How to grow Hellebores


Latin Name Pronunciation: hel-eh-bor'us 

These evergreen plants bring an architectural quality to the shady garden. Most bloom in early winter in mild climates and in late winter or very early spring where the ground freezes hard. Resistant to both deer and voles, they are long-lived and provide exquisite blooms at a time when flowers are a scarce delight.

Hellebore Care

Light/Watering

  • Hellebores are at their best in evenly moist well-drained soil in partial shade.
  • Water well during extended dry periods; they are drought-tolerant once established.

Fertilizer/Soil and pH

  • Hellebores grow best in soil enriched with copious amounts of organic matter.
  • The hybrids known as Helleborus x hybridus (previously called Helleborus orientalis) prefer a soil pH close to neutral and even alkaline; add lime if your soil is extremely acid.
  • The Christmas Rose (H. niger) may be slow to become established; to help it along, try a dose of magnesium in the form of Epsom salts or dolomitic limestone sprinkled around the plants.
  • Plants will benefit from a light application of granular, balanced fertilizer in early spring.

Pests/Diseases

Watch for slug or snail damage, and control with baits or diatomaceous earth.

Companion Plants

Hellebores are lovely with other denizens of light shade such as:

They truly enliven woodland gardens. The larger, more exuberantly colored varieties or double forms are a great addition to the shady border.

Pruning

  • Although evergreen, the foliage often looks tattered in early spring. Prune back dead and disfigured foliage before new growth appears.
  • Remove old flower stems when they decline, cutting back to basal foliage, but take care not to remove the stems of Bear’s-foot Hellebore (H. foetidus), because they carry the flower buds formed in the previous growing season.
  • If seedlings are not desired, remove old flowers before seed is set.

Dividing/Transplanting

Although plants may be slow to settle in, once they do, they rarely need division and may resent it.

Calendar of Care

Early Spring

  • Apply a light application of balanced or slow-release fertilizer or side-dress with compost and organic amendments when new growth appears.
  • H. niger may benefit from a side-dressing of Epsom salts or dolomitic lime.
  • Prune back old foliage to make room for new growth.
  • Transplant now if desired.

Mid-Spring

  • Water well if it is unseasonably dry as plants prefer evenly moist soil.

Late Spring

  • Watch for slug or snail damage and control if necessary.
  • Remove old flower stems as they decline, and deadhead if seedlings are not desired.

Summer

  • Pull out any unwanted new seedlings as hybrids may not come true from seed; move desirable species seedlings to permanent locations.
  • Groom plants by removing yellow or dead leaves.

Fall

  • Add lime to acid soil for H. x hybridus if a soil test shows a pH under 7.0.
  • Do not prune back for winter; wait until early spring.
  • A light mulch of salt marsh hay may be beneficial, if it's readily available to you. Otherwise, a coarse pine bark mulch can be used, but be careful not to bury the crown.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

When to plant Hellebores?

Hellebores can be planted either in the spring or fall. For fall planting, allow enough time for roots to grow before the ground freezes. Four-five weeks is optimal.

What to do with Hellebores in summer?

If plants start to fade in the heat of mid-summer, groom them by removing yellow or dead leaves.

Are Hellebores frost hardy?

Yes, Hellebores can survive winter frosts.

Can I grow Hellebores in pots?

Growing Hellebores in pots is not recommended, as high summer container soil temperatures may adversely affect the plants' health.

What to do with Hellebores in winter?

You can simply leave Hellebores be in winter. You can tidy up old flower stalks in fall, if desired.

 

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