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Helleborus (Hellebore)

Lenten Roses, Christmas Roses, Winter Roses, Corsican Hellebores, Green Hellebores, Stinking Roses

Companion Plants for Hellebores

Prized for their abundant winter or early spring blooms and attractive foliage, Helleborus (Hellebore) are invaluable additions to the shade garden and provide gardeners with some of the greatest pleasures in winter. Ranked by some among the top 10 high-performance perennials, these harbingers of spring are tough, cold-hardy, deer or rabbit-resistant, and easy to grow. Most Hellebores feature evergreen foliage that remains handsome year-round and provides multi-season interest.

What is Hellebore?

Helleborus is a genus of flowering plants in the family Ranunculaceae, also known as hellebores. They are native to much of Europe, including most of the Balkans, as well as parts of western Asia and China.

Description and Growth Habit: Hellebores are perennial plants with an attractive, bushy growth habit. They typically grow to a height of 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm) with a similar spread, depending on the species and variety. They form clumps that get larger over time.

Flowers: The flowers of hellebores are perhaps their most cherished feature. They are cup or saucer-shaped and come in a wide range of colors, including white, green, pink, purple, and near-black. Many have attractive spotting or veining on the inside of the petals.

Foliage: Hellebore foliage is equally attractive, offering year-round interest. The leaves are large and leathery, usually palmately divided into 7-9 segments, and deep green.

Blooming Season: Hellebores are famed for their late winter to early spring blooming season, often flowering when few other plants are in bloom. This makes them a valuable addition to the garden for early color.

Hardiness: Hellebores are remarkably hardy and can withstand cold winter temperatures. They are typically hardy in USDA Zones 3-9.

Uses: Hellebores are commonly used in shaded borders, woodland gardens, and as ground cover. Their flowers are excellent for cutting.

Pollinators: Hellebores attract a variety of pollinators, especially bees, due to their early blooming season.

Toxicity: All parts of the hellebore plant are toxic if ingested and can cause skin irritation. This is due to various compounds including protoanemonin.

Deer and Rabbit Resistance: Hellebores are usually ignored by deer and rabbits due to their toxicity.

Drought Tolerance: Once established, hellebores are quite drought-tolerant, although they prefer consistent moisture.

Key Facts: Hellebores are sometimes called “Christmas roses” or “Lenten roses” due to their winter to early spring blooming period. Despite the name, they are not related to the rose family. Their ability to bloom in the coldest months of the year makes them a beloved plant for many gardeners.

Hellebore Main Species

There are 20 Hellebore species. Most are native to the mountainous regions of Europe, especially the Balkan region of the former Yugoslavia, south along the eastern Adriatic to Greece and Turkey. Many species have been interbred, producing countless hybrid Hellebores in a rich array of colors and forms. Find the four Hellebore varieties that are the most popular and easiest to grow.

Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican Hellebore)

A robust native of Corsica and Sardinia, Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican Hellebore) is an evergreen perennial with large open clusters of up to thirty large, nodding, pale green flowers with a central boss of equally green stamens. Blooming heavily from late winter to early summer, these charming beauties rise on sturdy, thick stems clad with large blue-green leaves divided into three sharply toothed leaflets.

Helleborus foetidus (Stinking Hellebore)

Unjustly named Stinking Hellebore, Helleborus foetidus provides gardeners with some of the greatest pleasures in winter. This evergreen perennial features large, open clusters of cheerful chartreuse, bell-shaped flowers edged with dark red. The buds begin to appear in early winter and provide interest as they open slowly over the next three months. Blooming profusely from late winter to mid-spring, the flowers rise on sturdy, erect stems above handsome foliage of leathery, narrow, fan-like (palmately divided), dark green leaves.

