How to Grow Bergenia Plants

A herbaceous shrub incense covered with numerous pink flowers.
Tetiana Kolubai / Getty Images

In spite of the unflattering nickname pig squeak, bergenia plants (Bergenia cordifolia) have long enchanted gardeners with their large glossy leaves and pert springtime flowers. (The nickname comes from the sound the leaves make when they're rubbed together.) Bergenia foliage is mostly evergreen in milder climates, exhibiting a rich bronze color in the fall and winter. The leaves are quite attractive in their own right, but when your begenia's April flowers emerge and are held aloft on stiff stems, glowing in dappled shade, you'll know you've selected a winner for your perennial flower border.

Begenia thrives in full shade to part shade and grows as a perennial in zones 4 through 8. It has a moderate growth rate, as hardy perennials go, and grows to full maturity in two to five years. The best time to plant and divide begonias is spring.

Botanical Name Bergenia cordifolia
Common Name Pig squeak, winter begonia, elephant's ears
Plant Type Hardy perennial
Mature Size 1 to 2 feet tall and wide
Sun Exposure Part shade to full shade
Soil Type Moist and rich loam or clay
Soil pH Slightly acidic to neutral (5.8 to 7.0)
Bloom Time April and May
Flower Color Pink, red, white
Hardiness Zones 4 to 8 (USDA)
Native Areas Europe, Asia
Toxicity Non-toxic
Begenia in Bloom
Ron Evans/Getty Images 
Macro bergenia flowers
Musat / Getty Images

Bergenia Care

Bergenia plants are vigorous without being invasive, and will slowly spread to form a ground cover in your fully or partially shady garden. They tolerate a wide spectrum of soil types, light, and moisture, and won't wither when growing conditions aren't perfect. While they are relatively low-maintenance, a little caretaking improves their look: cut off dead leaves in spring for a fresh start, and deadhead the flowers after the blooms fade for a neat appearance.

Like many plants that grow well in shady areas, bergenia plants can suffer from slug and snail damage on its foliage. There are several ways to deal with these pests, including beer bait traps, cardboard traps, and diatomaceous earth.

Light

Bergenia plants are ideal candidates for the shade garden. They thrive in partial shade, but will also tolerate heavy shade. The more sun plants receive, the more moisture they will need.

Soil

Like many plants, bergenia grows well in rich, loamy soil and will expand to grow large clumps in this situation. Bergenia also grows in clay soils, which you can lighten over time with a top dressing of compost.

Water

Bergenia likes consistent moisture. Help plants keep a moist root zone with a 3-inch layer of mulch. Plants growing in deep shade can survive periods of drought better than those growing in a sunny location.

Temperature and Humidity

Bergenia plants grow well in areas with hot or cool summers, as long as they have proper light and moisture. They also do well in humid areas. Winter damage is more extensive in colder climates.

Fertilizer

Bergenia plants are light feeders and do not need supplemental fertilizer to look their best. Growing bergenia plants in loamy soil amended with organic matter provides all the nutrients they need.

Is Bergenia Toxic?

While Bergenia has been reported to be toxic to dogs, the California Poison Control System includes Bergenia cordifolia on its list of non-toxic plants. The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) does not list Bergenia cordifolia on its list of plants that are toxic to animals. Other plants that share the common name elephant's ears, including Caladium hortulanum and Colocasia esculenta, are toxic.

Bergenia Varieties

  • B. Cordifolia 'Winter Glow' has red stems and nodding pink flowers, and grows to 12 to 16 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide.
  • B. cordifolia 'Bressingham White' can light up a moon garden with clusters of white blooms. It grows to the nearly same size as 'Winter Glow', if a little bit shorter.
  • B. cordifolia 'Angel Kiss' is one of the shorter cultivars, at 8 to 10 inches tall and 10 to 12 inches wide. Its blooms are white to light pink.
  • B. cordifolia 'Ballawley' may be the largest bergenia available, growing to 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide. It features rose-red flowers and red stems.
  • B. cordifolia 'Solar Flare' is prized for its variegated leaves of green edged with yellow. This cultivar is mid-sized (10 to 16 inches tall and about 18 inches wide) and has magenta-purple blooms.
Bergenia Winterglow
Winterglow Bergenia Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder
Bergenia Bressingham White
ChamilleWhite / Getty Images

Bergenia vs. Leopard Plant

Except for its yellow flowers, the leopard plant (Ligularia dentata) bears a strong resemblance to bergenia plants. Both plants thrive in shade and feature similar large, rounded leaves with a glossy finish. Leopard plants need more moisture and shade than bergenia plants for best health, so if you have a place in the garden that transitions between sun and shade, place your leopard plants in the shadier portion.

Leopard Plant; Ligularia dentata
Mark Turner/Getty Images 

Pruning

In general, bergenia plants need little in the way of pruning. You can cut back spent flower stalks to keep plants looking tidy in the summer, but this deadheading will not spur any further blooming. In areas where the foliage is marginally evergreen, trimming back tattered foliage will also increase plant tidiness.

Propagating Bergenias

Making new bergenia plants is as simple as the process of dividing them. Divide plants in the fall to prevent any disruption to the blooming cycle. Dig up the root ball, and tease apart a clump of bergenia with your fingers, as shown in the photo. Make big divisions with at least five to seven leaves to make an impact in the garden.

Dividing Bergenia
Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images 

How to Grow Bergenia From Seed

If you have patience and wish to grow a large number of bergenia plants for the landscape, you can start from seed. Seeds need light to germinate, so press them lightly into sterile potting soil. Keep the soil moist and warm while waiting for germination, which can take from four to six weeks.

Potting and Repotting Bergenias

Bergenia makes an attractive container specimen, and will survive the winter in an outdoor container in zone 7 and warmer. Combine bergenia with other pretty foliage choices, like coral bells and Japanese painted fern.

Bergenia plants will grow in any commercial potting soil in a pot with a diameter of at least 12 inches. Repot your plants in the spring after flowering, and divide as needed to keep plants from becoming overcrowded.