Colloquially known as the Lenten or Christmas rose, the hellebore flower is a cold-weather bloom that's known for its vibrant clusters of nodding blooms throughout winter and spring. Even for those who are intimidated by the thought of growing flowers, hellebores are quite an easy-going choice.
If you're looking to incorporate more flowers into your landscape as a novice gardener, hellebores should be one of your go-to picks. To get a thriving flower bed of these hardy, long-lasting blooms, here's what you need to know.
What is a hellebore flower?
Native to woodland parts of Europe and Asia, the Helleborus genus, which features about 20 species, belongs to the buttercup or Ranunculaceae family. Perennial to climate zones 4 through 9, hellebores feature leathery leaves and slightly cupped blooms that come in lush colors, such as white, yellow, purple, pink, and green.
Flowers grow as clusters of one to four blooms, and stalks can reach up to 1.5 feet tall. Blooms tend to go on for about 8 to 10 weeks, but leaves will typically stick around all year long in perennial regions. If you have kids or pets around in the garden, just keep in mind that all parts of the flower are poisonous.
When to plant hellebore flowers
The best time to plant hellebores is during spring or fall. While they are hardy down to climate zone 4 and bloom in cold weather, hellebores need time to establish their roots before any frost hits the soil.
Most garden centers sell hellebores as flowering plants, although hellebores do self-seed and can grow from seed. With hellebores plants growing from seed, you need to wait for around three to five years to enjoy flowers. If you want to get to planting already established flowers, here's what to know.
Step 1: If you're growing hellebores in the spring, check to see if the frost has passed. If you're planting in the fall, make sure there won't be frost until four to five weeks later to give your plant time to establish its roots.
Step 2: Choose where you want to plant your hellebores, keeping in mind that they can do well in most conditions — you just want to make sure your soil is neutral to slightly alkaline and that you get some afternoon shade during the hottest days of summer.
You can plant your hellebores in a container, bed, or directly in the ground.
Step 3: Gently loosen up compact soil from your hellebore's roots and plant your flower, keeping the crown above soil level to avoid rot.
Step 4: Top dress your soil with compost to amend your planting soil.
Step 5: Keep plants about 1 foot apart.
How to care for hellebores
Hellebores are low-maintenance flowers, but this doesn't necessarily mean zero maintenance. Here are a few areas of hellebore flower care that you should be mindful of while tending to your flowers.
Lighting: While hellebores need light to flower, they can thrive essentially anywhere, whether you pop them in full shade or full sun. If you have a garden that naturally receives more shade, you can still enjoy these blossoming beauties underneath awnings or trees.
Watering: Despite being low maintenance, hellebores have a reputation for being thirsty. You want to make sure your soil is consistently moist and never dried out. You will especially need to water younger hellebores more frequently to establish them.
Fertilizing: Hellebores appreciate well-draining, slightly alkaline soil that's rich in organic matter. You can amend your soil with compost at the time of planting, but hellebores aren't particularly heavy feeders. In fact, younger plants may even experience root burn if you fertilize them too much. If you still want to feed your plants to promote growth, give them a low-nitrogen fertilizer monthly during periods of active growth.
Pruning: Hellebores flowers don't really need to be deadheaded, but you can do some cleanup around late spring or autumn by removing dead or wilted leaves. As hellebores have a tendency to self-seed, you might also want to thin out overcrowded borders or containers by hand-weeding seedlings.
Treating pests: Hellebores don't typically attract a lot of insects, but you might come across slugs every so often. You can treat slugs with bait or diatomaceous earth.
How to get your hellebores to bloom
Once they've become established after three to five years, hellebores will bloom during spring and winter, going dormant during the summer. Like many flowers, hellebores blossom with ample sunlight and fertilizer. If you have an older plant that isn't blooming, here are steps you can take to encourage flowering.
Step 1: Check if your hellebore is root bound, which prevents it from pushing out new leaves and blooms. If your hellebore looks tight on space, repot it in a bigger container.
Step 2: If you suspect a lack of food, feed your hellebores a bloom-boosting fertilizer or a high-potassium fertilizer like tomato food.
If you don't want to consistently fertilize, you can also dress your soil with compost or manure when you plant your flowers.
Step 3: Check if your hellebore is in an area where it gets enough light.
While known for being shade-friendly plants, hellebores still need about 6 hours of direct sunlight a day, especially during colder weather. Move your plant if possible, or remove anything that might be an obstacle for light.
Where to plant hellebores in your garden landscape
Suitable for spots underneath trees and shrubs, hellebores do quite well as border flowers, and they can be very low maintenance once they've settled into the ground. Other than the occasional trimming and pruning in late spring, you won't have to move them very much — in fact, they can suffer from shock if you shuffle them around.
If you're tight on space, hellebores can also do well as container or planter flowers. You do need to remember, however, to keep them sufficiently watered, as soil in pots dries out quickly. Wherever you plant hellebores, just be sure to give them partial shade (either by moving them or using a shade cloth) during the warmest days of summer and give them well-draining, loamy soil.
As long as you stay on top of watering and occasionally feed them, your hellebores will reward you with fuss-free blooms that can thrive in both full sun and full shade. Once established, these hardy flowers will greet you in abundance during the cool days of spring and winter — they are actually even evergreen in many climate zones. With all of this information in mind, you can confidently head to your local nursery to pick out a lush hellebore flower for your home garden!
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