The hellebore is a wonderful plant that heralds Spring in the garden. Hellebores, or Lenten Roses as they are sometimes called, start blooming around the beginning of the Christian religious period called Lent, in some warm locations, but in my upstate New York garden where the soil freezes hard, the Lenten Rose blooms for Easter, no matter if it is an early or late one (end of March to mid April).
Hellebores come in many colors from a creamy white, to yellow, pale pinks, fuchsia pink, red, purplish tones, blue-violet, burgundy, blackish burgundy, and greenish hues. Speckled variations are also seen. Lenten Roses can be single petaled (actually sepals) or doubles (multiple layers of petals) depending on the cultivar. Flower heads, according to the variety can be small or big, hanging, straight forward facing, and some will direct their faces upward. The texture of some hellebore blossoms reminds me of soft leather, whereas others of a silk-cotton blend of fabric, and some even look wax-like.
The hellebore flower stalk emerges first in early Winter in mild climates, or late Winter to Early Spring in colder locations, followed by its foliage. The Lenten rose blooms for a long period of time, but no matter what color of hellebore you have, be it fuchsia, blue-black, burgundy, etc, as the flower gets older it will fade to a pistachio green.
Buying Hellebores for your Garden ..Hellebores are available for purchase at better garden centers, through mail order catalogs, and I found one of my favorite ones in the florist department of my local supermarket. Big box hardware stores that have garden centers don’t seem to want to carry the plant. If a hellebore is not a big mature specimen, and costing around twenty dollars or more (each), it won’t be blooming, so that turns off some customers. Most hellebores are sold for about $7.50 to $15.95 each, and are just leaves and will only start sending up a few flowers after being in the ground for one full gardening season.
Siting you Hellebore plant ..All planting tags say Lenten roses like being in a location that has partial to full shade. I find that untrue for me in my upstate New York zone 5-4 garden. Following the planting instructions at the time of my first attempt at growing hellebores, I planted mine on the north side of the house. The plants sat there for two full gardening seasons, did not get any larger or produced a single flower, and one died. Sited on the north side of the house, there is no real sunlight for them to collect through their leaves (photosynthesis) which feeds them. Just the constant sunless light that comes from the north.
I have come to the conclusion hellebores, here in the northeast, like partial sun. Partial sun is 4 to 6 hours of direct morning sunlight coming from the east. Plants facing east get the morning sun which is not that hot, so it won’t fry their foliage. By the time the sun is high in the sky at noon, and moved south, the plants are in shade.
Hellebores can also be planted in full sun if they are planted under trees or bushes. I have some of mine planted around, under and behind the bases of lilac bushes. You could also planting them under an apple tree, flowering crab or any other kind of bush or tree that does not have a dense canopy and they would be fine. You want the bush or tree they are under to dapple the light so it won’t be intensely beating down on them during the hottest part of the day. Site your hellebores so they are somewhat shaded in Summer, but are in full sun in Winter when the sun’s rays and heat are at their lowest strength.
Planting Hellebores ..Plant Lenten roses in well-drained soil that has been amended with a shovel or two of dehydrated cow manure, working / mixing it into the soil 8 inches to a foot into the ground. Plant hellebores 18 inches apart in all directions. Fertilize in Spring with an all-purpose plant food like Espoma Plant-tone or Jonathan Green 5-10-5. Water hellebores at least once a week, or immediately if the plants wilt / faint which says the ground around them is dry.
Maintaining Hellebores ..Hellebores are a relatively low maintenance plant. Cut off dead flowers when they have browned up, and any discolored leaves to keep the plants looking neat. In late Winter cut back, to the ground, all the dried up and withered foliage form last year, to prepare for new Spring growth. If you have any hellebores that are called evergreen, just cut off any part of the plants that has browned, leaving the still good-looking healthy parts in-place.
Hellebores in Flower Arrangements ..Hellebores are not really meant to be put in flower arrangements, even though you see them use in magazines. Those photos show fresh picked stems, but in a day or so the heads will all be drooping. I do pick different hellebore flower heads and put them in small vases, but only one in six flowers, a day later is still facing up. A better way of showcasing hellebore blossoms would be to float them in a shallow bowl of water with their faces pointing up. A presentation like that would look nice on a coffee table.
Finally, I have found if one of my hellebores dies, and I try to replace it with another in the same spot where the first one died, that plant for some reason dies also. I don’t know if it is a soil issue or light problem. To fill in that occasional void in my garden, I plant hyacinth, daffodils and other long-lived Spring bulbs to compliment the hellebores.
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