If you have a shady woodland garden, then choosing to plant some delicate, simple and beautiful Hepatica could be a perfect choice. When the flowers open on sunny days, they'll add a splash of early spring color and encourage pollinators to visit.
There are several Hepatica species, and the genus is part of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). The most common species if Hepatica nobilis, referred to as Liverwort or Liverleaf. They get this name because their foliage has three lobes - just like the human liver.
These herbaceous perennial plants most commonly have dainty little flowers that come in shades of blue. They can also, however, be found in shades of pink and white.
Early bloomers, Hepatica are usually one of the first flowers to appear in any garden, and they can stay around for a few weeks.
Hepatica are often planted alongside other woodland wildflowers in clumps under tree canopies where the soil is rich or in shady rock gardens. Providing they're left undisturbed, and the conditions are right, they're regarded as being low-maintenance and long-lived.
It's worth noting, however, that Hepatica are slow to grow and they don't cope well with competition from other garden plants. They're also low-growing, usually not reaching more than six inches in height. Don't make the mistake of positioning them behind other plants that will outgrow them.
Providing your garden has the right conditions, Hepatica won't require a lot of attention once established.
The key considerations for these plants are the amount of shade they receive and ensuring they're planted in a well-drained, light and fertile soil with good moisture retention properties.
They don't appreciate being moved, so pick your spot carefully and make sure other plants don't crowd them.
Getting the right light for Hepatica is probably the most important factor. It should closely mimic their native woodland habitat.
They like to receive some early spring sunshine - without it, the flowers won't open fully. But, as the weather warms towards the summer, they need to be kept out of the direct sun.
This is why planting them under deciduous trees works well. The canopy will fill with leaves during the summer providing the shade and respite from the heat that is needed.
Hepatica are also quite particular about the type of soil they'll thrive in. It should be light, friable and well-drained, while still retaining moisture-retention properties while they grow.
When the soil is too heavy, this will cause a problem, particularly during the winter when good drainage is required.
If they're being planted under trees, their roots should help to ensure appropriate drainage.
During their growth period in the spring, Hepatica appreciate plenty of water. Adding leaf-mold or another well-rotted compost can help to ensure they retain plenty of moisture.
Once you move into the summer, providing the soil is kept lightly moist this should be sufficient.
New plants especially need to be well-watered while they establish.
Temperature and Humidity
Hepatica like cool, temperate climates - this isn't a surprise given many of them are native to European woodlands. They have even adapted to have a covering of soft hairs on their stalks that help to insulate them from the cold.
They're not suited to excessive heat or humidity, and heavy rain during the summer can cause the leaves to rot.
Some enthusiasts chose to remove the leaves towards the end of winter. This will prevent problems with rot during the next season and allows the flowers to stand out more when they bloom in spring.
If your Hepatica are positioned under a tree, the fallen leaves can be made into a protective mulch for during the winter. Don't be tempted to just rake them away.
Hepatica that have been planted in fertile soil may not need any additional fertilizer.
Feeding with an organic mix of blood, fish and bone, or even calcified seaweed, during the autumn, however, can be beneficial.
Outlined below are some of the most common Hepatica species for consideration.
- Hepatica nobilis - The most common of all the species under this genus; they're the easiest to grow. Liverwort tends to flower in March, and although they're most commonly found with blue blooms, they also come in white and pink.
- Hepatica transsilvanica - As this name suggests, this variety is native to Romania. They tend to flower a little earlier than nobilis, and their foliage isn't quite as attractive. Transsilvanica, however, is more tolerant of dry conditions.
- Hepatica Maxima - Japan and Korea have their own Hepatica species. They tend to be rare in North America and can be expensive. We had to mention white-flowered Maxima from Korea, though, as this is much larger than other varieties.
Just be aware that it can take several years for seedlings and divisions to properly establish.
Don't plant them out in late spring or summer, but be sure there's no frost or waterlogging.
Potting and Repotting Hepaticas
For gardens that experience severe winters, growing your Hepatica in pots will allow you to overwinter them in a sheltered and cool indoor position.
If you're doing this, it's a good idea to repot or divide the plants annually after they have finished flowering.
The roots should be trimmed, and the plants should be repotted in a moist potting medium that is kept well-watered during the spring
When dividing Hepatica, even if you plan to plant it back in the ground, it's best to keep it potted for around six months to give the roots the best chance to establish fully. They can take a while to thicken.