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How to grow and propagate Hepatica

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Growing conditions






Growing conditions
The following is particularly true for Hepatica japonica, and particularly for plants in pots. There is no significant difference in the cultivation of H. japonica and H. nobilis, except the lime
. H. nobilis require lime, while H. japonica prefer ph 5,5 to 6.

When growing Hepatica, we must keep in mind that it is a woodland plant that grows on slopes in deciduous forests. In the winter it is covered by snow, which means that it only needs full light in the short period in spring from the snow is melting until the leaves on the trees unfold. The rest of the year it needs shade. It requires good drainage, which the roots from the trees provide in nature. Hepatica requires lots of water in the spring months March, April and May when they develop new leaves and set seeds. The rest of the year the soil must be keeping slightly moist. In autumn the plants are covered naturally with a layer of fallen leaves, and as before mentioned, snow, which protects against the winter weather.


Hardiness of frost
When talking about hardiness against frost, then japonica is not as resilient as nobilis. It is believed that japonica can withstand down to -10 C, while nobilis probably easily do it twice or more. I grow both varieties in the garden as well as in my greenhouse, and my precious japonica in the garden, are in the winter covered by a plastic box with good air circulation. This device does not protect against frost, only against winter moisture and wind. It should be mentioned that my cheaper japonica is not covered, and they perform equally well through the winter, but who dare to defy fate?


With regard to fertiliser there may be as many opinions as there are Hepatica growers. I received the following recipe from my Japanese connection, and just after follow my own experience:

Adult plants:
March-May: Start fertilisation in March with a liquid fertiliser with high nitrogen and potassium. Nitrogen promotes the development of leaves and seeds, while potassium promotes the development of roots. Continue with this mixture to the end of May.
June: In June, switched to a fertiliser with a higher content of phosphate, which helps the development of new shoots.
July - October: The roots begin to grow again. Fertilisation reopened with a fertiliser with high potassium content for the development of new roots.
November-February: No fertiliser.

September-May: Use a fertiliser with high nitrogen and potassium for the development of leaves and roots. Go on fertilising the entire period, unless the ground is frozen.
June: Use a fertiliser with more phosphorus for the development of new shoots.
July - September: The roots begin to grow again. Fertilisation reopened with a fertiliser with high potassium content for the development of new roots.
The small seedlings would generally like to have more light and sun than the adult plants, but watch out for January / February, so they will not start to grow too early.

It is a liquid fertiliser with normal dilution in 1000. If it is diluted 5 times as much we can provide adequate fertiliser at each watering
The above is what the plants needs of different nutrients.

My own experience is that a long effective fertilizer is better than a liquid fertilizer on Danish conditions. When spring is cold and the plants therefore not need watering as often, the result will be missing nutrients. Therefore, I add each pot a little long effective fertilizer (½ year) in  March, and then I don't worry about additional fertilization until the autumn, where the plants gets a fertiliser with high potassium content .



Other care

Cutting leaves and ended flowers
Just after the flowering season, you must take away the old leaves and ended flowers for better growing the new leaves. Use a scissors, and remember to sterilise the scissors to protect against possible virus infection etc. from one plant to another. It’s easier to make a rotational use of more scissors. Of course, you must keep the stems with seeds you like to take afterwards.

Check the plants continuously for pest and disease - read more on the page 'Pest and disease'.

Repot the plants every one or second year, and cut the roots. Take away the old dead roots, and cut and thin out. Moreover check the roots for pest and disease as e.g. nemathodes - read more on the page 'Pest and desiase'.


Tage care of fungus, and spray two or three times a year. See the page 'Pest and disease'.


Propagation can be done by seeds, sharing or root cuttings.

Many will probably agree with me when I say, that the most exciting to grow Hepatica is the crossing work. Trying to develop new varieties, find out what plants to cross, from the different properties, and then see the results a couple or three years later, is extremely exciting.
If one doesn’t do anything, the bees mostly will do the pollination, and it can really give very exciting plants. But if you will try to make the full or half-filled forms one mostly must do an effort oneself. This is done by crossing Sandan-Zaki, with for example Nidan-Zaki, Karako-Zaki, etc.  Immediate this should not be possible, because the first named normally don’t have pistils or stamens. Nevertheless the Japanese do it in great numbers, because sometimes Sandan-zaki produces stamens. The pollen from this plant then is used to pollinate e.g. Nidan-zaki or Karako-zaki, and you will get a so called F1 plant (first filial generation). The F1 plant normally will be a Hyoujunka (single flower), and has both pistils and stamens, but at the same time it has the genes from Sandan-zaki and Nidan-zaki. After having got the F1 plant, you will be able to use it for the next generation crossings, e.g. for crossing with other F1 plants, or for self-pollination. Then you will have possibilities to get your own Sandan-zaki. These F1 plants are in this way very important in the breeding of the filled and semi filled forms. 

