The hellebore flower is a welcome sight for winter-weary gardeners once they begin to bloom (sometimes even while the ground is still covered with snow). Often one of the first plants to emerge, hellebores have long-lasting, fragrant flowers that signal spring is on the way! Here’s what you need to know about these early spring beauties.
Hellebores create excitement in gardeners which pales in comparison to other perennials (I can just hear gardeners everywhere saying “hooray for hellebores!”). These beautiful flowers come in gorgeous rich colours, feative textures, and showy patterns. Even so, you could miss them if you don’t stop to look. Their delicate blooms are shy, hanging their heads and hiding the most beautiful ruffles, freckles, and colors from the everyday passersby. Once you take the time to get to know them, you’ll be smitten too!.
Winter blooming plants are prized by gardeners cool climates, as it’s always a joy to see those first blooms peeking out, even though snow covered garden beds. There are few plants that equal hellebores’ unique qualities. They have long-lasting blooms, require little maintenance, and can tolerate both snow and dry shade.
Varieties of the Hellebore Flower
There are approximately twenty species of Hellebore flowers with each having countless varieties available. Though they share many similarities, their differences in size, foliage texture, leaf color, bloom time and flower color make them a dream flower for any gardener.
Hellebore flowers come in pretty much any color you might want: white, green, pink, apricot, and purple, to name just a few. In a garden, you can intermingle numerous species and hybrids and enjoy a greater variety of colors and textures as well as longer bloom times. Here are 3 popular species you may have heard of:
Helleborus orientalis, the Lenten Rose, is one of the first varieties to bloom and offers the greatest variety of colors.
Helleborus foetidus, which has the interesting nickname of “the stinking bear foot” or “bear paw hellebore”, will bloom beautiful flowers with a pastel green hue. You may have guessed it from the nickname, but it also gives off an unusual fragrance that many people seem to dislike. If you plant this one, be aware that this is one of the few hellebores that enjoy more sun!
Helleborus niger, the Christmas Rose, features 3-inch pure white blooms from late winter to early spring, on purple-spotted 1-foot-tall stems. This plant has a distinct leathery texture on its fingered evergreen leaves.
Helleborus interspecific hybrids offer endless varieties and choices in color and form that aren’t available in other species. More seem to arrive on the market each year and feature all sorts of color and variegation on both foliage and flowers.
Currently, most new hellebore flower varieties contain either semi-double, double and anemone flower forms, deep colors, vivid patterns or some combination of these elements. Additional popular features include spot resistance and patterns of silver, wine, and gold.
How to Grow and Care for Hellebores
How do you care for hellebores? They are surprisingly simple to grow, preferring to be left to (mostly) fend for themselves. Here’s everything you need to know with regard to caring for your hellebore plants.
Soil and Location
Site selection is critical for gardening success. Where is the best place to plant hellebores? Here’s what they need to thrive:
- Hellebores enjoy slightly neutral to acidic soils.
- They need to keep their roots on the drier side to prevent rot, so don’t plant in a spot that will get too much water.
- They are very sensitive to poor drainage, so if you do gets lots of rain like we do in the Pacific Northwest be sure your soil is well-amended with coarse organic matter to improve the structure and balance of soil moisture levels.
- Combine hellebores with ferns, hosta or heuchera for a beautiful shade perennial garden. Plant them as a groundcover to naturalize in open woodlands. Or use them as accents along pathways or shrub borders and even in containers.
The hellebore flower prefers shade, especially in the afternoon, or dappled sunlight such as an open forest canopy provides.
- During the establishment phase, keep young plants evenly moist.
- After a year or so, hellebores become quite drought-tolerant, only requiring supplemental irrigation during the driest spells.
- They use quite a bit of water during their growing season (spring and fall). However, you can water them less when they go dormant during the heat of summer.
Planting & Care
- Plant hellebore seeds in the fall. Hellebore seeds need a 60-day moist chilling period in order to sprout. Planting seeds in fall allows this to happen naturally in areas with cold winters.
- Plant deep enough that the soil just barely covers the crown. Similar to peonies, if you plant hellebores too deep it can stifle your flower production.
- Flowers will appear on plants grown from seed in three to four years.
- Divide any overgrown clumps during a dormant period – either in the spring, after flowering, or in late autumn.
- Once new growth appears, but back any old, damaged growth. New leaves will grow and fill in any empty spaces quickly.
Supplemental fertilizer is not necessary for blooming as long as your soil is amended. Boost the growth and blooms of hellebores by applying manure or compose annually.
Pests and Diseases
These frost-resistant, shade-loving evergreens are for the most part unbothered by things that can often harm plants. This includes pests and diseases. In spite of this, there are a few things to keep an eye out for:
- Aphids like the new growth, so it’s best to invite many beneficial insects to your garden.
- Spots on the leaves are likely a type of fungus. To treat the fungus, remove the affected leaves and throw them away. Don’t let the fungus breed in your garden by allowing it to linger on the leaves and get into the soil. Chemical control is often unnecessary if you are on top of removing the damaged leaves.
Propagating Your Hellebore Plants
If you want to propagate your own hellebores, the easiest way is to divide the plants when they are dormant.
You can start them from seed, but don’t be surprised if your seedlings are not the same as their parent type. If you really want an exact duplicate, you’ll need to try dividing plants.
Dividing hellebores is no different than the process for dividing many other perennials. It is best done when the plant has finished blooming and is becoming crowded.
An unparalleled early spring flower, enjoy hellebores plants to their fullest with these proven tips for care. Have fun with these beautiful blooms!
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