How to Grow & Care for Hellebores (Winter Roses)

HELLEBORUS | Common name: Hellebore / Winter Rose

A comprehensive guide to growing and caring for hellebores.

Sometimes known as ‘Lenten rose’ or ‘Christmas rose’

FAMILY — Ranunculaceae

LIFESPAN — Perennial

ASPECT — Partial Sun / Shade

PLANTING ADVICE — Great as a ground cover, border, under plant for roses, shrubs & trees, pots & containers. Needs shade from the harsh afternoon summer sun.

SIZE — Approx. 30cm high x 30cm wide

WHEN TO PLANT — Autumn/Winter/Spring

SOIL TYPE — Will tolerate moist to dry soil, but prefers average moisture (well drained) and rich soil.

PEAK FLOWERING — Late winter to early spring

A hellebore hybrid with ‘double’ blooms.

Hellebores are evergreen clumping perennial plants, with lush thick hand-shaped leaves and abundant nodding flowers. With their prolific winter and spring blooms, hellebores are a must have in any winter landscape.

The helleborus genus is part of the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family. They are closely related to colourful ranunculus flowers, as well as anemone, clematis and delphinium.

Hellebores are winter-hardy (both cold and frost-tolerant). They are ideal as an under plant for deciduous trees and shrubs. Hellebores are a lush looking ground cover and are effective at keeping weeds suppressed. They can also be grown in pots/containers.

In late autumn hellebores start to put on new growth. Their delightful erect stems pop up from the centre of the plant clump and (usually) stand tall above its leaves. In our opinion, these are one of the best winter flowering plants (and easiest to grow!).

Hellebore and daffodil spring gardenHellebores thrive in shady garden spots where most plants struggle.

Benefits of Hellebores in the Garden

Hellebores are both cold-hardy and very easy to grow. These winter hardy shade perennials are quick to establish in a full to part shade garden. 

From late winter to early spring hellebores are high performing flowering plants. Sometimes flowering into late spring.

They have evergreen foliage. Hellebores look great planted en masse and are an attractive ground cover year-round. Their leaves will also help suppress weeds. 

Hellebores can be neglected over the summer months (when they are in a more dormant state). In the winter they are cold and frost tolerant.

Their beautiful flowers are perfect for picking and displaying in a vase in the winter and spring months. (Though they do tend to droop their heads and drop their stamens which may drive you a little mad!)

 

Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican hellebore)Helleborus foetidus (stinking hellebore)

Types of Hellebore

Some popular varieties of hellebores:

Helleborus orientalis (Lenten rose) — The most common species of hellebores in established gardens and come in a range of colours, most commonly pinks, reds and purples.

Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) — Single white flowers, similar form to helleborus orientalis. They get their name from their bloom time being during the Christmas season in the Northern Hemisphere.

Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican hellebore) — These hellebores sprout clusters of small pale green downward facing blooms. Heavy bloomers from late winter to sometimes as late as early summer.

Helleborus foetidus (stinking hellebore) — Purply/red flower stems and leaf stalks. Small green bell-shaped flowers with purple tips. Finer fingered leaves than the other varieties. (And they don’t stink, despite their name!)

 

Helleborus hybrids

The above listed, more traditional hellebores are a gardener’s long time favourite and fill many established gardens. There are newer, modern types of hellebores available today in ‘hybrid’ varieties.

Known as ‘helleborus x hybridus’. Flower forms, patterns and colour options are most impressive in these hybrid hellebores. Colours and speckled patterns depend on the parentage of the species.

Flower shape of these hellebore hybrids is one of the things that makes them so attractive. Some have traditional cupped or bell-like blooms in impressive new colours, some are strikingly flat, open flowers, and others are bred to focus on the beauty of its flowers – the double bloomers.

Colours

Hellebore flowers traditionally come with pink, white and green flowers. Though the wide range of colours and patterns is increasing as new varieties are introduced. 

You’ll also find them with cream and pristine white flowers. Sometimes yellow. Commonly found are pale green and lime green hellebores. Hellebores also come in varying shades of pinks, from reddish-pink, dusky pink to pale pink flowers. For dramatic effect, choose a magenta, burgundy or a striking black hellebore.

 

A pale pink double bloom ‘helleborus x hybridus’

A pale pink double bloom ‘helleborus x hybridus’

Where is the best place to plant a hellebore?

It’s best to plant hellebores in semi-shaded to full shade areas. Hellebores are great for planting under the canopies of deciduous trees or shrubs as they can handle the competition for nutrients.

They will grow well in pots, but require lots of water during autumn and spring (when they are doing most of their growing). Keep the pot/container out of the sun. This may require moving it around from season to season.

Small pots may result in bound roots. Choose a pot that is at least twice the size of the plant. You may need to plant the potted hellebore out into the garden when it gets too established for the pot.

