hellebore flowers

How to Grow and Care for Hellebore Plants

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Hellebores are one of the earliest blooming perennials you will have in your garden and feature rose-like blossoms. Depending on where you live, you may experience blooms for Christmas. They remain evergreen in warmer climates and deciduous in colder ones.

This plant is easy to care for with minimal requirements. Once established, it does not like to be transplanted unless you are propagating it. It provides interest for your garden year-round, offering a bit of brightness in the winter when nothing else is blooming.

This article will provide all the information you need on how to grow and care for hellebore flowers.

Read on for everything you need to know about the hellebore, also known as the Lenten rose, including the different varieties you can grow.

Plant Facts

Scientific nameHelleborus orientalis
Common namesHellebore, Lenten roses, Christmas rose
FamilyRanunculaceae
Plant TypeGarden or landscaping plant
Height and Width1-1.5 ft. tall, 1–1.5 ft. wide
OriginTurkey, Caucasus
Flower colorsWhite, pink, or rose-purple
Foliage colorDark evergreen foliage
Sun ExposurePart shade to full shade
Soil Type & pHWell-draining potting mix, ideally amended with organic matter,  pH 7.0-8.0
Special featuresLate winter bloomer; leaves, stems, and roots are poisonous; easy to grow

How to Grow a Hellebore Plant

You should grow your hellebores in organically fertile, well-draining soil and place them in partial shade to full shade settings. They are ideal for the front of a border, beneath shrubs, or in pots. Placing them with complementary plants is ideal to bring out their color even more.

They can be planted year-round as long as the soil is not frozen. These plants are not tolerant to transplanting once they’ve established themselves, so ensure you are planting them where you want them to remain.

Repotting should be done delicately and only when absolutely necessary because, again, they do not like to be moved once established. However, it is essential once they become rootbound to move them to a larger pot. 

Below, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about growing hellebores, including how and when to plant hellebores as well as how to care for mature plants for the most gorgeous hellebore flowers possible!

Propagation

Hellebore can be propagated by seed and division. These plants are known for being self-sowing; however, the seeds of hybrid plants will not always display the characteristics of the parent plants.

There are a few methods of handling propagation by seed. First, you can allow the seeds to drop and then transplant the seedlings after they have developed. Regardless, you should relocate any hellebore seeds that drop directly into the root crown of the parent plant.

Second, you can harvest the seeds in the summer once the blooming period is over. The seeds must be planted immediately when they are black. An easy way to catch them is to place bags under the blooms.

To propagate by division, you must dig up a mature hellebore. Then, cut the rhizome into two or more sections that can be individually planted to make separate plants. This method can be completed in late winter or early fall.

You should not transplant for any other reason than propagation after the initial planting of your seedlings. Allow your hellebores plants to establish themselves where you plant them and maintain them there.

hellebore plant

Soil

Hellebores require organically rich soil that is moist but well-draining. They also prefer a neutral to alkaline pH. So, if your soil is acidic, you will need to test the pH and slowly amend it until it is at the appropriate level.

You can use lime to amend the soil from acidic to basic or neutral. However, while you are slowly adding the lime, you will need to test it as you go to ensure you are not overcompensating and making it overly basic.

If you choose to pot your hellebore instead of planting it in the garden, the soil will need to be loamy, too. Ensure your pot is able to drain so that the water does not get trapped in the soil, where it will rot the roots.

Keep in mind that hellebores require a shaded site and well-draining soil, so any hellebore companion plants should be able to survive under those conditions as well.

Pruning

As the new growth on your hellebore plants begins to come up through the old, it’s time to begin pruning. This will occur in late winter or early spring. Carefully cut back the old growth as close as possible to the base to allow the new growth more room to spread.

Doing this in the early spring will provide your plants with a healthier appearance and will remove any damaged hellebore foliage. Always use sharp, clean, and sterilized pruning shears. You do not want to transmit any diseases from other plants you may have recently pruned. 

Repotting and Transplanting

As mentioned, hellebores do not enjoy being transplanted. Once they are established, they prefer to stay right where they are. Transplanting should only be done when you propagate or plant your seedlings for the first time.

The only time you should repot your hellebore is when it is rootbound. You will need to carefully extract it from its pot, being careful to leave the roots undisturbed. Gently replant it in a larger pot and water it.

Ensure you remove dead or affected foliage while you are in the process of repotting. However, you are not performing complete pruning at this stage unless it is the appropriate season. Just remove the dead leaves.

How to Care for Hellebore Flowers

Hellebore is a relatively easy plant to care for, as it does not require much from you. Once established, its water needs are low. Additionally, its sunlight needs are also minimal.

While it is a winter-blooming plant, it can experience adverse side effects in the extreme cold despite being best suited to USDA hardiness zones 3 – 9. Adding some protection in the winter will keep the plant safe from the coldest temperatures.

The primary pest you have to worry about is aphids, which can also spread a debilitating disease requiring the removal of entire plants. You’ll need to keep an eye out for these insects and remove them as quickly as possible to prevent damage to your plants.

Here are some essential tips when it comes to hellebores care:

Water

Sensitive to too much water, hellebores should never be allowed to sit in saturated soil. Sitting in overly wet soil for too long will lead to the roots rotting. It’s because of this that the hellebore needs well-draining soil.

Established hellebores require less water than those newly planted. They can sustain periods in drier soil. However, this does not mean you should allow your hellebore to completely dry out, as it does need regular watering to survive.

