For many hobby gardeners, a flowering and easy to care garden is on top on the wish list. One should take a closer look at the elephant’s ears. This wintergreen perennial fulfills both wishes. And not just in a sun-drenched garden.
Many plants long for the warm sun rays. Some of these representatives may still be able to arrange themselves with a spot in partial shade. If the location in the garden becomes even darker, the sun-loving plants are out of place. For the darker areas in the garden, there are a variety of perennials that appreciate exactly these lighting conditions. But not all produce bright flowers. To compensate, they shine with an interesting foliage.
The Bergenia combine both: flowers and beautiful leaves that breathe life into the barren garden even in winter. In April and May the Bergenia shows off its flowers in red, pink or an elegant white, depending on the variety. In the autumn months, however, the foliage makes its big appearance. With red flowering varieties of Bergenia, the leaves often turn reddish. A beautiful natural spectacle that you definitely don’t want to miss.
If you have chosen the Bergenia crassifolia ‘Autumn Red’ variety, you can also provide some color in this late season. Pink flowers then shine in the autumn sun.
The Bergenia, which belong to the saxifrage family, may also be known to you by another name. This versatile perennial is also known as the heart-leaved bergenia.
Profile of elephant’s ears:
Scientific name: Bergenia
Plant family: saxifrage family (Saxifragaceae)
Other names: elephant-eared saxifrage
Sowing time: Spring indoor
Planting time: Autumn
Flowering period: April to May
Location: sunny to partially shaded
Soil quality: stony to clayey, moderately nutrient-rich to nutrient-rich, humus rich
These information are for temperate climate!
Use in: flowerbeds, ground cover, group planting, flower garden, park, rock garden
Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 3-7
Bee and insect friendly: yes
Plant characteristics and classification of elephant’s ears
Plant order, origin and occurrence of elephant’s ears
The genus of Bergenia includes seven to eight species, all of which have their natural habitat in the moist forest areas and open slopes of East Asia. Because of their occurrence in forests, they were often planted with us in partially shaded and shady garden areas, which was also a reason why they were neglected for a long time. They unfold their full splendor in the sun, because most species also tend to grow in sunny places in nature. Only the fringed elephant’s ears (Bergenia ciliata), the only deciduous species, feels really comfortable in the shade. All other Bergenia species and varieties prefer a sunny location or at least a spot in the light shade that provides a nutritious, fresh soil.
Most of the garden types available go back to the elephant-ears or heart-leaved bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia). It comes from the eponymous mountain range, which lies in the border region between Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. The pure species is only rarely commercially available, most of the breeds offered are hybrids
Characteristics of elephant’s ears
Bergenia grow creeping and reach heights of 20 to 50 centimeters (8 to 20 in).
The wintergreen leathery leaves are typical, with some species the foliage turns reddish in autumn.
The early bell-shaped flowers appear from April to May. Depending on the type and variety, they bloom in pink, red and white.
Elephant’s ears – cultivation and care
The elephant’s ears does not have big demands on the location. Whether it’s sunny or partially shaded or even light-shaded, the shrub cuts a fine figure on these spots. Bergenia can also arrange themselves with a little more shade, but then form only a few or no flowers.
The undemanding plant does not require optimally prepared soil. A nutritious and permeable soil is preferred. The wetter the location, the more sun they tolerate.
Propagation of Elephant’s ears
In many hobby gardeners the passion for cultivating awakens, the numerous advantages of Bergenia are known for the time being. Good to know that there are no hurdles to overcome for cultivation. The following methods have proven their worth:
- Division of the rhizome bale in autumn or spring
- Cut off the stolons at a length of 5 cm (2 in) to put them as root cuttings in the pot
- Sowing the seeds on the windowsill
While direct sowing is likely to give you some problems, sowing behind glass is straightforward. Scattered on seed soil or peat sand, germination progresses rapidly at room temperature and consistent humidity.
The amount of water required depends on the location. The sunnier the place is, the more water the Bergenia wants. The perennial does not shrivel when it is a bit drier in the bed for a short time.
Proper fertilization is always an issue. The elephant’s ears is one of the frugal representatives. Over-fertilization is rather harmful for this perennial. Compost can be used as an organic fertilizer. If this is not available, an inorganic slow release fertilizer for flowering plants can also be used. As the flowering time does not last very long, the Bergenia should not be fertilized too often, otherwise it will become susceptible to disease.
When the leaves fall in autumn, the planting period for Bergenia starts. Now it is important to prepare the soil properly so that the ornamental perennial can root quickly and will bloom for the first time the next spring. In the sunny, partially shaded or shady location, loosen up the soil finely crumbly and add leaf mold, compost, horn shavings and some expanded clay. The planting pit should be 1.5 times larger than the root ball. Before planting, the root ball is put in water until no more air bubbles rise. If you place the elephant’s ears in the ground, the previous planting depth is kept as far as possible. Finally, water generously and mulch with leaves or bark mulch.
Correct planting distance
Because a Bergenia spreads wide over the years, a planting distance of 35-40 cm (14 to 16 in) for common types and varieties is recommended. If the perennial acts as ground cover, plant 6-8 plants per square meter. An exception are the dwarf varieties, which are arranged at a distance of 25-30 cm (10 to 12 in) from each other.
Cared for, the Bergenia takes on enormous dimensions. In order to maintain a well-groomed appearance and to keep the scope under control if necessary, repeated pruning is essential. How to do it right:
- Cut off withered flower stems before the exhausting seed growth begins
- Pluck or cut individual yellowed or withered leaves from the cluster
- Cut the entire perennial close to the ground in January / February
Note: The strong flower stems and shapely decorative leaves are also wonderful as a long-lasting vase decoration.
Diseases and pests
Bergenia are among the few perennials that are avoided by snails. But they are on the menu of the black weevil. You can recognize an infestation by the typical bay-shaped notches along the leaf edges. However, the more serious damage is caused by the larvae, they live in the soil and feed on the roots of the perennials. Treatment of the larvae with nematodes is most effective, preferably once in spring and once in autumn. Leaf spot diseases can also occur on Bergenia.
An adult Bergenia tolerates normal winter weather with temperatures down to -28 °C / -18 °F. It becomes problematic for the perennial if the snow does not appear in the freezing cold. In addition, the early flowering is always threatened by late frost. The following measures must therefore be observed:
- In the year of planting, cover the root ball with autumn leaves and coniferous twigs
- With ground frost at the heyday, put over a fleece or a foil
- With black frost, water the plants on mild days
Each winter, planters are given a covering made of jute ribbons, bubble wrap or fleece. If the bucket is not already on a plant trolley, slide a block of wood under it.
Use in the garden
Because of their leaf decoration, their robustness and the fact that they can quickly form dense stands with the help of their rhizomes, Bergenia are popular ground-cover plants. Their striking leaves come out particularly well when combined with shrubs and grasses with a finer leaf structure and size. If you want to achieve a planting covering the ground, you can use the different types of sedge (Carex), for example. Masterwort (Astrantia), cranesbill (Geranium) or various types of spurge (Euphorbia) also go very well with Bergenia. Bergenias are also a good border for beds. In particular, varieties that are planted because of their winter color are now also being used in rock and gravel gardens, since the lean soil increases the color. It can also form an effective underplant for light groups of trees, in combination with ferns and grasses