillies, primula, brunnera, spotted nettle, or even grass.

Plants that suppress weeds or are of different shapes can easily make them stand out. Use contrasting colors or shapes for an awesome gardenscape.

Overwintering

Bergenia will tolerate the winter if planted in zones 7-9. They can handle the cold if planted in a container or supplemented with mulch.

Start adding compost to your soil in early winter. You can also add chopped or straw mulch to help insulate it from temperature dips.

Leaves from your garden can also be used as compost. Otherwise, collect the seeds and plant them again next season if you want to expand your plot.

Seed harvesting

Harvesting the seeds is simple. Look inside the flowers and look for a pair of “bowling pins.” Bergenia seeds are tiny and can be easy to mistake for debris.

They’re dried, crispy, and can be found inside the seed pods. If you break the pod apart, the seeds will fall out. Make sure you have something to catch them on.

They’re tiny like grains of dust but slightly elongated. They’re dark brown to tan and you can easily harvest 50 or more seeds per seed pod.

Seed storage

Seeds should be kept dry and stored at room temp. Keep them in a small envelope so they don’t spill everywhere. Keep them dry. They’re good until the next sowing season in the spring. Use or dispose of.

The flowers can also be cut and dried for later use.

Container planting

Bergenia is a good plant for container planting.

It takes well to being a container as long as it’s well-draining and provides enough nutrients. It thrives in pots.

Some things you should know:

  • When container planting, good quality soil is a must
  • Poor draining soil will clump or clog your pot
  • Make sure you have multiple drainage holes
  • Never overwater or over-fertilize because these can buildup
  • Put a layer of rocks or pebbles to prevent clumping
  • Choose a container that’s the right size for bergenia
  • Upgrade the container when the runners touch the edges
  • Keep the soil moist, but not wet. The blooms won’t be as impressive as soil planting, but will still grow regardless.

The benefit of planting in pots is that you can move it around as needed. Choose a pot that’s at least 12” in diameter and 2-3 times the depth of the root ball, plus 8 inches in depth.

Don’t be afraid to splurge on a good potting mix because you’ll need it.

Pests

Bergenia is relatively pest-free but there are a few that you need to be on the lookout for.

Specifically, vine weevils, gastropods, and aphids.

These are common bugs that show up on flowering plants and it’s no surprise that they like to munch on the pretty flowers of bergenia. Most can be controlled with regular pruning, manual removal, and insecticidal soap.

Since this isn’t an edible plant, you don’t need to be so careful with using synthetics. But I’d suggest opting into organic or natural pesticides when possible.

Diseases

Bergenia is susceptible to rhizome rot, leaf rot, and root root. You can minimize this by not overwatering and regularly pruning.

Best uses

Bergenia is a good filler plant or for plant cover. In the wild, it naturally grows in woodlands in the northern US.

You can fulfill this nature by planting them on the edges of your garden to fill it up with something to prevent bare zones.

Since it is like shade, it does well as fencing, bordering, or pathing plants. Do you know that place next to your garden fence that gets no sunlight? Bergenia is a good candidate to fill that space.

Plant them in groups or contrasting colors with other bergenia cultivars or flowering perennials for a mix of shapes and sizes. They do well in containers also so they’re extremely portable.

Fresh cut bergenia can also do well as a vase plant indoors or outdoors.

Other common question about bergenia care

Bergenia pink flowers growing in the garden.
Pretty pink flowers growing in the garden.

You may find these other commonly asked questions from readers beneficial. If you have any questions of your own, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

What’s eating the leaves on my bergenia?

Vine weevils are very common as they happily feast on the large, tender leaves. If you see random holes, jagged edges, or yellowing foliage, it may be due to weevils.

You can control them by pruning off infested leaves and applying an insecticide.

Gastropods (slugs, snails, etc.) also eat their way through the leaves. They love the soft tender foliage as well. These can be controlled by making a beer trap, removing them by hand, or using some kind of snail killer.

Sucking insects will chew through the leaves and leave behind small holes. Dish soap mixed with water can kill them.

Rabbits will also eat the leaves. This should be easy to spot if you have them in your area. Fence off or discourage rabbits by using repellents.

When do they flower?

Bergenia is a slow-growing plant and will take 1-2 years before you see flowers. The first year is just growth. This is why you shouldn’t start from seed if you’re impatient.

Can they take full sun?

You should avoid planting in full sun because they like shade. Full sun exposure may lead to wilting, stunting growth, or scorching.

Can they grow in the sun?

If you’re in a zone with mild summers, then partial sun should be OK.

You can plant with taller plants nearby or use an artificial shade like an umbrella or row covers to help block out sunlight.

Do they like shade?

Yes, they like the shade. If you’re planting in USDA zones 2-9, you should plant in the shade.

For regions with mild summers, you can plant in partial sun. Avoid full sun because it can scorch it easily and end up with dried foliage.

Perennial or annual?

Bergenia is an annual evergreen. If grown in the right zone and cared for, it should come back every year on its own.

You can also harvest the seeds from the pods and plant them anywhere you want since you get over 50 seeds per pod! How profitable!

Further reading/references

Some links you may get some value out of:

Enjoy your bergenia!

Pink flowers? Check.

Bergenia is an easy-to-grow plant that really fills the void in your garden.

They can be used for areas that receive little to no sunlight and will thrive there.

They don’t ask for much in terms of work but provide you with gorgeous flowering foliage that really catches the eye with their bright pink.

What do you think? Have you grown bergenia before? Leave your questions or tips in the comments and share them with fellow growers!

1 thought on “How to Grow Bergenia (Beginner’s Care Guide)”

  1. Yes I have a large patch of Bergenia, my only wish is that they would stay in bloom longer or would bloom all summer. I live in Saskatchewan Canada, it gets very cold here in the winter, and they come back every spring. It is the most beautiful plant to see in the spring. Stays in bloom for about a month or so. Can I do something to get it to bloom longer? Would like a reply. Thanks Phyl

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