Helleborus x hybridus
  • Common name: Hybrid Lenten rose
  • Zones: 4-9; evergreen in 6-9
  • Bloom time: February-May
  • Bloom size: 2-3 1/2”
  • Height/Spread: 18-24”/24”
  • Site: Partial shade, well-draining soil
  • Characteristics: Low-maintenance, deer-resistant

Hybrid hellebores get their common name, Lenten rose, from the rose-like flowers that appear in early spring around the Christian observance of Lent. The “blooms” (which are actually sepals that protect the true flowers) last for several months, from February until May, and the foliage is evergreen in all but the coldest regions.

PLANTING & CARING FOR HELLEBORES

Tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions, hybrid hellebores perform best when sited in partial shade in rich, moist, but well-draining soil. Hellebores are quite easy to grow, and since they are perennials, will continue to bloom for a number of years.

Hellebore planting tips:

  • Many gardeners like to plant hellebores on a hillside or in raised flower beds to better enjoy their downward-facing blooms. See an excellent example of this planting strategy: A Winter Jewel Box.
  • When transplanting hellebores directly from their nursery containers, be sure to shake off the potting mix and free up any bound roots.
  • Be careful not to plant your hellebores too deeply as this can hinder flower production. Make sure the crown of the plant is just slightly buried beneath the soil.

Hellebore care tips:

  • The leathery foliage of hellebore flowers looks best when sheared in late winter just before new growth emerges.
  • An annual application of manure or compost will help to boost the growth of your hellebores.
  • Provide plenty of water during spring and fall when they are actively growing. You can ease up during the summer because heat causes hellebores to go dormant.

OUR FAVORITE HELLEBORES

For landscape craftsman Jerry Fritz, Helleborus x hybridus (hybrid Lenten rose) are staples in the landscapes he designs for his clients. “Hellebores are among the earliest and certainly the most exquisite flowers in the spring garden.” Until recently however, named varieties were all but impossible to find. Advances in propagation through division, tissue culture, and hand-pollination have resulted in more diverse flower colors, forms, patterns, increased plant vigor, and larger blooms. According to Fritz, “The newer hybrids are not only accessible and collectible, they are seriously addicting as well.” With improved breeding techniques producing a seemingly endless array of new varieties in recent years, these perennial favorites are worthy of a second look.

Fritz—a well-known speaker, author, and industry expert who has been featured in many national publications and appeared on the Martha Stewart Show—trials the newest hellebore cultivars at Linden Hill Gardens, his destination plant nursery in Ottsville, Pennsylvania. “The most exciting trends right now include truer and more unusual colors (from amber to almost black), increased plant heights, outward-facing blooms, and more exotic patterns of speckling, veining, and picotee edges,” he says. “The fact that Lenten roses can be successfully grown in most zones, are low-maintenance and deer-resistant, only enhances their already sky-high appeal. For me, hellebores are an indispensable plant for any serious gardener.”

Swipe to view slides

01. RED RACER

Part of the Winter Thriller™ series introduced by Chris Hansen of Great Garden Plants, the oversized, velvety-crimson flowers are widely regarded as the truest red. Dark mahogany foliage that fades to dark green is a perfect complement to the striking blooms.

02. 'VELVET LIPS'

This Heronswood introduction has deep-maroon stems that emerge from the ground in early spring, offering a welcome color even before the flowers appear. The red-tinged new foliage unfurls to reveal nodding burgundy flowers with a shiny, darker crimson reverse.

03. PINE KNOT STRAIN DOUBLE PINK

“I am partial to any of the double-flowered forms, as the blooms last longer,” says Fritz. “The clear lavender-pink color makes this a great companion to a wide range of spring ephemerals, such as early-blooming minor bulbs and forget-me-nots.”

