How to - Gardening Resources

Raising hellebores

Anne Marie Van Nest

Notable for their long-lasting, attractive blooms, these shade-loving perennials are heavenly harbingers of spring

Though buried under snow, hellebores survive to push flowers up through the last vestiges of winter's grasp to bloom in shades of white, yellow, purple, red or pink. Models of ruggedness and determination, hellebores (Helleborus spp.) are stars when few other plants are flowering in northern gardens. The blooms of these easy-care perennials are either solid colours, or have centre highlights, speckles or intricate streaks. The flowers are really sepals, which is the reason for their long flowering time—some last as long as three months.

hellebores-inset.jpgThe recent hybridization of H. orientalis with other species has resulted in flowers that now include colours such as slate grey, deep purple or near black, plum and various shades of green (not to mention added frills, anemone forms and double flowers). Many cultivars have upright-facing blooms—an improvement over the nodding types that needed to be planted on a high terrace to be fully appreciated.

Hellebores make excellent specimen plants, as well as groundcovers under deciduous shrubs, conifers and evergreens. Plant them, leave them and watch them emerge through late winter's melting snow.

Care checklist

  • All hellebores resent being moved; pick a spot in full to part shade and leave them there. Amend soil with well-aged leaf mould and compost before planting. These are perennials for the long term, and effort spent enriching the soil before planting will 
be well rewarded.
  • Mulch newly planted hellebores with shredded leaves in spring and fall to prevent weeds and conserve moisture. The plants are drought, heat and humidity tolerant once established.
  • Shelter evergreen types from drying winds during winter if they aren't covered with snow. Plant them 
near a windbreak or cover with conifer boughs for winter protection.
  • Trim lightly in early spring to tidy up the overwintering leaves as the buds open.

Photos, from top: 'Pink Lady' and 'White Lady Spotted,' courtesy of Van Berkum Nursery

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