Widely recognized and admired for their abundant blooms during the winter and early spring, as well as their attractive foliage, the Hellebores are indeed wonderful additions to any shade garden. Also known for its common name Helleborus, the Hellebore can surely make gardeners happy during winter.
Let’s become more familiar with these easy-to-grow perennials through this article.
In This Article
An Overview of the Hellebore
Hellebore, which is a common name that refers to various plant species, belongs to the Helleborus genus. It forms part of the Ranunculaceae family that also encompasses anemone, delphinium, and monkshood.
One noticeable feature of the Hellebore is its bold and evergreen foliage. This specific foliage develops a low clump of palm-like and lobed leaves. The Hellebore also blooms rose-shaped flowers.
The stems of its flowers tend to shoot up over the foliage but also nod beneath the flowers’ weight. Hellebore is also a long-blooming plant with most of its flowers in creamy white. They have hints of green or pink flowers.
The shade also tends to deepen or change as the plant ages. Hellebore can also produce more colors through hybridizing. Hybrids even boast of double-flowered structures.
Most of these species, whether hybrids or not, also tend to look great from January to May. You can expect their sepals to look great persistently, turning green eventually, even after their seeds set.
Botanical Name: Helleborus spp.
Common Name: Hellebore, Christmas rose, Lenten rose
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Sun exposure: Partial to full shade
Mature size: 1 to 2 feet tall
Type of soil: Moist and rich
Soil pH: 7.0 to 8.0 pH level (neutral to slightly alkaline
Color of flowers: White, yellow, purple, pink
Bloom time: Spring
Hardiness zones: 3-9 (USDA)
Native area: Turkey, Caucasus
Water needs: Average
Characteristics: Cut flowers, showy, plant of merit
Tolerance: Drought, salt, rabbit, deer
Toxicity: Cats and dogs
Types/Varieties of Hellebores
Hellebores come in several types with each one providing a wide variety of flower colors. Most of them vary based on their yellow, white, and green to purples and pink flowers. All Hellebore flowers may also have a bit of decorative spotting.
Here are some of the most common varieties of Hellebore that are also recognized for being easy to grow.
Helleborus x Hybridus
Also called Oriental hybrid, the Helleborus x Hybridus variety is a popular choice among gardeners as it is easy to grow. One distinctive feature of the Helleborus x Hybridus species is its rich red-purple flowers/bloom. It also has leaves with pink veins.
Helleborus x Hybridus is also long-lived and hardy. It has a bold and dark green foliage that tends to veil its flowers every now and then. The Helleborus x Hybridus also suits zones 4 to 9.
Otherwise called bear paw, bear foot, or stinking hellebore, the Helleborus foetidus is easily recognizable with its flowers that come in pastel green. The unusual scent of this plant is one reason why many refer to it as stinking.
Helleborus foetidus has serrated and segmented foliage, which turns into deep red when the cold weather comes, the time when it also becomes ornamental. This evergreen perennial also boasts of its bell-shaped flowers.
You can expect the buds of Helleborus foetidus to start appearing when the early winter comes. They will open slowly during the next three months. The blooms also tend to happen during the late winter to mid-spring.
Helleborus Niger (Christmas Rose)
The Christmas rose, Helleborus Niger, is also another variety of the Hellebore, which features pure white blooms that are around three inches. The Helleborus Niger is also famous for being a winter-blooming evergreen. The white flowers that the Niger blooms are often large and bowl-shaped.
The Christmas Rose or Helleborus Niger also has sepals that tend to fade slowly to rosy pink or green as they mature. You will notice its attractive blooms growing on thick and short stems.
Helleborus Niger also tends to open during the Christmas season when grown and cultivated in winter and warm areas. Meanwhile, if grown in cooler and winter areas, it is highly likely that they will bloom in early spring.
Helleborus Orientalis (Lenten Rose)
The Lenten rose or Helleborus Orientalis got its name as it tends to bloom during the Lent season. It is native to Turkey and Greece, particularly in areas there with dry climates. The Lenten rose is known for being the most floriferous and colorful species.
Helleborus Orientalis can even produce at least 50 flowers per mature plant. What’s even better about the flowers produced by the Lenten rose is that they tend to last for a couple of months. It has large flowers in several colors, including dusky plum and creamy white.
