Hellebores

 

by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener

 

 

These perennials are among the first to bloom in late winter to early spring.

Most Hellebores, also known as Lenten Roses, are an easy care plant and are a must have in my garden.  They are very hardy plants, grown in zones 4 – 8 and will survive some of the worst weather Mother Nature can throw at them.  Hellebores are primarily European natives and can be found growing in open meadows in Bosnia, Turkey and China.  I was introduced to them a number of years ago at the LaGrange County Master Gardeners Symposium.

The name hellebore comes from the Greek “elein” meaning to injure and “bora” meaning food.  Most parts of Hellebores are toxic.  A mild skin irritation has been known to occur in people that are especially susceptible after an extensive period of handling these plants without using gloves.  Touted to be a deer resistant plant, these may be a logical choice, possibly as a ground cover, for a deer infested landscape.

This perennial plant typically flowers in late winter to spring.  Their lantern-like flowers come in shades of white, green, dusky pink and purple and can last from 10 – 12 weeks.  They will grow well in most soils, even tolerating acid soils.  However, their preference is for a neutral to slightly limey soil – a pH of about 7 would be ideal.  Most prefer semi-shade and are sometimes sold as shade loving plants.  Plants in deep shade will survive, but will exhibit sparser growth and produce fewer blooms. As with Hostas, Coral Bells, Foamflower Bleeding Heart and Columbines, the shade tolerance of these plants make them suitable for developing a woodland garden. Mature plants form clumps about 18 to 24 inches tall and 24 to 30 inches wide.

 Here in the north, where we live, the leaves may still remain green for much of the winter, but they tend to look rather ratty by the time spring arrives.  Trim off the old leaves before the flowers develop too much so you don’t damage them and soon the “reinforcements” (new leaves) will be well on their way.  Amending the soil with compost will improve the vigor of the Hellebores plants as will fertilizing with a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer in the spring.   For the lazy gardener, do nothing at all and they will most likely survive rather well.

These plants are a bit slow to get established, but once they are it is not very likely they will need to be divided until they become quite old.  Dividing and older plant can enhance its flowering.  These plants are a bit fussy about being moved, however, if you would want to do so, it is best done in early fall so the roots have time to recover before the cold of winter sets in.  Dig the plant up and divide the root mass into sections with a sharp, sterile garden knife.    Prior to planting, dig a deep hole, as many of these plants have deep root systems.  Transplant each section into a hole that has plenty of organic matter worked into it very well.  Keep the crowns at soil level (the crown is where the stems meet the roots).   To prevent rot, do not mulch excessively or keep wet.

 

As always, happy gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available at The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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