Helleborus niger (Christmas Rose)

Native to the mountains of southern and central Europe, Helleborus niger, commonly called Christmas Rose, is a winter-blooming evergreen perennial with large, bowl-shaped, glistening white flowers, 3 in. across (8 cm), adorned with a crown of showy golden-yellow stamens. The sepals slowly fade to green or rosy pink as they mature. Unlike most hellebores, the flowers face outward, attracting interest. The attractive blooms are borne on short, thick stems and generally do not rise above the foliage of palmate, deeply-lobed, dark green leaves. Christmas Roses open around Christmas time in warm winter areas and in early spring in cooler winter regions. Helleborus niger is also a very popular cut flower!

Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Roses)

Helleborus orientalis, commonly called Lenten Rose because it blooms during Lent, is native to the dry climates of Greece and Turkey. It is claimed to be the most colorful and floriferous species in the genus. Mature plants often have 50 or more flowers per plant, which last up to 2 months! The large flowers come in many colors, from creamy white to a dusky plum. They nod gracefully and dangle with poise from the stalks well above the foliage. They are widely available today in a terrific range of sizes, leaf shapes, and flower forms (single, semi-double, fully double, anemone) and colors (white through pink, purple to yellow, with or without picotee, spots, and freckles), giving Helleborus orientalis and its hybrids preeminent status among Hellebores.

Rather than let these charming beauties lonesomely bloom in a bare patch, give them companion plants and layer your plantings for maximum drama. Learn how to extend the season of interest of your borders.

Why Should I Grow Hellebore Flowers?

Hellebores due to their winter blooming period, are fantastic additions to the garden for several reasons:

Winter Bloomers: Hellebores bloom in late winter or early spring in many climates, often when very few other plants are flowering. This can provide a much-needed splash of color in the garden during a traditionally barren season.

Shade Tolerance: Hellebores are perfect for those shady spots in your garden where other flowers may struggle. They can tolerate a variety of light conditions, from full shade to dappled sunlight.

Low Maintenance: Once established, hellebores require very little care. They are quite drought-tolerant and generally resistant to pests and diseases.

Evergreen Foliage: Depending on the species, hellebores can have evergreen leaves that provide interest in the garden even when the plants aren’t in bloom.

Deer and Rabbit Resistant: Hellebores are rarely troubled by deer or rabbits, as these animals tend to avoid them due to their toxicity, making them an excellent choice for areas where these pests are common.

Variety: There’s a fantastic range of colors, forms, and sizes in the hellebore family, from single to double flowers and colors ranging from white and pastel to deep purple and even near-black.

Long-Lasting Blooms: Hellebore flowers last for several weeks, and even after the actual petals have faded, the sepals (which are often mistaken for petals) remain attractive for several months.

In summary, hellebores are an excellent choice for adding color and interest to your garden in the cooler months, and their hardiness and low maintenance make them suitable for even the most novice gardener.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 9
Heat Zones 1 - 9
Climate Zones 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17
Plant Type Perennials
Genus Helleborus
Exposure Partial Sun, Shade
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid)
Winter
Height 1' - 2'
(30cm - 60cm)
Spread 1' - 2'
(30cm - 60cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Cut Flowers, Showy
Tolerance Full Shade, Drought, Deer, Salt, Rabbit
Attracts Bees
Landscaping Ideas Patio And Containers, Ground Covers, Beds And Borders, Small Gardens, Underplanting Roses And Shrubs
Garden Styles Informal and Cottage, Prairie and Meadow, Traditional Garden

