Fundamental Facts

HARDINESS: Zones 3 to 8
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Neutral to slightly alkaline
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Organically rich, well-drained
PREFERRED LIGHT: Partial shade
ATTRIBUTES: Clumping plants; glossy evergreen leaves; red, pink, or white flowers
SEASON OF INTEREST: Spring for flowers; nearly year-round for foliage
FAVORITES: Crimson 'Evening Glow'; red 'Perfecta'; white 'Silver Light'
QUIRKS: Leaf edges brown in hot sun or dry soil
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Columbines, perennial geraniums, hostas, lungwort, ferns
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Partial shade in average, cool soil
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Slugs and snails
RENEWING PLANTS: Lives several years; divide in early spring and replant immediately
SOURCE: Division
DIMENSIONS: 1-2 ft (0.3-0.6 m) toll, 1-2 ft (0.3-0.6 m) wide

Bergenia in the Landscape

When you need a fast and easy plant to cover a piece a shady ground, bergenia is the rock-solid perennial for the job. Sporting oval, slightly ruffled, glossy green leaves, some up to 1 ft (0.3 m) long, bergenia asserts itself dramatically. The key to a standout performance is moderation: not too much moisture, average soil, and protection from midday sun.

As a foliage plant, bergenia is without peer. The densely packed clumps make a strong statement in shady gardens, carpeting the ground with bold leaves. Equally qualified for edging a pond or holding the soil of a hard-to-mow slope, bergenia also looks handsome fronting a stone wall or spilling over a path.Mix it with columbine, ferns, or other "feathery" plants that contrast with bergenias fleshy foliage. Because the mounds of leaves look attractive on all sides, bergenia is a good candidate for a container planting, as long as the pot is at least 24 in (61 cm) wide and deep, and its cold-hardiness assures its survival in containers overwintered outdoors.

Fancy Flowers and Foliage

In all but the hottest climates, tresses of tiny flowers carried on short reddish stems crown the foliage in spring and last for a few weeks. It is here that plant breeders have nurtured some variation on the standard pink flowers. 'Evening Glow' has crimson blooms, 'Perfecta' has rosy red ones, and 'Silver Light' has white flowers with reddish pink in the center. If you clip off blooms as they begin to fade, you may get a repeat performance of flowering later in the season.

Bergenia changes personality in late summer or early fall. As cold weather approaches, the leaves convert from green to bronze, purple, or russet. Even more dramatic, 'Evening Glow' is transformed into a maroon carpet in winter. In mild climates, the colorful leaves persist over the winter months, an attribute that is especially appreciated in regions where the ground is bare of snow.

Growing Bergenia

Location is the key to success with bergenias. Protect them from strong summer sun. If you have problematic, alkaline soil, this plant's for you. If, on the other hand, you admire bergenia and your soil is a bit add, simply add compost to neutralize the soil, and to help it retain moisture and drain well. Or add garden lime according to package directions to raise the pH of the soil to neutral or a bit on the alkaline side. The dry soil that is typical of late summer in many places can cause leaf edges to brown, but you can avoid this problem by mulching between plants and watering if needed until it rains again. Each spring, fertilize plants with an organic mulch of compost, or sprinkle balanced-formula controlled-release fertilizer to provide a light buffet of nutrients over a 3-month period.

Be on the lookout for the occasional slug or snail, as these pests relish bergenia's lush leaves. To discourage them, thin the plants when they become crowded, and don't overwater. Remove slug-hiding spots like stones or logs on the soil's surface. If slugs appear, set out saucers of beer to lure and drown the pests, or sprinkle sharp diatomaceous earth on soil to deter the soft-bodied pests.

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