Hellebore: Plant Care & Growing Guide


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    How to Grow Hellebore

    The common name "hellebore" is attributed to several species of plants in the genus Helleborus of the Ranunculaceae family, which also includes monasticism, dolphin, and anemone. Hellebore was the domain of specialty plant gatherers, but recent hybridization has introduced several varieties that are easy to grow and readily available.

    The three best-known species are H. orientalis (often called the Lenten rose), H. niger (commonly known as the Christmas rose or black rose), and Helleborus foetidus (commonly known as the stinky hellebore). Varieties marked Helleborus x hybrids are generally hybrids with H. orientalis as the main parent.

    Hellebore foliage is evergreen and forms a low group with lobed, palm-like leaves. The flowers resemble the shape of roses. The flower stalks sprout above the foliage but sway under the weight of the flowers, which tend to bloom upside down.

    The plant is long-flowering, with mostly creamy white flowers tinged with green or pink, which tend to change or deepen with age. With hybridization, more colors are available.

    Hellebore plants are among the first evergreen flowers to bloom, welcoming spring with their pink blooms. In warm environments, Helleborus orientalis can flourish outdoors during the Christmas season. In cooler areas, the hellebore will break through the frozen ground in early spring.

    Their foliage remains attractive during the summer, making them suitable for mass planting. They also complement basic plantings and are ideal for forest gardens.

    Hellebore can be planted in spring or fall. Some species are slow to develop and can take two seasons to flower.

    Botanical NameHelleborus spp.
    Common NameHellebore, Lenten rose, Christmas rose
    Plant TypeHerbaceous perennial
    Mature Size1–2 feet tall, similar spread
    Sun ExposurePart shade to full shade
    Soil TypeRich, moist soil
    Soil pH7.0 to 8.0 (neutral to slightly alkaline)
    Bloom TimeSpring
    Flower ColorWhite, pink, purple, yellow
    Hardiness Zones3–9 (USDA); varies by species
    Native AreaCaucasus, Turkey
    ToxicityMildly toxic

    Hellebore Care

    Ferns are generally planted from potted nursery specimens, even when purchased from online retailers. Hellebore seeds are available but are sold in seed packets that include a mix of colors. If you want a specific variety, you will need to buy potted nursery plants because they were bred or hybridized with specific colors.

    The flowering time depends on the species and the climate. The Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) may bloom in December in zone 7 or warmer, but it rarely blooms until spring in cooler climates. Most species can be expected to flower between December and April and remain in flower for a month or more.

    Hellebore is very easy to grow in shady conditions, where most plants struggle, as long as they have some shelter from the strong winter winds. The only real maintenance plants need is a little cleaning of their wilted leaves. If the foliage is spent in winter, it can be reduced to basal growth in the spring, before flowering.


    Hellebores prefer partial or full shade. They can withstand the spring sun but set them in a spot that will be shadier as the trees and other plants empty.


    Hellebore grows best in soils rich in organic matter and well-drained. If your soil is acidic, consider adding lime, as hellebore prefers neutral or even alkaline conditions.


    Although Helleborers like a bit of moisture, they should not sit in moist soil for long periods of time or they will rot. Once established, they can handle drier soils.

    Temperature and humidity

    Hardiness varies by species, but you can find the right hellebore for USDA zones 3 through 9, most are hardy north through zone 4 or 5. In colder climates, protect the hellebore from strong winter winds. Helleboros tolerate a wide range of humidity.


    Add an organically rich fertilizer (compost or well-decomposed manure) to the soil during planting and then continue to fertilize in the spring and early fall. Chemical fertilizer applications are rarely necessary if the soil is rich enough.

    Hellebore is Toxic?

    Hellebore plants contain a toxin called protoanemonin. Plants are only seriously poisonous if ingested in large quantities. Consumption at this level is rare, as the plant has a very bitter taste and the main reason these plants are not touched by deer.

    Symptoms of intoxication.

    Ingestion of the plant can cause burning in the mouth and throat, excessive salivation, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nervous symptoms, and depression. Contact with lymph can cause skin irritation, so wear gloves when handling.

    Hellebore Variety

    There are many wonderful varieties of hellebore, often sold in a mix of colors. More and more hybrids are offered in unique colors. Here are some favorites:

    • Helleborus x hybridus 'Anna's Red': This plant has rich red-purple blooms and leaves that are veined with pink. It is suitable for zones 4 to 9.
    • Helleborus x hybridus 'Winter Jewels Amber Gem': Unique golden blossoms are edged with pink. Grow this plant in zones 5 to 8.
    • Helleborus x hybridus 'Phillip Ballard': This variety has dark blue, almost black flowers. It can be grown in zones 6 to 9.
    • Helleborus x hybridus 'Citron': This plant has unusual primrose yellow blooms and is suitable for zones 6 to 9.
    • Helleborus x hybridus 'Angel Glow': The cultivar has pale pink flowers that fade to green as they age. Grow it in zones 6 to 8.
    • Helleborus foetidus 'Wester Flisk': These plants have a red tinge to the stems and leaf stalks. Flowers are greenish, edged with red-purple. It is suitable for USDA zones 6 to 9.

    Hellebore Spreader

    Hellebore can be propagated by division. The best time to separate is in early spring, before flowering. It's easier to dig up the entire plant and shake or wash the soil to see where the buds are in the canopy. Make sure each piece has at least two jewels. (Helleborus foetidus and Helleborus argutifolius do not divide well and it is best to start with the seed).

    Most varieties will be replanted, but if hybrids can produce seeds, this will not "become a reality" for the parent plant. The seeds can produce plants that look like one of the parent species, not the hybrid. You can move the plants to another location in the garden once they are large enough to handle and have developed true leaves.

    Hellebore Grows From Seeds

    Hellebore seeds are not viable for long. Always start with fresh seeds. The fresh seeds can be planted in containers and left outside all summer long. Keep the soil moist and you will see germination in the fall or the following spring.

    If you collect pods from growing plants, you should plant them immediately; they will germinate with minimal effort. However, if they stay off the ground for a long time, they develop a hard coat and go numb. It may take a year or more to complete this inactive cycle.

    Hellebore seeds in storage should be stratified before planting. They will do this naturally outdoors, but if you want to start planting indoors, you will need a bit of finesse.

    First, soak the seeds in hot water until they start to swell. It may take a day or two. Then plant in a pot filled with potting soil and keep the pots at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit for six weeks. Finally, move the jars to a cooler place, around 50 degrees. You should see germination and sprout within 4-6 weeks.

    Common Pests / Diseases

    The hellebore is not bothered by many insects, except aphids. The affected parts can be removed and the plant sprayed with horticultural oil or another pesticide.

    The usual diseases are usually of fungal origin: leaf spots and mildew, which can be treated with fungicides if the infection is severe.

    A very serious disease takes the threatening name of "black blight", which causes stunted plants and black streaks. It is caused by the Helleborus necrosis virus, which is transmitted by aphids. If a plant is affected, the only solution is to remove it completely. Treat aphids to prevent the spread of this disease.

    Enjoy This Video Tutorial About Hellebore Care Guide

    Source: Garden Answer

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