Pretty Hellebores

Helleborus ‘Confetti Cake’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ (Christmas Rose)
Helleborus Angel Glow (Hellebore)
Helleborus Anna’s Red (Hellebore)
Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican Hellebore)
Helleborus foetidus (Stinking Hellebore)
Helleborus lividus (Majorcan Hellebore)
Helleborus niger ‘HGC Jacob’ (Christmas Rose)
Helleborus niger (Christmas Rose)
Helleborus Penny’s Pink (Hellebore)
Helleborus Walberton’s Rosemary (Hellebore)
Helleborus Winter Jewels ‘Amber Gem’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus Winter Jewels ‘Amethyst Gem’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus Winter Jewels ‘Berry Swirl’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus Winter Jewels ‘Cotton Candy’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus Winter Jewels ‘Golden Lotus’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus Winter Jewels ‘Golden Sunrise’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus Winter Jewels ‘Harlequin Gem’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus Winter Jewels ‘Onyx Odyssey’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus Winter Jewels ‘Painted Doubles’ (Hellebores)
Helleborus Winter Jewels ‘Peppermint Ice’ (Hellebores)
Helleborus Winter Jewels ‘Red Sapphire’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus Winter Jewels ‘Rose Quartz’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus Winter Jewels ‘Sparkling Diamond’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Candy Love’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus x ballardiae HGC Pink Frost (Hellebore)
Helleborus x hybridus ‘Double Ellen Pink’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus x hybridus ‘Double Ellen White Spotted’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus x hybridus ‘Harvington Double White’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus x hybridus ‘Party Dress Pink’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus x hybridus ‘Phoebe’ (Hellebore)
Helleborus x hybridus ‘White Lady Spotted’ (Lenten Rose)
Helleborus x nigercors ‘HGC Green Corsican’ (Hellebore)

Garden Design with Hellebore

Designing a garden with hellebores provides a unique opportunity to play with color and texture, especially in shady areas where these plants thrive. Here are a few ideas for incorporating hellebores into your garden design:

Woodland Garden: Hellebores are native to woodlands and are an excellent choice for woodland garden settings. They pair well with other shade-loving plants like ferns, hostas, and astilbes. Try creating a naturalistic planting scheme using hellebores in combination with other woodland species.

Underplanting: Hellebores make wonderful underplantings for deciduous trees and shrubs, as they enjoy the filtered light and their winter blooms have a chance to shine before the trees leaf out in spring.

Borders and Edges: Use hellebores to line pathways or define the edges of garden beds. Their evergreen leaves provide year-round interest, and their delicate winter blooms can be appreciated up close.

Mass Planting: Consider planting a mass of hellebores for a stunning winter and early spring display. A group of hellebores can create a beautiful carpet of color and texture.

Container Planting: Smaller hellebore varieties can be grown in containers. This allows you to place them in areas where you can appreciate their delicate blooms up close, such as on a patio or near a doorway.

Rock Gardens: Some smaller varieties of hellebores work well in rock gardens, where their evergreen foliage can complement the stone features.

Pair with Spring Bulbs: Hellebores bloom around the same time as many spring bulbs. Plant them with early bloomers like snowdrops, crocus, or daffodils for a multi-layered display.

Remember, hellebores come in a range of colors, from white and pink to deep purple and green, so consider color when planning your design. They also have beautiful foliage that remains attractive even when the plant is not in bloom, adding to their design appeal.

Companion Plants

Hellebores are versatile plants that pair well with a variety of other shade-tolerant species. Here are some excellent companion plants for hellebores:

Ferns: The delicate fronds of ferns like lady fern or Japanese painted fern complement the broad leaves of hellebores and create a lush, woodland feel.

Hostas: With their large leaves and shade tolerance, hostas are a natural companion for hellebores. Both plants provide great foliage interest.

Pulmonaria (Lungwort): This plant has variegated foliage that looks great next to hellebores, and its pink or blue flowers that bloom in spring can complement hellebore flowers.

Heuchera (Coral Bells): Heuchera comes in a wide range of foliage colors from lime green to deep burgundy, offering a great contrast to hellebores. They also enjoy similar growing conditions.

Spring Bulbs: Early flowering bulbs like snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodils can flower at the same time as hellebores, creating a layered effect.

Astilbes: With feathery plumes and fern-like foliage, astilbes provide both textural and color contrast to hellebores.

Epimediums (Barrenwort): These plants are also early bloomers with lovely delicate flowers. Their heart-shaped leaves are a nice complement to the palmate leaves of hellebores.

