Flower Facts: Growing Hellebores

February 5, 2018

Despite the “hell” in their name, helleborus hybrids also are called Lenten roses because they usually begin to bloom at some point between February and Easter. They can overreach Lent’s six weeks, however--sometimes flowering as early as January in the warmest parts of their range and continuing until as late as May in the coldest.

Although hellebore flowers do resemble roses, their “petals” actually are leathery sepals. Those hold up longer under inclement weather than the more silky petals of real roses do.



Helleborus prefer humus-rich soil in partial or not-overly-intense shade. So it’s best to plant them either in an east-facing position where they receive only morning sun, on the north side of a building where they receive no sun but fairly bright light, or beneath high-branched deciduous trees. In the latter case, they will benefit from lots of illumination in the spring--before the trees leaf out--but be protected from the heat of the summer sun later.


Although hellebores like neutral-to-alkaline soil, they generally will tolerate somewhat acidic conditions with aplomb. However, they won’t stand sodden ground or being planted too deeply. Either of those conditions can cause fatal rot, but the plants never should be allowed to dry out completely either.


So be careful to set them in moist, well-drained soil, at the same depth at which they grew in the nursery and 18 to 24 inches apart. Choose their location carefully, because hellebores resent being moved. Therefore, their new home should be one which they can occupy permanently. And we do mean permanently! Since the poison in the plants makes them repellant to deer and other wildlife, hellebores can outlive you if given an ideal site.

Because even tattered leaves can provide some protection to buds, it’s best to avoid trimming off your Lenten roses’ winter-marred greenery until just before the flowers bloom. Then you can snip off the most damaged foliage to encourage more attractive new growth.

Once established, hellebores will require little care except, perhaps, an occasional application of compost. And they provide hopeful hues in the landscape at a time of year when such colors are in very short supply!

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