how to plant, grow & care for hellebores
complete growing guide
With a good mix of varieties, you can have hellebores brightening your borders from Christmas through to Easter. The colours range from purest white through cream, yellow and lime green, then all the pinks and burgundies to deepest velvety black. They can be singles, or the fullest of doubles, speckled or plain. All are beloved of the solitary bumble bee, who seems to come out of hibernation straight into the embrace of the nectar rich hellebore flower. As a cut flower they work best floating on the surface of a bowl of water and their handsome evergreen leaves bring a lush look to the border even when they have finished flowering. Browse our range of hellebore plants and add some winter and spring cheer to your garden.
- Common name Hellebore, Christmas or Lenten rose
- Latin name Helleborus
- Type Perennial
- Height 30cm x 30cm
- TLC rating Easy
- Aspect Part shade/full shade
- Planting position Middle of the border, under shrubs and trees.
- Suitable for pots Yes
- Good for pollinators Yes
- Good for cut flowers Some varieties
how to grow hellebores
where to grow hellebores
Soil type: Plant hellebores in moist but well drained soil.
Aspect & position: Full or partial shade in the middle of the border or under shrubs and trees. As the delicate markings of the flowers are best appreciated from underneath it can be a good idea to plant them on a slope or raised area such as a retaining wall.
when to plant hellebores
Hellebores are best planted from autumn through to spring so that they can establish before the ground starts to dry out. Plant your hellebores between October and March for best results.
how to plant hellebores
Hellebores are a mainly woodland plant, so tend to thrive in full or partial shade. As they flower in winter or early spring, pick an area that you will visit in those months, with soil rich in leaf mould or organic matter.
New plants tend to be supplied in pots, in leaf, or even in flower, so ensure they have a good soak before planting out. Make a hole just bigger than the pot, add some mycorrhizal fungi such as Rootgrow and make sure to plant at the same level as it was in the pot. Water in and mulch with another layer of compost or leaf mould.
how to care for hellebores
feeding & watering
Once hellebores are established, they will need very little water, or even much in the way of fertiliser. An annual mulch of leaf mould or home-made compost is all they really need.
To prevent any build-up of fungal spores from the black spot that they are prone to it is a good idea to chop the old leaves off right to the ground just before the flower buds appear in late winter. This will also help to reveal the flowers that can be hidden by the large leathery leaves. A good thick mulch at this point will set the emerging flowers off nicely as well as feed up the plants for the growing season ahead.
Hellebores will seed themselves about very readily, meaning that their offspring could be hybrids of surrounding parents, leading to exciting novelties, or, more likely, a preponderance of a middling kind of pink. To avoid this, you will need to deadhead the flowers, or ruthlessly weed out the seedlings. If you do want to propagate from seed sow in pots as soon as it is ripe and grow on in a cold frame.
A safer way of propagating new plants to ensure they come true to the parent plant is to divide them. Find a good established clump (at least five years old) that is just about to finish flowering (that way you have a good chance of identifying just which cultivar it is). Lift out the whole root ball and split into two sections using the back-to-back fork technique. Replant in freshly composted soil or in a good-sized pot if you want to hand on to a friend or neighbour.
- Deadhead spent flowers to prevent too many seedlings.
- Propagate by seed or division.
- Cut off all old leaves as the plants come into bud.
- Mulch with leaf mould or compost.
pests, diseases & common issues
This large white aphid is specific to hellebores. It attacks the underside of the new leaves and flowers in early spring before most of the predators arrive to dispatch them. The honey dew they exude can cause sooty mould so squash any that you see as soon as they appear; this should help prevent a build-up in the population. If the problem persists, use a physical insecticide such as SB plant invigorator, this should not harm the beneficial insects that will both predate on the aphids and pollinate the flowers.
hellebore leaf miner
This pest only attacks Helleborus foetidus, burrowing through the leaf tissue and leaving brown streaks. While unsightly it will rarely kill the plant, so the best control is to remove and destroy affected leaves in late winter before the miners have pupated and laid a new generation.
hellebore leaf spot
A fungal disease that is very common on most varieties of hellebore. It is particularly bad in damp conditions and appears as brown blotches on the leaves, spreading to the stems and even the flowers. Remove all affected leaves in the late winter and pick up any rotted leaves that might be spreading fungal spores.
hellebore black death
This is a fairly recently arrived virus disease that attacks in late spring causing black streaks on the flowers, stems and leaves and eventually killing the plant. Helleborus orientalis or hybrids are particularly prone to this disease. Remove affected plants straight away and try growing more resistant species.
why are my hellebores not flowering?
