Hellebores are a group of several species (20 plus) of the family Helleborus an evergreen perennial flowering plant of the family Ranunculaceae (buttercup family). Most are poisonous, and some people need to take extra care when handling the roots of the plant due to the allergic reaction to the sap. The word hellebores may derive from the Greek “helein” which means “kill”, and “bore” which means “food” or “food that kills”. This family of plants is not related to the rose.
Otherwise, the plant has many wonderful attributes. It is deer resistant, has evergreen foliage (although a few are deciduous), and is extremely hardy and long-lived once established, with few pests or diseases. It blooms when few other plant are in bloom. Which for Helleborus niger is as early as Halloween, or as late a Valentine’s Day, depending on weather, planting zone, or the location and soil where it is planted? It is most often called the Christmas rose, snow rose, or black hellebore. Although hard to find and to get established, the old white-blooming Hellebores niger can still be found and ordered online at certain times of the year. It is a species Alpine plant somewhat harder to permanently establish. Make sure it is a plant you are ordering not seeds … unless you want to start from seed.
Helleborus orientalis is in bloom from mid-February to late-April. Both Hellebores orientalis and H. X hybridus are referred to as the Lenten rose. Planting several different varieties and hybrids can extent the bloom time for several months. Who is to say you cannot cut a bouquet of fresh flowers from the garden, in the dead of winter, when snow is on the ground? Finding some of the species varieties even online can be very hard.
Most varieties of Hellebores in today’s garden centers are actually Helleborus X hybridus they are hybrid crosses created from several species. Many are mass produced via tissue culture. They come in a wide range of bloom color; some have double blooms. Individual blooms can last on the plant for up to a month. Foliage can vary from wide palmate to very narrow lancelet, in various shades of green from dark to almost lime/yellow, and some foliage can be spotted or striped. Some are grown not for their bloom, but for their interesting seed pod.
Hellebores are originally native to England and Europe as far south as Spain, Portugal, and Corsica and as far east as the Balkans and Turkey. Helleborus thibetanus is native to China. In history, the hellebores have been associated with having medicinal qualities, with witchcraft, and with Christmas legends in ancient times it was referred to as Christ’s herb. In some old French stories ancient French sorcerers thought they could make themselves invisible by sprinkling hellebore dust in the air where they walked.
PLANTING, CARE, AND DIVIDING:
Hellebores are great additions to the semi-shade garden. They adapt well as a ground cover under dappled shade trees or shrubbery edges where they get some shade, or on the north side of a building that gets some morning or afternoon summer sun, where they will get bright light. They do not like
dense shade but do not want long periods of sun especially during the summer they do require more sun or bright light during the winter months from November to January.
I would suggest wearing gloves when planting hellebores. They have fleshy, tuberous, roots which spread by rhizomes. The sap can cause itching.
They can be grown in good friable garden soil, a few varieties prefer a rich loamy soil of part peat, part composted material, or well composted manure. A well-drained soil base with plenty of organic matter would be the best description of the ideal planting site. They do not like stagnant wet roots, but they do need moisture especially for the first year or two until they are established. If you buy a plant that is root-bound, try soaking the excess dirt from the root ball in a pail of water. So, the roots can be separated and not be planted in a clump.
It takes a non-mature seedling plant about 3 years to produce blooms. The best time to divide, separate and transplant is in July.
December 19The Care of Evergreens in Winter
THE CARE OF EVERGREENS IN WINTER
Evergreens are considered the backbone of the garden. Not only do they provide the background for the more colorful annuals and perennials, they provide winter color in the garden and landscape.
Providing winter protection for evergreens begins in the fall. These plants need to be thoroughly watered until the ground freezes. They need the equivalent of an inch of water per week. During a wet fall this step is usually not necessary.
Winter damage to evergreens does not come from cold temperatures but rather from the drying out of the plants. Evergreens and broadleaf evergreens do not lose their leaves in winter. As a result, they transpire or give off moisture through the leaves. With the ground frozen, the plants are unable to replenish needed water. The lack of moisture will cause browning or burning of the leaves. There are products on the market to protect these plants. Wilt Pruf and Wilt Stop are anti-desiccant sprays which protect the plants with a waxy substance. These products are readily available at local garden shops such as Cedars.
Breakage from winter winds, ice and snow is another problem for evergreens. Upright plants such as junipers and cedars can be wrapped with heavy twine or covered with mesh. Breakage can also be a result of trying to knock snow or ice off drooping branches.
Unfortunately, evergreens attract critters to the landscape. Broadleaf evergreens such as euonymus, rhododendron and even holly are deer candy when the ground is snow covered. Sprays to repel deer and small critters such as rabbits may need to be applied.
Other winter precautions are usually unnecessary since most woody plants are able to adapt to winter temperature. They, like many animals, become dormant during freezing temperatures. Springtime will determine in any damage has occurred over winter.
August 29Why are my mums leggy?
Every wonder why your mums have few blooms and are weak and limpy? Enjoy this short 2 min video and figure out why!
September 1September Garden Tips
- renew plant vigor
- promote better blooming
- control spreading
A good rule of thumb is to divide perennials which bloom in spring or early/mid-summer in early fall.
A few examples are: astilbe, coreopsis, dianthus, hostas and salvia.