Last updated on December 2nd, 2011
WHAT’S BEAUTIFUL, EXCITING, AND FREE-BLOOMING EVEN IN THE COLDEST OF SPRINGS? Helleborus niger, the so-called “Christmas Rose.” I’ve seen pictures of these blooming in snow, but I doubt if it was December snow. Even my 4-year-old plants, on view from the kitchen windows, have never opened their porcelain cups before the end of March. But the flowers do stand up to bad weather, while increasing in beauty with each passing year. (click photos to enlarge)
And the flowers hold their perfection sometimes through the end of June. I cut off the shabby, previous year’s foliage in April, in order to showcase the flowers, and also to give the new foliage, which stays green through winter, space to expand.
We are told that hellebores hate to be moved, and will refuse to flower for three years after transplanting. This isn’t gospel. Plants I received last year from my neighbor are now blooming their heart out in my Woodland Garden. So go figure.
Culture: Hellebores perform best not in dense shade, as is commonly thought, but in the light, open shade of deciduous trees. They seem to appreciate all the winter sun they can get. Plant a group of hellebores under an apple tree, and they will delight you forever.
Set the plants out in spring or in late August or September. In zone 4 hellebores should be planted as early in fall as you can get them, so that they can have time to form new roots before the first frost arrives. Let the roots stretch down, not out. I prepare a 12-inch-deep hole for each plant, spacing the plants about a foot apart, and setting the crowns just below the soil surface. Good drainage is essential; the fleshy roots will not survive wetness.
As for pests and diseases, hellebores don’t get them. And deer leave them alone. I can vouch for this, because deer frequently visit my Woodland Garden. Slugs visit there, too, but they don’t go near the plants.
I can tell you that hellebores, if properly planted and located, are easy plants. Give them a top-dressing of finished compost in early spring and again in early fall. They need no encouragement from chemical fertilizers.
Do you have hellebores in your garden? How early do they bloom for you?
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