In spite of the unflattering nickname pig squeak, bergenia plants continue to enchant gardeners with their large glossy leaves and pert springtime flowers. 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 the April flowers emerge and are held aloft on stiff stems, glowing in dappled shade, you'll know you've selected a winner for the perennial flower border.
- Botanical Name: Bergenia cordifolia, Bergenia crassifolia, and other Bergenia spp.
- Common Name: Pig squeak, winter begonia, elephant's ears
- Plant Type: Hardy perennial
- Mature Size: One to two feet
- Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade
- Soil Type: Moist and rich loam or clay
- Soil pH: Slightly acidic to neutral; 5.8-7.0
- Bloom Time: April and May
- Flower Color: Pink, red, or white
- Hardiness Zones: USDA growing zones 4-8
- Native Area: Russia, China, Burma, Nepal
How to Grow Bergenia Plants
Bergenia plants are vigorous without being invasive, and will slowly spread to form a ground cover in your partially shady garden. Bergenia plants tolerate a wide spectrum of soil types, light, and moisture, and won't wither when growing conditions aren't perfect.
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.
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.
Bergenia likes consistent moisture. Help plants keep a moist root zone with a three-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 lighting and moisture. Plants do well in humid areas.
Bergenia plants are light feeders, and don't need any supplemental fertilizer to look their best. Growing bergenia plants in loamy soil amended with organic matter provides all the nutrients they need.
Potting and Repotting
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.
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.
Varieties of Bergenia
Several handsome bergenia varieties are on the market, all featuring those leathery leaves and pink spring flowers. 'Winter Glow' has red stems and nodding pink flowers, and grows about a foot tall. 'Bressingham White' lights up moon gardens with clusters of white blooms. 'Snow Queen' has pale pink blooms and curly leaf margins for textural interest.
Toxicity of Bergenia
Bergenia is toxic to dogs, but has not demonstrated toxicity to cats or people.
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.
Being Grown in Containers
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.
Growing From Seeds
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 moist and warm while waiting for germination, which can take from four to six weeks.
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.
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.