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Hellebores are a good way to beat winter garden blues


Robert E. Thomas
Information Specialist
University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group
Phone: 573-882-2480

Photo available for this release:

Hellebores are early-blooming, long-lived plants.

Credit: University of Missouri Extension

Published: Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Story source:

Mary Kroening, 573-882-9633

COLUMBIA, Mo. – They are about the earliest of all perennials to bloom. They will stay in bloom from February through June.

Hellebores are slow starters, however. “You may have to wait three years for flowers and up to eight years for a nice, thick clump to form,” said Mary Kroening, University of Missouri Extension horticulturist. “Hellebores are worth the wait, as their flowers make an impact in the shade garden, even when planted alone.”

These long-lived plants are typically trouble-free once established.

The most popular of the hellebores is the Lenten rose. Stems arise from the ground, forming many white, green and mauve-to-purple flowers, starting in late February.

The bearsfoot hellebore is a recently awakened sleeper among hellebores. It has compound leaves that consist of narrow, fingerlike leaflets providing outstanding foliage with small greenish flowers.

The Christmas rose produces white flowers as early as January. The flowers provide a dramatic contrast to the dark green foliage.

Hellebores put on their best show under partial shade in well-drained soil with good organic matter. “They don’t like their feet wet any time of the year and they are not very tolerant of intense sunlight,” she said.

During severe winters, the foliage may scorch or turn brown. “I recommend pruning the damaged leaves before the spring bloom appears,” she said.

Hellebores can be interplanted with hosta or bleeding heart as well as spring bulbs such as crocus, reticulate iris and daffodils.

The word “hellebore” comes from a Greek word meaning “food to kill.” The leaves and roots are quite poisonous, so care should be taken. Even deer stay clear of hellebores.

They may be a little expensive and may not look fantastic in a pot in the nursery, but once established these perennials are worth it, Kroening said.