You can also easily recognize the blooms of the Helleborus Orientalis as they can either be patterned or plain. Another noticeable trait of this plant is that it is capable of self-seeding readily.
When and Where to Plant Hellebore?
Now that you know the different variations of the hellebore, it is time to get to know about the best time and place to plant and grow it. Ideally, you should plant the Hellebore from autumn to spring.
The reason is that this is also the time when the availability of this plant is high. Avoid planting the Hellebore when the dry summer season comes. Also, note that you can also plant Hellebores any time of the year provided the soil where you intend to cultivate them is not frozen.
Once planted, remember that the hellebore dislikes being moved, so it is best to avoid transferring it to another spot. As to the specific place where you should plant your Hellebore, one thing to keep in mind is that this plant works incredibly well when adding hints of early spring and winter to borders. It is advisable to grow it in front of a sun’s border or in partial or full shade.
This should still depend on your chosen variety. If your garden is in drier soil, then pick a spot that has a light shade. The reason is that it can lessen the dryness of the soil. Ensure that the soil is high in organic matter, too.
It should not be too dry while also not being waterlogged. The Hellebore also tends to thrive well when grown in well-drained and fertile soil.
How to Grow and Plant Hellebore?
One of the best tips when it comes to growing Hellebores is to grow it in well-drained and fertile soil in front of a border, in a pot, and beneath shrubs while being exposed to the sun with partial shade. Cut the big leathery leaves upon the emergence of new foliage and flowers.
Also, mulch the plants every year with well-rotted manure or compost. Do not transplant your hellebores once they are already established.
When it comes to planting, a simple rule is to plant it similar to other perennials. Just sprinkle some mycorrhizal fungi and garden compost to make your Hellebore settle in. Firm in the plant gently then water adequately.
Oftentimes, you will notice the hellebore being planted from the specimens provided by nursery gardens. This is especially true even when you buy them from online sellers. You will also find Hellebore seeds sold in packets containing a combination of different colors.
However, if you prefer a certain variety, then a wise tip is to buy potted nursery starts. The reason is that these items were already hybridized or chosen for certain colors.
As for the bloom time, note that it will depend on the climate and the actual species. For instance, the Helleborus Niger or Christmas Rose can be expected to bloom every December if it is in zone 7 or anything warmer than that. However, in places with colder climates, the Helleborus Niger won’t bloom until the spring season.
The majority of Hellebore species will bloom around December to April. They tend to continue blooming Hellebore flowers for at least a month. One more thing to know about Hellebore before going to its actual care is that you can easily grow them in shady conditions.
You just have to make sure that they have a sort of shelter for the plants that will protect them from the harsh winds during the winter. In terms of maintenance, probably the only thing that these plants need would be a bit of cleanup on their fading leaves.
For winter-worn foliage, you can handle it by cutting so it will return to its basal growth every spring before it starts flowering again. It is also crucial to give proper Hellebore care based on the following areas:
When it comes to light, Hellebores tend to survive really well when you provide them with partial to full shade. This plant is also capable of withstanding the sun during spring. However, it is still best to plant your Hellebore in a place where it gets shadier once plants and trees also flush out.
One soil requirement for Hellebores is that they should be well-draining. It is also important for it to be full of organic matter.
In case you are using acidic soil, it would be best to put a lime in it since hellebores love neutral to alkaline soil conditions. Do not forget to make it part of Hellebore care as these plants definitely love such soil conditions.
Hellebores love moisture. However, this does not necessarily mean letting this plant sit in soil that is extremely wet for a long period. If you do that, then there is a high risk for its roots to rot. Also, note that once well-established, this plant will already be able to handle soil that is kind of drier than usual.
For newly planted hellebores, note that they need to be watered regularly at their first growing season, specifically spring to summer. Mature plants need regular watering, too, during hot and dry seasons. For plants in a container, check them regularly to prevent excessive dryness.
Humidity and Temperature
The hardiness of Hellebore actually varies from one species to another. However, there are certain hellebores that suit zones 3 to 9. Most of them can also be expected to be hardy when in the North, like in zones 4 to 5.
If you are growing your hellebore in a place with a cold climate, then make it a point to protect it from the heavy winds caused by the harsh winter. The hellebore is also capable of withstanding different levels of humidity.
