Gardens Illustrated Magazine

How to grow Bergenia


• Bergenias are tough plants that can be grown in sun or partial shade. Most are fully hardy but in some, the leaves can be damaged by frost. They will survive drought, but will do best if the soil retains a little moisture in summer. Other than in deep shade or waterlogge­d soil, bergenias will thrive almost anywhere, but perform best in full sun. Their thick rhizomes should be planted at, or just under, the soil surface. They don’t want to be buried, as this can cause them to rot.

• Generally, bergenias are evergreen plants but leaves that are damaged by frost or slugs are best removed to make way for the new foliage to appear in spring. This also makes them look a lot neater. The purple-leaved cultivars that have wonderful winter foliage benefit from some tidying in autumn but make sure plenty of foliage remains to ensure a good display. For all bergenias, it is a good idea to remove any torn or marked leaves in summer, to keep them looking good. Bergenias will survive neglect but their poor reputation is down to them too often being left to look untidy.

• The rhizomes will slowly spread to form a dense mat so if your plants are growing beyond their allotted spot, or are dying out in the centre, you can dig them up and cut the rhizomes into pieces to replant. They root as they grow so you can cut pieces a few centimetre­s long with roots already attached, as long as they have at least one leaf rosette or bud. Replant them in small groups or even as individual pieces among your favoured companion plants.

• Division by cutting the rhizomes is the easiest way to propagate bergenias but you can also grow them from seed. The seeds need a period of cold before they germinate, and they also need light. Once they have had their cold spell, either naturally outside or by keeping them in a fridge for a couple of weeks, sow them on to the soil surface in a seed tray and keep them warm. Germinatio­n can be slow but once they start to grow, they should flower in two years. You can also sow the seed directly on to raked garden soil in spring.

• If you buy a new Bergenia, the best time to plant is in autumn so the plant will have time to become establishe­d before the winter. If you plant in summer, make sure you water plants well during dry periods, to allow them to grow their roots into the soil. They will benefit from some organic matter in the soil too, such as compost or leafmould, to encourage good root growth. A light mulch of garden compost every winter will feed them and keep them healthy. They won’t need any other feeding apart from this.

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