How to grow bergenia
With large glossy leaves all year round, often tinged red in winter, plus flowers early in the year, these ground-covering perennials really earn their keep. They are also easy to grow, well behaved and adaptable, thriving in sun or shade, and in rich or poor soil alike.
- Easy-to-grow, evergreen perennial
- Large, glossy green leaves, often tinted red
- Pink, red or white flowers in late winter and spring
- Valuable nectar for early bees
- Grow in sun or shade
- Slow-growing, non-invasive ground cover
All you need to know
What are bergenias?
Tough, hardy and easy to grow, bergenias are often under-rated, but provide valuable evergreen ground cover, even in tricky sites. These versatile perennials thrive in sun or shade, coping in most soil types, including dry conditions.
They form low, slow-spreading clumps of large glossy leaves that often take on reddish-purple hues in winter. In spring they produce clusters of pink or white bell-like flowers on stout stems. These are valuable sources of food for early bees.
Choosing the right bergenias
As bergenias are happy in most situations, in sun or shade, rich or poor soil, they will grow well in most gardens. Still, there are many cultivars to choose from, differing in various ways, including:
The large, oval, glossy, evergreen leaves are a striking feature throughout the year. In spring and summer they are usually rich green, perhaps edged with deep red, but in autumn many cultivars take on bold red, burgundy or bronze hues, adding valuable colour throughout the winter months.
Bergenia flowers are usually pink – from bright magenta to soft blush but can also be white, red or purple. The stout flower stems can also be striking shades of red or purple (such as ‘Morgenröte’)
Most bergenias flower in spring, but a few start in late winter (such as B. crassifolia), offering a splash of early colour as well as valuable food for bees. Some may flower sporadically through summer and/or autumn too (such as ‘Autumn Magic’)
Bergenias form low leafy clumps, generally 30cm (1ft) high, slowly spreading to about 60cm (2ft) wide over time. The flower stems usually stand above the leaves, adding another 10–20cm (4–8in) or so. Smaller and larger cultivars are also available.
To browse photos and descriptions of bergenias, go to RHS Find a Plant. You can also search by flower colour, plant size, growing conditions, pollinator-friendliness, RHS Award of Garden Merit and more, to help narrow down your choices.
There are 17 bergenia cultivars with an RHS Award of Garden Merit, which shows they performed well in RHS trials, so are reliable choices.
Ground cover plants
Perennial borders: choosing plants
To track down a specific cultivar, go to RHS Find a Plant.
When to plant bergenias
Early autumn is ideal for planting bergenias, as this gives them time to get established before their flowering season in late winter to spring.
They can, however, be planted at any time of year, as long as the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged in winter, or parched in summer.
If you plant in summer, be prepared to water regularly, especially in hot dry spells, to keep the soil around the roots moist until they are well established in their new home.
Where to plant bergenias
Most bergenias are very adaptable and can be planted in sun or partial shade. They can also be planted in deep shade, where they will still produce impressive leaves, but flowering may be reduced.
They prefer rich soil that contains plenty of organic matter, but will tolerate poor soil too, and it can even enhance the leaves' reddish tints in winter although they won't be so lush.
The soil should be moist but well drained, although once established most bergenias will cope with dry conditions. Waterlogged soil can lead to rotting.
As they are so tough and adaptable, they suit a wide range of often tricky planting sites, including:
- under trees and shrubs
- in a dry, shady wall-side border
- exposed locations, including seaside gardens
- in dry gardens and gravel gardens
Shade planting: annuals, bulbs and perennials
How to plant bergenias
Bergenias are very easy to plant – see our guide below.
Before planting, dig lots of well-rotted organic matter (a bucketful per square metre/yard) into the planting area, not just into the planting hole, to encourage the roots to spread out. Home-made compost or well-rotted manure are ideal and will improve the soil’s structure, fertility and ability to hold moisture.
Newly planted bergenias need regular watering, especially during dry spells.
Once established, bergenias don’t require much watering unless there is a long dry spell and they are growing in full sun.
In a shady spot, they can be very drought tolerant.
Apply a thick mulch of organic matter, such as home-made garden compost, to the soil around bergenias in spring, to help hold moisture in the soil over summer. Worms will gradually work it into the soil, improving its structure and fertility.
Bergenias don’t need feeding, even when growing on poor soil. Tough conditions can even improve the leaf colouring. Just give them an annual mulch of well-rotted organic matter (see above).
Most bergenias are hardy, and cold temperatures are often required to trigger the leaves to start turning shades of red or purple. Winter is when bergenias are at their most valuable, adding rich colour when it can be in short supply.
However, in harsh winters or very exposed locations, bergenias may lose some or all of their foliage, but it will regrow in spring.
Caring for older plants
After four or five years, bergenia clumps may become bare in the centre, with fewer flowers. But this is easily remedied by dividing them in autumn or in spring after flowering.
Simply dig up the whole plant, cut out the old centre and replant the healthy young sections into soil that has been enriched with plenty of added organic matter. Water well to settle them back in.
Bergenias don’t require pruning, but you can remove any damaged or blackened leaves and faded flower stems with a sharp knife or secateurs to improve the look of plants at any time of year.
The old foliage can harbour pests such as slugs, snails and vine weevils, so clear away regularly if these are a problem.
It’s easy to grow new bergenia plants by dividing established clumps, and the resulting plants will bloom in the following flowering season. You can also grow them from collected seeds, but it is a slower and more careful process. Still, as the offspring may differ from the parent, it can be an opportunity to grow interesting new plants.
Growing bergenias by division
In autumn, or after flowering in spring, dig up an established clump and discard the old woody centre. Cut the remaining thick fleshy rhizomes (underground stems) into several sections, each with one or more leaf rosettes. Either replant these straight back into the border or plant into pots of compost, where they should root in quickly.
Growing bergenias from seed
Bergenia seeds need light and a period of cold to help them germinate. They can be sown indoors or outside in spring.
How to sow indoors
- Put the seeds in a plastic bag containing a handful of moist soil. Seal the bag and place it in the fridge for two weeks.
- Then sow the seeds onto the surface of a seed tray filled with damp seed compost. Don’t cover the seeds, as they need light to germinate
- Place in good light at 21˚C (70˚F), water regularly and be patient, as germination may be slow
- Prick out the seedlings into individual pots once their first set of true leaves appears
- Keep frost free until large enough to plant out
- Plants will usually flower in their second year
RHS guide to sowing seeds indoors
How to sow outdoors
- In late winter/early spring, sow the seeds in a row, on the surface of moist, weed-free, finely raked soil. Don’t cover the seeds, as they need light to germinate
- Protect the seedlings from slugs and snails, and thin them out if necessary as they grow. Move them to their final planting site once well rooted and growing strongly
Pests and diseases
Bergenias are generally trouble free and will grow well in most gardens. However, they may suffer some damage from the following pests:
Controlling pests and diseases without chemicals
Preventing pest and disease problems
If you're a member of the RHS, you can use our online Gardening Advice Service, via MyRHS, for any gardening problems or queries
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.