04. PEPPERMINT ICE

One of the many striking named varieties in the Winter Jewels™ series by Ernie and Marietta O'Byrne of Northwest Garden Nursery, the soft-pink double flowers are infused with shades of crimson. Fritz finds the simultaneous veining, spotting, and edging to be "particularly intriguing."

05. 'RASPBERRY MOUSSE'

Soft-pink flowers are streaked with darker rose and infused with a hint of chartreuse. Combine with Primula 'Green Lace' (primrose), Pulmonaria (spotted lungwort), and Helleborus foetidus (stinking hellebore).

06. 'PHOENIX'

Single-petaled flowers are a muted apple-green edged with burgundy. Mass in drifts and pair with Fritillaria persica (Persian lily) or 'Black Hero' tulips to accentuate the picotee rim.

07. ONYX ODYSSEY

“This is the variety that people gravitate to the most in our display gardens,” notes Fritz. “It’s close to a true black and is stunning when paired with Galanthus (snowdrops).” Part of the Winter Jewels™ series.

08. 'KINGSTON CARDINAL'

Raspberry-mauve double blooms of this regal selection by Dan Hinkley are complemented by reddish new growth. Dramatic nodding flowers are best seen when planted on a hillside or steep slope so that they can be viewed from below.

09. COTTON CANDY

The ruffly, pink flowers are especially eye-catching in a deeply shaded area. Pair with Onyx Odyssey hellebore or Muscari aucheri ‘Blue Magic’ (grape hyacinth).

10. GOLDEN LOTUS

Part of the Winter Jewels™ series, the lotus-like flowers create a tropical look. Fritz finds the bright-yellow color "cheerful, like daffodils; they stand out on a cloudy day."

11. 'PAINTED BUNTING'

Blush-white blooms have burgundy veining and picotee edging that look as though they were painted on with brushstrokes. Fritz remarks: “This is one of the first varieties to bloom in my garden.”

12. GOLD FINCH

Introduced by Dan Hinkley, this is regarded as one of the best yellow forms. Deep burgundy flecking towards the center of the flowers makes this a striking companion to 'Kingston Cardinal'.

13. 'ELEGANCE WHITE'

Symmetrical pointed petals of this creamy double form are generously speckled with burgundy. "The heavy spotting pattern creates a particularly mesmerizing effect in a garden border, even from a distance," enthuses Fritz.

14. ROYAL HERITAGE™ STRAIN

Developed by noted plantsman John Elsley, the introduction of this hand-pollinated strain is widely credited for the start of the hellebore craze. Colors range from white, yellow, pink, maroon, to near-black.

Note: “Strain” refers to a particular series of unnamed selections. Named cultivars are true to flower and form.

15. SPRING PROMISE™ CONNY

This series was bred for taller stature, exceptional vigor and outward-facing flowers. Deeply speckled blooms of Conny are shown off to their best advantage when planted in drifts.

16. BRANDYWINE™ STRAIN

Developed by David Culp, creator of the gardens at Brandywine Cottage, these are among the most versatitle for designers. The many distinct forms include single, double, and anemone, with a full range of solid, bicolor, and speckled hues.

Note: “Strain” refers to a particular series of unnamed selections. Named cultivars are true to flower and form.

17. 'MRS. BETTY RANICAR'

Fritz explains this as “one of the best early double whites, with a classic, pure form. It has a really clean, crisp look, and performs reliably from year to year.”

PROPAGATING HELLEBORES

Can’t get enough hellebores? You can propagate them yourself in one of three ways:

  • Grow them from seed.
    Collect seeds in May and June and sow immediately. Expect seed grown plants to flower after two years.
  • Allow them to self-sow.
    This may result in unexpected hybrids if you grow multiple types of hellebore flowers in close proximity. Also, thin out any new seedlings that are too close to mature plants. Expect self-sown hellebores to flower after three years.
  • Divide your favorites.
    This propagation method is the perfect choice if you are looking to create an exact duplicate of one of your plants.

This article was adapted from its original version for use on the web.

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