With its softly colored flowers, a hellebore may look delicate, fussy and somewhat exotic, but it’s living proof that looks can be deceiving. The reality is that hellebores are hardy, even in snowy regions, almost pest-free, easy to grow and easy to maintain. Best of all, they add color and charm to a garden during winter and early spring and, once the flowers die back, continue to add garden interest as a ground cover with their attractive foliage.
Hellebores take a bit of time to settle into place, but once they do, they’ll provide years of long-lasting color. As more people discover hellebores, more hybrids with a range of colors and markings have become readily available, making the choices even more varied.
Caution: All parts of the plant are poisonous to people and pets.
Laura Frost Design
Botanical name: Helleborus spp., including H. orientalis and H. hybrids
Common names: Hellebore, lenten rose
Origin: H. orientalis is native to Central Europe.
Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 34.4 degrees Celsius (USDA zones 4 to 9; find your zone)
Typical plant communities: Woodland and partially shaded gardens
Water requirement: Moderate to regular
Light requirement: Does best in partial shade but can handle full shade
Mature size: 1 foot to 2 feet wide and up to 3 feet tall
Maestro hellebore (H. x ballardiae Gold Collection Maestro)
Benefits and tolerances: Low-maintenance perennial that deer, rabbits and rodents usually ignore
Seasonal interest: Flowers in winter to early spring; attractive foliage the rest of the year
When to plant: Set out plants in late winter or early spring or sow seeds in fall.
Terra Nova® Nurseries, Inc
‘Painted Doubles’ hellebore (H. x hybridus Winter Jewels ‘Painted Doubles’)
Distinguishing traits. Cup-like flowers resembling those of old roses emerge in winter in mild-winter climates and late winter and early spring in cold-winter climates, providing early-season color and giving the plant its common name.
Flowers are found in shades ranging from white through pink to dark purple, green and shades of gray and black. Other hybrids have multicolored blooms, often with stripes and spots. The blooms either nod gently or face out from the center of the plant.
The foliage may turn attractive shades of chartreuse and gold.
Terra Nova® Nurseries, Inc
‘Onyx Odyssey’ hellebore (H. x hybridus Winter Jewels ‘Onyx Odyssey’)
Monte Cristo hellebore (H. x ericsmithii Gold Collection Monte Cristo)
How to use it. Hellebores are an excellent choice in a woodland garden; try them as plantings under deciduous trees that will shade them from summer sun or as a border along east- or north-facing fences and walls.
Plant alongside ferns, hydrangeas and hostas to add some late-winter color, or mix with other early-spring bloomers such as astilbe, spring-flowering bulbs, coral bells (Heuchera spp.), lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.), wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) and trillium (Trillium spp.).
H. x sternii
Planting notes. Plant in well-amended, well-draining soil that is preferably neutral to slightly alkaline, although they can handle slightly acidic soil. After the plants bloom, let the flowers and stems fade naturally, and cut back the stems only once they have completely died.
Wait until just before flowers appear to clean out any dead leaves. Add a complete fertilizer around the plants in spring. This is also a good time to relocate any seedlings that have developed at least two true leaves. True leaves look like the plant’s adult leaves, rather than the smooth round seed leaves.
Hellebores spread slowly, so wait until they are mature and beginning to be crowded before dividing in fall. With both seedlings and divided plans, it will take a couple of years before they rebloom.
You can collect seeds, although the resulting plant won’t necessarily resemble the parent. To ensure that you have the same color flowers, you’ll need to buy plants in bloom.
If you want to collect seeds, remove the seedpods and allow them to dry completely. Once they open, gather the seeds and either plant them in containers or spread them in the garden. Keep the soil moist until they germinate and begin to grow, then provide regular water.