Hellebores: Winter’s Happy Harbingers

No garden is complete without a few of spring’s first bloomers, the hellebores. Just when you think the snow, rain, or gloom of winter will never end, up they come in late winter or early spring, depending on how cold your winters get. Hardy and easy to grow (Zones 4 to 9 and tough enough to survive in Zone 3 if there is reliable snow cover) these are the kinds of perennials that you’ll never regret investing in. Plant them now and in a few years, you can expect your mature hellebore to produce 50 or more flowers each season. That’s a lot of joy for a plant that takes so little space, blooms in shade, requires meager care, and did we mention deer don’t typically munch on them?

blackhelleboreThere are many different kinds of hellebores (Helleborus argutifolius, Helleborus foetidus, Helleborus lividus, Helleborus orientalis, Helleborus niger, Helleborus purpurascens, Helleborus viridis, etc) but we’re going to focus here on the hybrids types. Hybrids are easist to find in the market, and are easiest to grow, too. Commonly known as Lenten or Christmas rose because they bloom around the time of Lent, these hybrids are produced by crossing two of the various species of hellebores.

Here are 8 we love, each with its own particular allure from color, to petal shape, to form. Look for hellebores right now at your garden center. It’s easiest to decide which ones you must have when in bloom.

This one’s Winter Jewels® Double Slate Lenten Rose

Blushing Beauty

Winter Jewels® Cotton Candy Lenten Rose

Ruffly, almost rose-like fully-dboule blooms in an ombre of blushing ivory to spun sugar pink add romance to the late winter garden. Lovely with silvery ferns. Zone: 4 – 8

Winter Jewels® Apricot Blush Lenten Rose

Varying shades of peachy-apricot nodding blooms with darker rose veining, speckling or picotee edges that emerging in early spring and lasting for weeks. Zone: 4 – 9

Dramatically Dark

Ruse Black Lenten Rose

Unique and dramatic, deep dark-purple-black single-petal flowers bloom on non-floppy, strong stems. Notably cold hardy prolific bloomer (and seriously, look at that black, gothic goodness!) Zone: 3 – 9

Winter Jewels® Black Diamond Lenten Rose

Purple to near black single blossoms adorn vigorous clumps of foliage from late winter to spring. Plant massed or add a few clumps to a bed of white. Zone: 4 – 9

Pretty Pale

Double Fantasy Christmas Rose 

One of a particularly cold-hardy series (Winter Dreams). Beautiful, semi-double blooms on tall stems, with ruffled white petals, and a circle of gold stamens – truly magical! Zone: 3 – 9

Ivory Prince Christmas Rose

Facing up and outward from the plant, rich burgundy pink buds open in late winter to reveal green-tinted ivory petals that age to rose. This one’s especially good as a cut flower. Zone: 4 – 9

Playfully Purple

Winter Jewels® Amethyst Gem Lenten Rose

Amethyst-rose double blooms later in winter than some other well into spring. Bold, upright foliage emerges purple in spring and matures to a deep green. Zone: 4 – 8

Florence Picotee Lenten Rose

Simple but super sophisticated. Soft white, double blooms with beautiful. purple-magenta picotee edging that gracefully bow their heads above contrasting green foliage. Zone: 3 – 9

Caring for Hellebores

  • Hellebores grow best in moist but well-drained soil enriched with copious amounts of organic matter and prefer a soil pH close to neutral and even alkaline; add lime if your soil is extremely acid.
  • While they can tolerate less than perfect soil, hellebores require good drainage. Site them where it’s damp, but not wet.
  • Prefer full to partial shade. One solution is to plant them under deciduous trees for a wintery show, followed by shade in summer.
  • Waterwise once established (really tough, in fact) they’ll need some TLC the first few seasons.
  • Feed in fall with balanced fertilizer or with bone meal.
  • Emerging foliage before flowers can look winter-tatty. Either prune this old foliage as hellebore starts to flower (which will leave with with bare hellebore stems–not a bad thing) or if you can deal with the tatty, prune out the old foliage when new leaves start to come out, about two months after bloom starts. Either way is fine; it’s personal preference!

Image credit (Top): britt willoughby dyer

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