 

Light / Sun

Hellebores are most commonly grown in a shade or partial shade garden. They do well in dense shade, but will thrive in a shade garden that gets some sunlight during the winter months. 

A perfect planting position is underneath a deciduous tree where they are shaded by foliage in the summer but are exposed to sun during the autumn and winter.

Hellebores can also survive in a full sun garden. Though they will do much better if kept out of the fierce afternoon sun. Their thick, ground-covering leaves will stay more lush out of the harsh summer sun.

Soil

Hellebores grow best in moist but well-draining soil that’s rich in organic matter (for example, compost, sheep manure/pellets, Blood and Bone). They prefer neutral to alkaline soils, though will adapt to most conditions well.

Water

Hellebores prefer growing in moist soil. They need rain or watering the most during spring and autumn when they are doing most of their growing. 

However they are tolerant of both drought and neglect, and mature plants will handle growing in dry shade. They don’t like soggy feet and will rot if left in too much water, so boggy areas are not suited for hellebores to grow.

 

Black hellebore

Hellebores come in many different colours, including an array of striking “black” options.

How to Care for Hellebores

Hellebores are very low maintenance and easy to grow. They thrive in shady gardens where most plants struggle to do well. Here are some tips for your hellebore care:

At the Time of Planting

When planting hellebores add organic compost and sheep manure/pellets to the area. Some Blood & Bone is a good idea too.

Mulch around the crown of the plant with something like bark, wood chips or pea straw. Water well (before and after planting).

After planting, water with liquid seaweed fertiliser (homemade or a bought version like this one) to reduce the shock of being planted. You can use this regularly to keep them well fed and nourished. 

White and pale green helleboresHellebores can be left to be relatively neglected, but there are some easy care tasks you can do to get the most out of a hellebore’s flower production and lush evergreen leaves. Below are the some key tasks to give a little extra care to your hellebores:

Regular Nourishment

Hellebores don’t need much other than rich organic soil. Feeding and mulching annually will help keep them blooming prolifically and their rich green foliage healthy. 

Feed —

Feed hellebores annually in autumn or spring with a good dollop of good quality compost and sheep manure/pellets. Use Blood & Bone for extra oomph. If planted in a pot, water with seaweed solution (homemade or one like this) every 2-4 weeks in autumn and spring (their active growing seasons). 

Mulch —

Top up a layer of mulch annually (preferably in autumn). Use autumn leaves, wood chips or pea straw. Keep the mulch away from the base of the plant’s main stem.

 

Pruning

When you start to see new leaves and buds start to emerge (usually in the late winter months), cut back tatty old leaves and foliage at the base of the plant. This allows light into the centre of the clump which should encourage more flower stems to grow. This will also allow for more air flow at the crown of the plant which will decrease the plant’s chances of succumbing to black spot. 

Snip off spent flowers to prolong flowering. After flowering is finished, remove flower stems and trim away winter-worn and tattered old foliage.

Pests

For the most part hellebores are pest and disease free. Though they are sometimes susceptible to aphids and ‘hellebore leaf spot’ (black spot). Watch out for slug and snail damage – keep these creepy crawlies under control to keep the foliage looking lush and uneaten.

How to propagate hellebores

Growing hellebores from seeds is an easy way to propagate the plants.

How to Propagate Hellebores

Hellebores are easily propagated from garden-to-garden. Below are the three best methods of propagating hellebores:

 

Self-seeded Hellebores

Hellebores naturally (and often prolifically) self-seed in gardens, as long as they are happy in their growing conditions. 

Hellebores have long-lasting flowers, and if they are left to bloom long enough it’ll give them the opportunity to self-seed and multiply. You’ll often see a parent plant surrounded by multiple babies sprouting up.

You can transplant these seedlings to different areas in your garden (or give them away) when they have started to develop ‘true leaves’. (‘True leaves’ are the leaves that come after the first leaves of a newly sprouted seedling. ‘True leaves’ are the leaves that allow a plant to perform photosynthesis – the process of plants being able to make their own food.)

Dividing Hellebore Clumps

Hellebores can be propagated by division. This is when you divide a well-established, healthy hellebore plant from a friend or family member’s garden (or another section of your own garden). The best time to divide a hellebore is in winter before flowering.

The best way to do this is lift large clumps of the desired hellebore, then divide with a garden fork and then reset the remaining piece back in the ground. Otherwise they can be divided while in the ground using a sharp spade. Ensure each divided piece has at least 2 new buds popping up from the crown.

 

Pink hellebore in bloom

Growing Hellebores from Seeds

Hellebores can easily be grown from seed. Hellebore seeds are best planted as soon as you collect the seeds as they don’t stay viable for very long. (They will develop a hard coating and go dormant when not in soil.)

Freshly collected seeds (at the end of flowering in spring) can be planted in containers outdoors in the summer. Keep the soil moist and you should see germination in autumn or the following spring.

To note: Are hellebores poisonous?

All parts of the hellebore plant are poisonous to eat.