I first heard of Helleborus perennial several years ago when I spent a season trying to grow some uncommon plants from seed. I didn’t have any luck with them, but the idea of a flowering plant blooming in my garden where there is still snow on the ground stuck in my mind. The botanical name of this lovely plant is Helleborus-Lenten Rose and another common name is the Christmas rose, because of blooming time.
One of my favorite plants for late winter and early spring is Helleborus Perennial – an ever green flowering plant.
Imagine my delight, a few years ago, while browsing the garden center of Lowe’s, in very early spring, to find rows and rows of Monrovia Hellebores. I shrieked. I danced. I grabbed one and bought it, in spite of the hefty price tag, close to $20. I was determined to get that baby into the ground in my shady side border.
Helleborus (pronounced hel-eh-bor’us) is a popular garden plant with those who are longing for spring flowers long before the winter season is over. They are frost resistant and evergreen too, so they have interest year round.
I was happy with my single plant for two years. But last year, all that changed. My husband was working part time for a landscaping friend of his and one of their jobs was some work in the garden of a lady who obviously loved Helleborusas much as I do. Her garden was over run with them and she graciously allowed my sweet husband to dig some up and bring them home to me. You should have seen his face the day he rolled up with about a dozen Lenten Rose plants in the back of his truck…all with different colored flowers and leaf formation as a surprise for me! He was a very popular guy in our house that day, I can tell you!
I love the way that Hellebores grow. They have multi leaved stems of flowers that lay down nicely under the center of the plant where the bloom spikes start to grow up. Some have low laying bloom clusters and make for a nice compact plant.
Others have more spikes to the leaf cluster and have a higher spray of flowers that sit in a big clump quite a bit above the center of the plant.
Flower colors vary widely. The varieties that I have in my garden now range from mauve, to purple and white, light green, medium green, pale pink and pure white. The petals of the flowers vary too. Some are quite cupped shape and others spread wide open to reveal the center of the plant.
I have dozens of hellebores in my garden now. This dish of petals shows the range that I have acquired so far.
Leaf shapes vary a lot too, fine very fine solid green, to really plump leaves with a burgundy tinge to them.
Tips for Growing Helleborus Perennial:
- Soil. Be sure to plant in well draining, organic soil. Most Hellebores do not like to have wet feet.
- Moisture. These plants are somewhat drought resistant so only need light watering once established.
- Light. Choose a location with filtered light sun or shade. I have mine in both, but the ones in my shady border perform the best.
- Flowering time. Helleborus perennial flowers in late winter to very early spring. Here in NC, my plants have been flowering since January. I currently have dozens of plants in bloom. For other very early spring bloomers, see this post.
- Fertilizing. Be careful when you fertilize. If you choose a fertilizer with too much nitrogen in the formula, you will end up with lots of lush leaves but now so many flowers. Bonemeal fertilizer in the fall is recommended.
- Seed. To grow from Helleboresfrom seed, a 60 day chilling period is needed. So, either keep the seeds in the fridge for that time before trying to plant, or else, plant outdoors in the fall where the cold period will happen naturally. Seedlings may not end up true to parent, so may need to be thinned out.
- Dividing. Overgrown clumps of Hellebores can be divided in early spring or in the fall for more plants.
- Maintenance. The plants can look pretty tattered after a hard winter. Old foliage can safely be removed in early spring after frost ends to tidy up the plants.
- Old Blooms. Dead heading is not needed: Hellebores flower petals continue throughout the summer and are quite ornamental. They do lose a lot of their color as the weather heats up. The flowers aso produce large amounts of seeds which can drop and will produce lots of seedlings in years to come.
- Plant size. Helleborus perennial plants can grown from 1 to 4 ft high and about 18 inches to 3 feet wide. The largest one that I have in my garden right now is about 18 inches tall and 2 feet wide.
- Pests. Slugs and snails are attracted to Hellebores. These can be controlled with baits, or Diatomaceous earth.
- Companion plants. Hellebores love to be planted near other shade loving plants. I have mine in garden beds with several varieties of hostas, ferns, coral bells and bleeding hearts.
- Winter care. Light mulching with hay is recommended if your winter is harsh.
- Varieties of Hellebores Perennial. From my research online, I have earned that there are 17 known species of Helleborus. From my experience at Big Box stores, the most commonly seen one is the Helleborus x hybridus ‘Red Lady’ from Monrovia. Updated: One of my readers has informed me that there are 20 species and lots of hybrids. Thanks for this info which I have added to my post.
- Difficulty. These are easy to grow plants from purchased plants but harder to grow from seed.
- Hardiness. Zones 4-9.
- Toxicity. All parts of Hellebores have poisonous characteristics. The plant is toxic if eaten in large quantities. :Minor, and more major, skin irritation is also a possibility. Both animals and humans are affected by this toxic nature. Hellebores are said to have a burning taste. Take care in gardens where pets and children are nearby. This page from Cornel University talks more in depth about the poisonous aspect of Helleborus.
If you are interested in trying your hand at growing a Helleborus perennial, This book from Amazon, Hellebores – A Comprehensive Guide, by C. Colston Burrell is a useful one. It is jam packed with up-to-the-minute, comprehensive information on growing, maintenance, design, hybridization and selection, and trouble-shooting of this wonderful plant.
In spite of the slightly hefty price tag, this stunning Helleborus perennial is worth searching out. They are very forgiving plants that need little care and will bloom in late winter and early spring year after year.