Often the pollen doesn’t come out automatic in the Sandan-zaki forms, and you must use a special technique, where you with a scalpel cut through the side of the anther, and in this way get the pollen. 

After the plant has set seeds the next job is to watch and take care that it does not throw the seeds before you get them harvested. One should not expect to reap all Hepatica seeds at one time. Even on the same plant the seeds do not ripen simultaneously. It may be difficult to see when the seed is becoming mature, and suddenly, they dropped by, so it's a fluke if you are present when it happens. Numerous are the devices, which are designed for catching the seeds. It may, for example be small containers placed under the stem, bags or whatever you can think of. I myself have made small bags of a residual very thin and fine meshed curtain (dense, or the seeds will fall through). I put the seed bed in the bag as soon as I can see that the plant has set seed. I close the bag with a stapler, and then through the thin fabric I can see when the seeds fall off, or possibly after a light touch. I think that works well also in the garden, as the substance dries quickly after a rain shower, and avoid that the seeds become mouldy.
When the seeds are harvest, they shall be sowing as soon as possible. A longer store is becoming poorer germination. If you require storage of the seeds for a period, then put them in the fridge. I myself have got seeds to germinate which has been stored a year's time, but it is the exception rather than the rule. Recently I have read, that "old" seeds sprouts nice if they soak a day or two before sowing. I will try this next time I get the opportunity.

Sow the seed in a soil added for instance cat litter (not the one that lumps), perlite or other water-absorbing material and a little gravel, so it becomes a porous water-permeable soil, which also keeps the moisture. H. japonica prefers a pH around 5.5 to 6., while H. nobilis needs lime. Cover the seeds with a little sand and then a layer of cat litter. Place the pots outdoors in the shade and cover with a net, to prevent birds and dogs, etc. to root in the soil. Give water in dry periods.
Next year in February / March/April the seed sprouts, and as soon as they can be handled they can be potted in a soil mixture similar to the above mentioned. Remember fertilising. I use the long effective.

You may be lucky that some plants bloom the year after sprouting, but most probably waiting until the year after. I.e. that the seeds sown in 2009, is flourishing in 2011 or 2012. Please note that the flower is changing, and first has the permanent appearance after the third year of flowering.


Another propagation method is sharing. It can occur in August/September (not too hot), in January before flowering, when it flowers, or just after the flowering. I have tried it all, and I think I prefer August. Then the plants get time to shoot new roots before winter. At that time the flowering will not be disturbed, and nor the seeds. When sharing takes all the soil from the roots (wash away the rest of the soil), and divide carefully the buds trying to get as large roots as possible. If two buds have common rhizome one cut a small outline with a sharp knife for final dividing. The knife must be sterilised before every cut to avoid possible virus and other disease to spread. Check the plants - including the roots - for pest and disease.
Should the accident be out, and a bud breaking off without any roots, then pot it as the others, and place the pot in a plastic bag. Close the bag so the plant is airtight, and place it in the shade, and it will form new roots.

Use a potting soil as used for potting the small baby plants.

The filled and semi filled now and then can change appearance the year after dividing. For instance a filled form can change to single and develop stamens and pistils. Remember to make use of this to get seed plants with genes for filled flowers. This changing is the autonomous conservation activities in the nature for surviving. Also by the single forms there can occur changes in colour or other characteristics. By the most the plants will get it's normal look again later.


Root cuttings
Sometimes, you can see a thickening of lower part of the root, and a small new shoot sprouting up. This part of the rhizomes can be carefully cut off with a sharp knife, or tear with your fingers, and the new shoot are planted in the same way as other divisions. Root cuttings can also be made by dividing the roots in the 'part', each with a dormant 'eye'. The last I have not tried myself, so I just mention it.


Hepatica nobilis in the garden - in April 2009

Hepatica japonica in the greenhouse - marts 2010.  They are placed after type - in front is Hyoujunka

Often Sandan-zaki doesn't produce pollen, because the stamens are mutated to petals. However the abowe has, as you see, stamens and produce pollen, and because of this, it is a very important plant in the breeding. When it is crossed with Karako-zaki, which is shown below, there is good opportunity to get filled flowers in F2.


The small bags to catch the seed are placed.

 The small seedlings are potted - here five in each pot. It gives space to grow until flowering in two to four years.



  Here is seen how 'Kagura' has changed from one year to another. 'Kagura' belongs to the Chyouji-zaki group.

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