Shade-Tolerant Grasses: Grasses like Japanese forest grass can add texture and movement to a garden filled with hellebores.

These companion plants all thrive in similar conditions to hellebores, and their combined textures and colors can create an interesting and visually appealing garden.

Companion Plants for Hellebore

Athyrium (Lady Fern)
Hosta (Plantain Lily)
Pulmonaria (Lungwort)
Heuchera (Coral Bells)
Astilbe
Galanthus (Snowdrop)
Crocus tommasinianus (Early Crocus)
Hakonechloa macra (Hakone Grass)
Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)
Erythronium (Trout Lily)
Trillium
Narcissi (Daffodils)

Growing Tips

Growing hellebores isn’t difficult, but there are a few key steps to ensure healthy and beautiful plants:

Site Selection: Hellebores prefer partial to full shade. They do well under the canopy of deciduous trees, which provide shade in the summer but allow plenty of light to reach the plants in winter and spring. Select a planting site that is sheltered from strong winds.

Soil: Hellebores prefer well-draining soil rich in organic matter. A slightly alkaline pH is ideal. If your soil is heavy clay, consider adding compost or other organic matter to improve its structure and drainage.

Planting: Plant hellebores at the same depth they were growing in their nursery pot. If planting bare root hellebores, ensure the crown of the plant (where the stems meet the roots) is level with the soil surface.

Watering: Hellebores need regular watering, but they do not like to sit in wet soil. Water deeply once a week during dry periods.

Fertilizing: Hellebores benefit from a balanced, slow-release fertilizer applied in late winter or early spring, just as new growth starts.

Pruning: Remove old leaves in late winter or early spring before new growth starts. This helps to prevent disease and allows flowers to be more visible.

Pest and Disease Control: Hellebores can be affected by black spot and other fungal diseases. Improve air circulation around the plants and avoid overhead watering to reduce these problems. Aphids can also be an issue; remove them by hand or use a mild insecticidal soap.

Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch around the plants to help conserve moisture and suppress weeds.

Remember, hellebores are toxic, so wear gloves when handling them and keep them away from pets and children. These plants are also deer-resistant, making them a great choice for gardens with deer problems.

With the right care, hellebores can be a long-lasting, beautiful addition to your shade garden. Their late winter to early spring bloom time also makes them a valuable plant for extending the gardening season.

Garden Examples

A Cheerful Winter Border Idea with Hellebores and Cyclamens
A Pretty Spring Border Idea with Corsican Hellebore and Siberian Bugloss
A Rich Winter Border Idea with Hellebores and Foliage Plants
An Exciting Idea For Your Early Spring Garden
A Pretty Spring Border Idea with Hellebore, Siberian Bugloss and Grasses
A Treasured Winter Border Idea with Hellebores, Sedge and Dogwood

Recommended Guides

How to Plant, Grow and Care for Hellebore
Favorite Hellebores for your Winter and Spring Garden
Plant Combination Ideas with Hellebores
Compare All Helleborus (Hellebore)
Compare Now
Explore Great Plant Combination Ideas
Helleborus (Hellebore)
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 9
Heat Zones 1 - 9
Climate Zones 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17
Plant Type Perennials
Genus Helleborus
Exposure Partial Sun, Shade
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid)
Winter
Height 1' - 2'
(30cm - 60cm)
Spread 1' - 2'
(30cm - 60cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Cut Flowers, Showy
Tolerance Full Shade, Drought, Deer, Salt, Rabbit
Attracts Bees
Landscaping Ideas Patio And Containers, Ground Covers, Beds And Borders, Small Gardens, Underplanting Roses And Shrubs
Garden Styles Informal and Cottage, Prairie and Meadow, Traditional Garden
Compare All Helleborus (Hellebore)
Compare Now
Explore Great Plant Combination Ideas
Helleborus (Hellebore)

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