You will need to establish a routine where you water the soil enough to moisten it but not saturate it. The excess will drain away, and the roots will soak up the plant’s needs. By doing this, you will not allow the roots to rot, keeping the plant healthy.

Sunlight

This plant’s sunlight needs to change throughout the year. In the summer, partial to full shade is required to protect it from the sun’s heat. You can read our guide to learn more about what to do with hellebores in summer.

In the winter, more direct sunlight is needed. To achieve this, planting your hellebores beneath a deciduous tree is an excellent plan. In the warmer months, it will have thick foliage that protects the flowers from the sun’s rays, and once the seasons change, the leaves will fall off, allowing more light to reach the flowers.

Remember, not every variety is the same, and some require more sunlight than others. It’s best to do your research when you purchase your plants to ensure you plant them in the ideal location.

Temperature and Humidity

The specific hardiness of your hellebore will depend on the species of the plant you selected. However, as mentioned, these plants are suited to USDA hardiness zones 3 – 9. Not all varieties are suited to every single one of these zones.

In the coldest climates, they will need winter protection from the excessive cold to prevent cold burns on their leaves. Additionally, because of the range of zones they are accustomed to, they can also handle a wide range of humidities. 

Fertilizer

Because you will be using organically rich soil, you should not need to fertilize often. This makes the process of caring for these plants relatively easy. The soil will do most of the hard work for you.

It is essential to fertilize during the initial planting and then in the spring and early fall. The ideal fertilizer is rich in organic material, such as well-decayed manure. Providing essential nutrients will ensure your hellebores grow well.

Pest and diseases

Aphids are the primary insects that bother hellebores. Any affected parts can be removed from the plant. You will then need to spray the rest of the plant with a pesticide to ensure the infestation is gone and that no more damage will be done to the plant. Neem oil is also an effective treatment for the hellebores in your garden.

Hellebore leaf spot and downy mildew are the most common diseases that affect hellebore. Each of these is a fungal infection that can be caused by too much nitrogen as well as an overly shady garden.

Fungicidal treatments are the most straightforward way to deal with these problems, even if the infection is severe.

Another common type of disease that is likely to affect most hellebores from time to time is Helleborus net necrosis virus. This disease is transmitted by aphids, and stunts plant growth and causes black streaks. If one of your hellebores gets this disease, it must be removed from the rest, and the remaining plants must be treated for aphids.

The good news? Most hellebores are deer resistant! Since deer tend to be the bane of many gardeners’ existence during the summer months, you’ll be happy to hear that you don’t have to worry about deer prevention as an element of hellebore care, too.

Common Varieties and Cultivars

Many cultivars and varieties of the hellebore exist that plant lovers adore adding to their gardens. They all offer the benefit of a winter bloom but have different features that make them unique. There are more than 20 different varieties and cultivars available.

It is important to choose one that is ideal for your area. While they are winter-hardy, you still want to ensure that if you live in USDA hardiness zone 4, for example, your chosen hellebore will be suitable for that climate.

These hellebore varieties and cultivars include but are not limited to the following:

  • Anemone Flowers: This variety, with its resemblance to an anemone, pairs beautifully with daylilies and elephant ears.
  • Painted Doubles: This hellebore features double blooms with different burgundy or red markings in the center.
  • Anna’s Red: This variety offers beautiful red-purple flowers with leaves veined with pink.
  • Ivory Prince: This variety is interesting as its buds start out as pink, but when they open, they turn ivory white.
  • Ruby Glow: You’ll easily recognize this variety with pink flowers, ruby red flower stems, and gray-green leaves veined with silver.
  • Winter Jewels Amber Gem: You’ll easily recognize this variety for its golden blossoms.
  • Snow Fever: A variety that features creamy white flowers and is hardy to zones 7a to 9b.
  • Angel Glow: This variety’s flowers start out as pink but fade to green as they age.
  • Wester Flisk: This hellebore features greenish flowers with red and purple edges. 
  • Double Violet: These beautiful reddish-violet flowers pair well with hostas and ferns.
  • HGC Champion: This variety is also known as the Winter’s Bliss Hybrid Christmas Rose. It features white flowers with pink backs.
  • Cinnamon Snow: This plant features pink flowers and red flower stems, making it easily identifiable in your garden.
  • Merlin: An enchanting variety, Merlin features dusky pink flowers.
  • Citron: This variety features primrose yellow flowers.
  • Penny’s Pink: As you might suspect, based on its name, this variety features pink flowers. Additionally, its foliage is marbled.
  • Phillip Ballard: If you are looking for a darker variety, this is the one. It features dark blue flowers that are nearly black.
  • HGC Pink Frost: While this variety’s flowers start as pink, they mature into a darker pink-red color later.
  • Janet Starnes: This variety is a bit unique with its light green flowers.

Conclusion

Hellebores are relatively easy to care for, making them a garden plant to add to your landscape for some interest in the winter. While everything else is lying dormant, these plants will add a bright splash of color toward the end of the season.

Propagation is straightforward, whether you choose to do it by seed or division. However, the only time you should transplant an established hellebore is when you propagate by division. Once they establish themselves, they do not like to be moved.

There are many different varieties to choose from when you are selecting the perfect hellebore for your garden. They each offer different features that can add a splash of color in the winter. Each variety features the benefits of being easy to care for and maintain.

If you are planning to grow Christmas rose flower, you’ll love to learn about hellebore flower meaning first.

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