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Helleborus Heralds to Spring

   With our gardens wrapped in winters cold embrace it is amazing that anything could survive let alone inspire us with a breathtaking display of blooms!  Yet hellebores do just that. With their woodland charm and simple eye-catching flowers they bring new life to the dismal winter months.

   Hellebores are native to Europe and China and belong to the buttercup (Ranunculaceae) family, along with Paeonia, Clematis, Anemone and Aquilegia.  They make excellent additions to the woodland scene combining well with plants such as: Acer, Azalea, Camellia, Daphne, Epimedium, ferns, Mahonia, Rhododendron and many other shade loving plants.  They offer year round beauty and substance- as a friend once said; “They are unto themselves”.

These aristocrats of the garden are very rewarding, requiring little maintenance once established and with few exceptions are relatively easy to grow.  For optimal health, vigor and blooming, a deep well-drained loamy soil with plenty of organic matter is essential.  Hellebores prefer a more acidic soil (pH of 5.5 to 7 is ideal) which should retain adequate moisture but never be standing with water as their roots will rot, sharp drainage is critical!  Plants are happiest in semi-shade under deciduous trees and shrubs protected from the hot afternoon sun.

   Hellebores are heavy feeders that benefit from an annual mulching of well rotted manure or compost (make sure to avoid crowns) which should be applied in late fall.  With age, plants become fairly drought tolerant and can handle competition with water-hungry trees.  To further help plants along a 2-3” mulch of shredded bark will retain moisture and can also protect plants where winters are severe or snow cover is sparse. 

Hellebores resent being moved once planted and being long lived they can remain in the same location for many years.

Very few problems arise when growing hellebores - aphids and white fly can at times be minor pests but these are easily taken care of with insecticidal soap sprayed on the underside of the leaves.  In areas where air circulation is poor and excessive moisture and humidity are present, botrytis and black spot (fungal diseases) can develop and may damage young shoots, leaves and flower stalks.  A spray regime of fungicide can help deal with the problem but moving to a more suitable location is the ultimate solution.

Slugs and cutworms can be nasty adversaries, severely damaging flower buds before they open so diligence is required to keep these pests under control.

Oddly enough deer tend to dislike the taste so that is one pest you can take heart in not having to deal with.

Double Form Helleborus HybridOf the many species of hellebores available today, probably the best know is the Lenten rose (H. x hybridus), with seemingly limitless flower colour, form and combinations thereof, they can become addictive to say the least. 

 Plants vary somewhat in habit but all form clumps with tough, leathery foliage.  Leaves are dark green, palmate and can range from semi-evergreen to evergreen depending upon parentage.  In Winter months when weather is cold foliage tends to lay flat on the ground but will stand-up again with the return of milder weather.

Flowers from 1-3” across begin to appear in December and can last into May.  Colour ranges from green, white, yellow, pink, purple, black and red with every imaginable shade in-between.  Picotee, spotted and veined forms are also appearing in greater numbers and most recently breeding has been done to produce more unusual colours and combinations as well as doubles, semi-doubles and anemone forms.  All make excellent cut flowers for rose bowls and vases.

 

Breeding work in Germany has also produced some new and exciting additions to the hellebore world.  The Helleborus Gold Collection® (HGC) breathes new life into the spring line-up by offering outstanding H. niger selections as well as some new hybrids. 

Jacob Christmas RoseThe Christmas rose (Helleborus niger)  has been problematic in Pacific Northwest gardens due to its susceptibility to fungal diseases but now thanks to selection and breeding the HGC offers superior, disease resistant plants that flower their first year, are long blooming and floriferous and produce large, upward facing flowers in shades of white, pink and green.  These low clumping evergreens with leathery dark green leaves are also deer resistant and make a choice shade perennial or container specimen.

This new series gives gardeners a wider selection of form and colour and by being genetically identical offer consistent flower colour and plant habit for uniformity and repetition in the landscape.  Gardeners can also delight in many months of consecutive bloom, November into April depending on cultivar selection.

So take some time to check-out what is new in the Hellebore world and who knows you just may become hooked!

Art's Nursery carries many different Hellebore varieties throughout the year. Call or visit us today to see our selection. Best variety is available from Late February through March. 

Author: Lyle C. Source: Lyle is a talented gardener, an experienced plant grower & landscape designer.

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