Hellebore Flowers Offer Beautiful Late-Winter BloomsA winter champion, luscious hybrid hellebores are some of the first to bloom
Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.
- Common name: Hybrid Lenten rose
- Zones: 4 to 9; evergreen in 6 to 9
- Bloom time: February-May
- Bloom size: 2 to 3 1/2”
- Height/Spread: 18 to 24” tall and 24” wide
- 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 hellebore flowers 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.
- Plant with companions such as snowdrops, crocus, muscari, daffodils, phlox, trillium and bleeding heart.
- Hellebores contain toxins that are harmful to pets and humans, so keep them out of reach. See more Common Poisonous Plants for Dogs and Cats.
Hellebore care tips:
- In late winter or early spring, just as new growth stalks are emerging, any old or damaged foliage can be sheared back to the base.
- 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.
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.”
OUR FAVORITE HELLEBORES
WEDDING PARTY® 'TRUE LOVE' — Buy now from Proven Winners
Part of the Wedding Party® series, 'True Love' bears 3 to 3-1/2" rich maroon-red double flowers. The Wedding Party® series showcases double-flowered selections in numerous shades.
WEDDING PARTY® 'WEDDING BELLS' — Buy now from Proven Winners
Another selection from the Wedding Party® series, 'Wedding Bells' has 2 to 2-1/2" clear white double flowers.
HONEYMOON® 'ROMANTIC GETAWAY' — Buy now from Proven Winners
From the Honeymoon® series, 'Romantic Getaway' blooms with 3" single white flowers with dramatic red patterned centers.
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.
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.”
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."
“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.
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.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Do hellebores spread?
Yes, hellebores will self-sow. However, allowing them to do so may result in unexpected hybrids if you grow multiple types in close proximity. Thin out any new seedlings that are too close to mature plants. Expect self-sown plants to flower after three years.
Do hellebores need to be divided?
It's not usually necessary for the health of the plant; but if you wish to divide them, this is best done in fall. Hellebores can be fussy about being dug up and moved, so it's generally just best to leave them be.
Find more early bloomers: 16 Winter Flowers for Your Garden
Get more spring gardening ideas
Last updated: January 22, 2020
This article was adapted from its original version for use on the web.