by Saffyre Falkenberg
Hellebores are a perennial flower planted in the late fall. They can bloom as early as Christmastime but typically bloom in the early spring. Despite its roselike blooms, hellebores are more closely related to the ranunculus than the rose. Hellebores originate from regions in Eastern Europe and Asia, and references to the hellebore go back to Ancient Greek mythology. All parts of the plant are toxic, especially if ingested. Be sure to wash your hands after handling the hellebore.
Also known as as the “winter rose” or “Christmas rose,” hellebores throughout history have been connected to eerie or downright creepy legends. Some believe that witches use hellebore to summon demons or that Ancient Greeks used them to poison the city of Kirrha’s water supply. Additionally, it gets the name “Christmas rose” because of the legend that the flower sprouted from the tears of a girl who had no gift to bring baby Jesus.
Hellebores might have a macabre history, but they make a beautiful addition to any winter garden. The flowers come in shades of green, pink, and white, tolerating both frost and shade. Often, the hellebore will be an evergreen plant.
Growing Conditions for Hellebores
One of the perks of the hellebore plant is its tolerance of frost and shade. The plant thus prefers an environment that gets partial sun at most. Make sure the soil is moist, well-drained, neutral to slightly acidic, and full of organic composts. Although they need some moisture to thrive, soil that is too wet will cause the plant to rot. As with peonies, make sure soil just barely covers the crown; burying the plant too deep may inhibit flowering.
How to Plant Hellebores
Hellebores can be planted from seeds or transplanted from purchased seedlings. If you are growing the hellebore from seeds, the process will be much more difficult. Hellebore seeds must be planted fresh and will often go dormant, taking a year or so to get out of their dormancy period.
If not using fresh seeds, then the stored seeds need to be stratified. Although this happens naturally outdoors, it requires soaking the seeds in hot water, planting them in warm soil for about six weeks, and then moving them to cooler soil until they germinate after another six weeks or so.
It is easier to transplant hellebores from purchased seedlings, and you can ensure you get the colors you want this way as well. Many gardeners like to plant hellebores on an incline or in raised beds to better enjoy the downward-facing flowers.
Care of Hellebores
Hellebores are a fairly low-maintenance plant overall. When they are actively growing in the fall and spring, be sure to keep the soil moist. The plant is dormant in the summer and needs less water then. Each year, before the plants begin to bud, cut away the previous year’s foliage. Hellebores also benefit greatly from a yearly application of compost or manure.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Hellebores
Animals typically avoid damaging hellebores because of the poisonous nature of the plants.
The hellebore leaf miner is one pest that you will have to watch out for. It is a fly that will burrow into the leaves of the plant in order to lay eggs. When this happens, patches of the leaves often turn brown or black, causing heavy disfiguration of the plant if not attended to. The most damage will be done from late summer to early spring.
The hellebore aphid, also known as the greenfly, is another pest that endangers hellebores. These aphids will consume the hellebore, beginning with the flower and working their way to the insides of the plant. Typically, these pests are most active in the early spring, right when the plant is flowering.
There are several diseases that can affect hellebores. One of the more common diseases to watch out for is grey mold. This brownish-gray mold will usually affect a plant that has been injured or is under stress. The mold can affect the plant at any time of the year and on any part of the plant. Treat the mold by removing the affected parts of the plant and reducing the humidity in the plant’s environment.
Another disease that affects hellebores is hellebore black spot, also called leaf spot. This fungus only affects hellebores. Blackish-brown rings will usually appear on the leaves in the spring. Remove the infected leaves to prevent reinfection.
Hellebore black death is another disease that affects the hellebore exclusively. This virus causes serious damage to the hellebore by stunting its growth or even deforming the plant. The disease causes black spots or streaks to appear on the flowers, sepals, and leaves. There is no way to cure this disease; the only way to prevent it from spreading is to destroy the infected plants.
If you grow your hellebores from seeds, it will take at least two years for the plant to flower. In zones 7 and warmer, hellebores can bloom as early as December. In all other zones, hellebores will usually bloom in the early spring months.
Hellebore Varieties to Grow in Your Home Garden
- Black Hellebore: Despite its name, this variety grows white blooms common around Christmastime.
- Citron: This type is a hybrid variety with bright yellow blooms.
- Lenten Rose: The most common variety of hellebore, lenten rose blooms can range from white to purple.
- Phillip Ballard: This hybrid variety has blooms that range from dark blue to almost black.
- Wester Flisk: This variety has a red tint to its stems and leaves.
Videos About Growing Hellebores
Watch this video on growing hellebores from the Nursery Manager at White Flower Farms:
You can also watch this video from Walters Gardens:
Want to Learn More About Growing Hellebores?
Garden Design covers Hellebore Flowers Offer Beautiful Late-Winter Blooms
Gardening Know How covers Growing Hellebores
Fine Gardening covers Hellebores: Cure Late Winter Blues
Better Homes & Gardens covers Hellebore
How long do the seeds need to soak in hot water?