Another important part of Hellebore care is nourishing it with the right fertilizers. In this case, the best type that you can use is an organic-rich one. It could be from well-decayed manure or compost.
Just add some of this organic fertilizer into the soil once you plant it. After that, continue fertilizing during the early fall and spring. It is often not necessary to apply chemical fertilizers if you use soil, which is already sufficiently rich.
How to Propagate the Hellebore?
Division is one of the most effective methods in propagating hellebore. The perfect time to do the division is during the early spring before the plants begin flowering. This is also the time when you can easily dig the whole plant and remove the soil to check out the buds on the crown.
Ensure that every division comes with a minimum of two buds. Note that the Helleborus foetidus does not divide that well, so it would be best for you to start this plant from seeds.
Another alternative is to gather ripe seeds then sow them into modules as a means of growing new plants without spending anything. You may also allow your hellebores to self-seed while in your garden.
Note, though, that you can’t expect any hellebore seedling to be really true to their parents. If you let them randomly self-seed, then you can create a plant that comes in various colors and shapes of flowers. It is even possible for you to grow unique new hybrids.
Common Diseases and Pets Affecting Hellebore
One great quality of the Hellebore is that they do not get easily affected or bothered by insects. The only thing that may affect them, in this case, is the aphid. The good news is that you can easily resolve the affected part. Just remove the part affected by the aphid then spray a pesticide or horticultural oil on the remaining plant.
As for diseases, note that the most common ones are often fungal in nature. Among them are downy mildew and leaf spots that are treatable with the help of fungicides. It is advisable to use the fungicides only for severe infections.
Another serious disease that may affect your Hellebore is black death. This is a serious disease as it may cause the plant to become stunted and develop black streaks. The major cause of this disease is the virus called Helleborus net necrosis, which the aphids transmit.
If your Hellebore has this problem, then the best solution for it is to get rid of the plant completely. Treat the aphids after that so as to prevent the disease from spreading.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Where is the best place to plant hellebores?
For you to maximize the benefits of growing your own hellebore, choose locations that shelter them from the sun during summer. Ensure that this plant also has sufficient room for it to naturalize.
If possible, pick planting sites or locations that you can conveniently or comfortably view through your windows or close to the entryways. The reason is that once it starts blooming flowers, it would not be comfortable for you to stroll around the frozen grounds just so you can enjoy the blooms.
Also, note that Hellebores have the advantage of being amenable, which means that you can expect them to grow in almost all types of soil – sandy, light, or heavily clayed. The only thing that you have to make sure of is that the soil has high organic matter content.
One more thing to remember is that this plant is deep-rooted. That said, it is important to dig a hole then put some humus, like well-rotted manure, homemade compost, leaf mold, or mushroom compost in it.
Do hellebores like sun or shade?
The Hellebore can actually tolerate the sun. However, this plant prefers to be in a shadier area. It is highly likely for them to grow better when shaded from the midday sun. It would be best to find a spot for this plant, which lets it receive around four to six hours of sun every day.
Even if the Hellebore likes shadier spots, you should still prevent putting them in a deep shade. The reason is that excessive shade may only stop the plants from flowering.
How poisonous are hellebores?
Hellebores are toxic, especially to animals. Most of its parts may lead to the poisoning of your pets, especially dogs and cats. The attractive look of the Hellebore may also put kids at risk of eating them or getting exposed to them. This is the reason why you have to be extra careful when growing hellebores with kids and pets around.
Do hellebores die back in summer?
This depends on the species. Most Hellebores actually do not die back during summer. They just stop blooming as this is not the time for them to grow flowers.
However, note that there are also certain groupings of Hellebore that tend to die back during summer. These are the acaulescent species recognized for not having stems. These plants are deciduous so it is highly likely for them to die back altogether once the late summer and autumn come.
Hellebores are indeed among the most attractive plants you can grow in the garden. What’s better about them is that they are easy to grow and care for. They also come in various species and variations, with different flower colors, too, allowing you to choose one that you genuinely like.
You can even choose to grow hybrids that often have large, cup-shaped, and colorful flowers. You will also enjoy some varieties that boast attractive and unique double flowers. All these features, especially the unique double flowers of some hybrids, can definitely make your garden look fantastic.