If these are young plants that have grown from seed, they can take three or four years to get to flowering stage. If they were bought in flower during the summer, it may be that they were forced artificially, and so will take a season or two to settle into their natural season of winter flowering. If they are growing in a pot, they could be pot bound and need to be potted on into fresh compost. If they have recently been divided, they may take a while to re-establish.
why are my hellebores dying?
If you are growing them in a pot, they might be suffering from drought, drowning or too much heat at the root. Try to find a shady spot for the pot and ensure a regular watering regime. Alternatively, you could be unlucky and have been visited by the Hellebore black death (see above) which is as terminal as it sounds, so destroy the plant immediately.
frequently asked questions
will deer eat hellebores?
No, they will not.
what soil do hellebores like?
They like a rich moisture retentive soil with plenty of organic matter. Think of a woodland floor and its centuries of leaf litter and you won’t go far wrong.
why are my hellebores green?
Perhaps they are one of the particularly prized green flowered hellebores? Helleborus viridis, “Winter Bells” and foetidus all have lime green flowers.
why are my hellebores flowering in July?
This could be as a result of being forced into flower by the nursery in previous years, and it has still not settled into its correct calendar.
how to collect hellebore seeds?
Wait for the seed pods to ripen on the plant. Just before they split, cut them off and place in a paper bag to dry off and you will find the tiny seed collected in the bottom of the bag.
can hellebores be grown in pots?
They can, but you will need a good loam-based compost with additional organic matter to keep them happy. Ensure their roots don’t dry out or get overheated in the summer months. A liquid feed after flowering will help them build up their reserves for the following year.
can hellebores be used as cut flowers?
Some varieties will last longer than others, particularly if you condition the stems by dipping in boiling water for 10 seconds, then rest horizontally in water overnight. Also waiting for the seed heads to just start forming makes the flower less floppy. A fail-safe method is to cut just the flower heads and float in a bowl of water. That way you see the delicate markings and the waterlily like petals of the double varieties.
why are hellebores so expensive?
Hellebores take a long time to mature enough to come into flower – often four years or more. So, they will have been cared for by the nursery, fed and potted on for all that time before they arrive at your door. Some of the newer varieties are the result of years of painstaking hybridisation, getting the best qualities from parent plants to create the luscious long lasting and flowers we have today.
can hellebores tolerate sun?
Yes, many varieties are happy in the sun and a few actually prefer it. It is just that we gardeners are keen to find plants that thrive in awkward parts of the garden, so if they tolerate shade, we tend to label them as “shade-loving”.
which hellebores are evergreen?
All hellebores are evergreen, in that they have leaves throughout the year, replacing new ones for old in the spring, or whenever the old ones are trimmed off or die.
which hellebores self-seed?
All hellebore species will self-seed (e.g. foetidus, orientalis, niger). Some modern hybrids are sterile.
why are hellebores called lenten roses?
The Latin name of this plant is Helleborus orientalis and it is known as the Lenten rose because it flowers in the spring during the period of the Christian calendar known as Lent, forty days before Easter. There is also a variety called the Christmas rose, which flowers in late winter, on or around Christmas day (especially if you bring it indoors).
what to grow with hellebores
Hellebores combine well with spring bulbs such as snow drops, daffodils, and tulips. The bulbs distract from the fading hellebore flowers, and the fresh new hellebore leaves conceal the dying foliage of the bulbs.
how to cut & arrange hellebores
Some varieties will last longer than others, particularly if you condition the stems by dipping in boiling water for 10 seconds, then rest horizontally in water overnight. Also waiting for the seed heads to just start forming makes the flower less floppy. A fail-safe method is to cut just the flower heads and float them in a bowl of water. That way you see the delicate markings and the waterlily-like petals of the double varieties.
Get more inspiration for displaying your flowers with our flower arranging videos and articles: