How to Grow Spring Blooming Hellebore Flowers

 

How to Grow Spring Blooming Hellebore Flowers in your Shade Garden

Hellebores, oh hellebores, let me count the ways I love you!

I must admit up front, I have a longstanding love affair with hellebores. You might know them as Lenten rose or Christmas rose, named for the seasons in which they bloom. And if you’ve grown them too, I’ll bet you are smitten yourself. Disclaimer: once you grow one, you will want to collect them all!
For about 15 years, I have had the privilege of seeing how hellebores come to be, from the moment the breeder transfers the pollen from one flower to another to create new seedlings, through the arduous process of growing them for sale at retail. One can’t help to accrue a certain reverence for these beauties, knowing their origins. 

As an avid shade gardener, I have collected hellebores for my home garden for over a decade, amassing dozens of specimens from every source I could find. I even had the deck in my backyard built around one-of-a-kind hellebores I couldn’t bear to see disturbed.

True story.

I. Want. Them. All.

Hellebore King White - National Garden Bureau

What makes hellebores so wonderful?

If you garden in shade, you garden in the company of critters—deer, rabbits, mice, slugs, and more. You have to choose what you grow wisely so your investment doesn’t end up on Bambi’s dinner plate. Here’s the best part: you can plant hellebores without fear. Nothing eats them! Deer have literally bedded down with my hellebores and not munched a single leaf or bloom. Other critters follow their lead and leave them be. 

Besides being indestructible, these plants offer four seasons of interest beginning with their late winter through spring blossoms and continuing with their broad umbrella-shaped, evergreen, leathery green foliage.

Hellebores are among the very earliest perennials to flower right along with your daffodils and tulips, continuing for six to eight weeks before they dry in place on the stems.- National Garden Bureau

Hellebores are among the very earliest perennials to flower right along with your daffodils and tulips, continuing for six to eight weeks before they dry in place on the stems.

New foliage will sprout just as the flowers are finishing up, eventually enveloping the spent blossoms which will then deposit their seeds at the base of the plant. The evergreen foliage remains standing until the following spring when a new set of flowers and leaves take their place. It’s nature’s perfect process.

Grow your own bouquet

Don’t say I didn’t warn you! You are going to want to grow bushels of these amazing flowers once you get started. I plant more hellebores and fewer tulips—which are the squirrels’ and rabbits’ favorite—every year. Plus, since I often cut flowers from my garden to enjoy indoors, I like to plant a few extra for that use. 

Picked hellebore blossoms can be enjoyed in two ways: floating and as a cut stem. I reserve a special glass bowl just for this purpose every spring. Floating hellebore blossoms last anywhere from a few days to over a week, depending on the age of the flower when you pick it. Cut stems last nearly as long, though you’ll want to re-trim the stems daily to extend their vase life.

Floating hellebore blossoms last anywhere from a few days to over a week - National Garden Bureau
Hellebore do well as cut flowers - National Garden Bureau
The Wow!® series of king-size hellebores from NGB member Breck’s is especially good for cutting because of their extra-long, sturdy stems and impressive 4-inch wide blossoms. Three generations of the van der Meijs family in Germany have been breeding hellebores for this use for over 50 years. In the garden, you’ll enjoy their outward-facing blossoms without needing to turn their pretty faces up to look at you.

Here’s what you’ll need to know to grow hellebores successfully.

  • Sun – Hellebores are shade-loving plants that need a maximum of six hours of sunlight per day to thrive. They’ll be happier if planted where they receive morning sun rather than scorching afternoon rays.
  • Water – Once they are rooted in, hellebores can handle dry shade like a champ. But for that first year when you plant them, keep the soil moist but not wet.
  • Soil – Think of hellebores as woodland plants. They will grow best in humus-rich, loose soil that is well-drained and may struggle in heavy, wet clay. If you garden in clay soil, plant hellebores in amended soil in a higher part of your garden where water does not pool or grow them in containers. Slightly acidic to slightly alkaline soil pH is preferred.
  • Hardiness – Most of the hellebores you’ll find at stores are Helleborus orientalis hybrids which are perennial in zones 4-9. Earlier blooming Christmas roses, Helleborus niger hybrids, are hardy in zones 3-8. Don’t worry if it snows on your hellebores. These super hardy plants love the cold!
Hellebores love the cold and some varieties will even bloom in the snow - National Garden Bureau
  • When to Plant – Hellebores are best planted during cool weather since they are actively growing at that time. Spring or fall will suffice, and if you live where winters are relatively mild, they can even be planted in winter.
  • Feeding – Hellebores are the opposite of other perennials in that they do most of their growing when it is cold outside, especially in fall and spring. Consequently, you’ll want to feed them with a slow-release plant food formulated for perennials at this time instead of in the summer. Don’t be tempted to feed any other perennials in the fall while you’re out in the garden since, unlike your hellebores, they will be shutting down their growth for the season.
  • Pruning – For purely aesthetic reasons, you will want to prune away last year’s tattered foliage sometime before the new flowers emerge in spring. Remove the entire leaf and stem, trimming them to ground level to make room for the new flowers and foliage that will emerge from the center of the plant in spring.
Blooms on Hellebore - National Garden Bureau
  • Bloom Time – When you purchase a hellebore in spring, you may not see its flowers that first year. That could be because the plant is too young to produce flowers, or the plant may have bloomed already before you purchased it. Either way, your hellebores should flower beautifully the following year. It’s hard to wait, I know! Depending on which type of hellebore you are growing and how cold your climate is, it could bloom anytime from early winter through late spring.

The label that comes with the plant should indicate when you can expect to see blossoms. Hellebores need to experience freezing temperatures for about eight weeks in winter to be able to actively grow and bloom the following year, which is why they are not recommended for very warm climates.

4 of my favorite cultivars

Choosing my favorite hellebores is like asking me to name my favorite flavor of ice cream—I love them all! But here are 4 of my favorites right now!
Wedding Party First Dance Hellebore
Wedding Party® ‘First Dance’ – This double-flowered, soft yellow hellebore blooms on stately upright plants, its outward-facing blossoms greeting me every morning in mid-spring. What I love most is that its blossoms age to bright chartreuse and persist for most of the summer, perfectly matching the ‘Age of Gold’ hosta it is planted beside in my full shade garden.
Hellebore Walberton’s® Rosemary - National Garden Bureau
Walberton’s® Rosemary – Always one of the first hellebores to bloom in spring, this cultivar bears bright pink, single blossoms that blush deep pink if the temperatures dip unexpectedly while it’s in bloom. Rosemary is known for producing more flowers than any other hellebore you’ll find, so it’s a great one to grow for cutting.
Hellebore Honeymoon® ‘Rome in Red’ - National Garden Bureau
Honeymoon® ‘Rome in Red’ – If I could award a top prize for the most robust hellebore in my garden, this stunning cultivar would be a shoo-in. It’s incredibly vigorous, quickly sizing up to form a full, thick canopy of refined umbrella-shaped, evergreen foliage. On a three-year-old plant, I lost count after the 50th blossom. You’ll enjoy its rich maroon to wine-red flowers every year in mid-spring.
Hellebore 'Snowbells' - National Garden Bureau
‘Snowbells’ – This hellebore lived up to its name in my garden this year when it flowered in the snow! ‘Snowbells’ is a single, white-flowered Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger hybrid, that blooms months earlier than all my other favorites. In years when the fall and early winter weather is relatively mild, it blooms in December. If the snow comes early, it blooms as soon as the snow begins to melt in spring.

Written By: Susan Martin, Gardener Sue News
For NGB Member: Breck’s 

“This post is provided as an educational/inspirational service of the National Garden Bureau and our members. Please credit and link to National Garden Bureau and author member when using all or parts of this article.”

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