Helleborous, a Wonderful Winter Perennial

January 24, 2011 at 12:00 AM Leave a comment

What a name for a really beautiful winter-flowering plant.

You may have heard someone call this plant the Christmas rose?  That’s the variety Helleborus niger.  It has a single flower like the old fashioned single rose and it’s cream in color.  What’s so neat about this perennial plant is that it flowers now, when not much is in bloom in the garden.

I think it’s easy to grow in a somewhat shady spot.  Most varieties grow up one-to-two feet and the flowers vary by variety from single, semi-double, to double and in a wide range of colors.  It has a hollow stem, so if you cut them to use as cut flowers be certain to burn the base of the cut stem or seal the cut by placing the base of the cut stem in boiling water for a couple of seconds.

In our educational garden, I have about a dozen and a half varieties ranging from white. yellow, pink, to almost a muted red.   When they are in bloom, I cut off most of the leaves so you can see the flowers.  They regain new leaves in the spring.

Like I said, they like a shady spot in the garden (an eastern exposure is ideal).  Some suggestions would be under an overhang, in a shady container, or in the shade of trees.  They need good drainage, and once planted they really do not like to be disturbed for several years.  Then when the plants get too big, simply divide and transplant them.  The best time to divide them is in early spring after they have finished flowering.

Nurseries and garden centers have their best selection of helleborus plants at this time of year when the plants are in bloom, or within the weeks to come.  Seeds are pretty hard to find, but if you have a flowering plant, save the seed and start your own.  Who knows, you may end up with an interesting new color, flower size, or special variety.

Prepare the planting soil by adding compost, processed manure (the bagged stuff), or another form of organic humus.   Mix thoroughly with the existing soil and plant the helleborus so that the crown of the plant is right at ground level.

If the leaves begin to yellow a bit, it indicates that the plant is getting too much sun or is in need of feeding.  Use a Rose or All-Purpose garden fertilizer to feed them.  Mid-February or mid-May are the best times to feed helleborus.

Heleborus….a great winter flowering perennial that merits a spot in anyone’s winter garden!


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