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Growing Hellebores: You Don’t Need to Know Much

Hellebores, also known as Lenten Roses or Christmas Roses, seem to lure a strong following of plant aficionados that pride themselves on their vast horticultural knowledge, and their impressive collections. They often like to wax poetic about the complex maze of Hellebore hybridization, and the resulting warrens of taxonomic revisions, or they are quick to remind you that they’ve recently acquired a rare specimen found in some faraway location, like the mountains of Bhutan, accessible only by yak. As much as all of this may be intellectually captivating, I have learned over the years that you don’t need to be an expert on Hellebores to simply enjoy them with lasting success.

So, don’t be intimidated by their exotic look, or their gaggle of knowledgeable followers. I’m here to offer you the pragmatic approach, the main meat, if you will, of what you really need to know:

  • Hellebores are true cold-weather, winter plants that do their growing in the fall, winter, and early spring. The inactive (dormant) period for Hellebores is during the summertime; this can be a time when some varieties look their worst. Don’t worry, they will bounce back. Also, don’t feed them, or water them too much during the summer. They are technically dormant.
  • Seedlings from almost all hybrids (whether they were propagated from seed or clone) will not look like their parents.
  • Hellebores like to be in the sun during the winter and in the shade during the summer. An ideal location for them is under a deciduous tree where this type of lighting occurs naturally.
  • They need to be in very well drained soil, preferably with lots of organic matter. The clumping varieties also do well in large containers with holes, where the soil has very good drainage.
  • Many Hellebores dislike being disturbed. Let them be. Avoid transplanting them. Divide them only if you must.
  • It’s not mandatory but if you wish to feed, they would appreciate some organic fertilizer in the fall, and/or in the spring.

Most of the newer hybrids are the product of many, many years of breeding. The resulting plants are carefully chosen not only for their color and form, but for their vigor, reliability, and hardiness. This means that we get a really amazing flower on a plant that has been bred to be tough, and reliable. The breeders have made it really easy for us to succeed.

Although I am evangelistic about native plants, I’ve always got one eye on the Hellebores. To me, they are like little treasures, plants to be savored and appreciated individually. Their uniqueness remains unrivaled. I plant them in large containers that sit by my front door, and out back on the patio. They share their space with ferns and grasses offering benign interest during the warmer months when so much is going on in the yard plant-wise. When the winter comes, and everything has gone dormant, the Hellebores stand out. They come to life at a time that is…well…confusing, and that’s a treat in itself. The flower is, of course, the bonus.

Right now we’ve got a winner collection of Hellebores. What do I have my eye on this month? Let me tell you.

‘Painted Doubles’

‘Painted Doubles’ – large, 3-4 inch, double blooms in white, sometimes pink, heavily speckled with dark pink, or dark burgundy. Each plant is just ever-so-slightly different although the overall patterning and form are the same. The size of the flower is what separates this variety apart. I love its bold patterning and its unabashed flamboyance. It’s screaming, ‘Look at me!’ and more power to it. Part of the Winter Jewels Series.

‘Cotton Candy’

‘Cotton Candy’ – is one that I keep bringing up, and for good reason. It’s another beautiful double-bloom type in varying shades of antique pink. The large, nodding flowers are simply breathtaking. I don’t even like the color pink, and I just love this flower, it’s that beautiful. Part of the Winter Jewels Series, tall, and long-blooming.


‘Winterbells’ – demure in stature, it is the product of crossing two different types of hellebores. Think Labradoodle (a Labrador retriever and a poodle mix). This is just like that, only in the Hellebore world. But you really don’t need to know any of this to appreciate its loveliness. With dark green leaves, red stems, and small cream-to-pale-pink flowers that dangle ever-so gracefully, you will see for yourself that this variety is quite special without my having to tell you. Very floriferous and long-blooming.

Right now, Hellebores are on sale for 20% off. It’s worth a trip just to see all of the varieties we have for you. Get them now, while they are on sale. You don’t need to know much to have growing success and years of exotic winter color.


This article was updated March 20, 2017.


Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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