Add Color to the Landscape with Hellebores
David Hillock is a consumer horticulturist with Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension.
Gardeners who are looking for something relatively easy to grow, yet will still make a statement in the landscape, should consider growing hellebores. As an added bonus, they tend to look good all year long and grow well in USDA Zones 5a to 8b.
Hellebores include some 20 species of herbaceous perennials belonging to the genus Helleborus. Many hellebores are evergreen, which makes them a great source of visual interest in the landscape. The plants have beautiful dark green, leathery foliage year round and a winter flowering habit. In fact, they are one of the first perennials to bloom in the spring.
The exact flowering time varies by species, and has given us the common names used for this group, which includes Christmas Rose, or Helleborus niger, for those species flowering near the Christmas season, and Lenten Rose, also known as Helleborus orientalis, for the late winter, early spring bloomers. The Christmas Rose features pure white flowers, which often age to pink in the depths of winter. The Lenten Rose, which flowers in early spring around Lent, are excellent for bringing early color to shady areas such as under trees.
The flowers are indeed rose-like in appearance and nod toward the ground. However, recent breeding work has lifted the flowers more upright, so we can appreciate them even more when in flower.
The plants readily seed, and each spring you will find hundreds of seedlings near the base of your mature hellebores. However, most of the seedlings are out-competed for light and water by the parent plant, as such. If you wish to multiply the plant, it’s best to transplant seedlings away from the parent plant where they won’t be shaded or smothered by the heavy foliage.
The foliage forms a low clump, but when plants are in bloom, they get up to 2 feet tall and spread about 18 inches.
Hellebores, in general, require little care. They do well in the shade garden, prefer slightly alkaline soil and need only a little pruning in early spring to remove old, tattered leaves. They can tolerate spring sun, but it’s beneficial to select a planting site that will become shadier as trees and other plants flush out. Hellebores also are unpalatable to deer, rabbits, gophers and moles.