Most hellebores, also known as Lenten roses, are an easy to care for plant and a must have in any garden. They are very hardy plants, grown in zones 4-8, and will survive the worst weather Mother Nature can throw at them. Hellebores are primarily European natives, growing in open meadows in Bosnia, Turkey and China. I was introduced to them a few years ago at the LaGrange County Master Gardeners Symposium.
This perennial plant typically flowers in late winter to spring. Their lantern-like flowers come in shades of white, green, dusky pink, and purple and can last from 10-12 weeks. They will grow well in most soils, even tolerating acidic soils. However, their preference is for a neutral to slightly limey soil – a pH of about 7 would be ideal. Most prefer semi-shade and are sometimes sold as shade loving plants. Plants in deep shade will survive, but will exhibit sparser growth and produce fewer blooms.
As with a hosta, the shade tolerance of these plants makes them suitable for developing a woodland garden or growing under trees and large shrubs. These plants do not like to have wet feet and will need protection from strong winter winds. My hellebore receives afternoon sun and has grown quite well.
Most parts of the Hellebores are toxic. A mild skin irritation has been known to occur in people that are especially susceptible after an extensive period of handling these plants without using gloves. Touted to be a deer-resistant plant, these may be a logical choice, possibly as a ground cover, for a deer infested landscape.
Here in the north the leaves may still remain green for much of the winter, but they tend to look rather ratty by the time spring arrives. Fortunately, by then, new leaves are well on their way. Trim off the old leaves when the “reinforcements” have arrived. Amending the soil with compost will improve the vigor of the hellebore plants as will fertilizing with a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer in the spring. For the lazy gardener, do nothing at all and they will most likely survive rather well.
Mark your calendars for the 7th Annual LaGrange County Master Gardeners Spring Symposium, “DIY Gardening,” to be held at the LaGrange County 4-H Fairgrounds on Saturday, March 23. Reservations are required and due by March 8.
As always, happy gardening!
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.