Hellebores for Happier Winters

helleborus froliusWhen nothing else blooms, count on hellebores to brighten the cold days of winter in your yard or woods. This evergreen perennial is about as low maintenance a plant as you can have, and it is evergreen and blooms from December to April, depending on species. The most common is helleborus orientalis, commonly called Lenten Rose, which typically blooms in March. Helleborus niger typically blooms in December. There are many hybrids and their possibilities exceed even daylilies and tulips it seems.

This plant is a bit slow, taking 4 years from seed sprouting to first bloom. And the first year it may need watering in dry times, but after that you can almost forget it. It tolerates shade, but will also grow in full sun except in the hottest places. It grows well in most of the US except Hawaii and South Florida. It tolerates a vast range of pH, but prefers 6 to 7. Size is 12 to 30 inches tall and wide, and it almost never needs divinding, unless you want to give some of it away or something. It can even tolerate being planted under walnut and pecan trees without issues with juglone.

Did I mention deer won’t eat it! Besides daffodills, what else can you say that about? Moles and voles and squirrels avoid them, too.

Hellebores make lovely shade plantings, can be grown in large pots, and even can be used as a groundcover replacing a lawn. In a shaded lawn where grass barely grows, this plant could easily solve the problem. (Rather than mow weekly, do a little weed pulling once in awhile and add a little mulch annually.)

Blooms are insignificant, like dogwood blooms. It is actually the sepals that are pretty and masquerade as blooms. And, like all evergreens, the old leaves will get tattered or yellow at some point, so to look their best you’ll need to do a bit of snipping on some plants.

If there’s a downside to this lovely shade tolerant perennial, perhaps it’s that a lot of the blooms droop or hang down. Some new cultivars have been bred to avoid this. I like to cover a slope with them; they are a delight to see from the foot of a slope. And, as with any plant a deer won’t eat, you shouldn’t either. One additional point, as it takes 4 years to blooming, the time involved means these plants cost a bit more than your average perennial from the big box store.

Fall is the ideal time to plant hellebores, but potted plants can be planted anytime except when the ground is frozen. (But skip planting them in the sun in summer.)

Where can you buy this plant? Many garden centers will cary one or two, but you may have to make friends with someone who has older plants (and baby plants), or else go online. Some mail order growers include: Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC, Sunshine Farms in Renick, WV and Pine Knot Farms in Virginia.

Having these lush and sexy plants blooming in your yard next winter will surely brighten up your place. You will smile when you see them in bloom, and I guarantee your winter will be a little brighter.