Marin Master Gardeners
University of California
Marin Master Gardeners

Hellebores add color to your winter garden

Helleborus niger, Christmas Rose
Hellebores, sometimes called Lenten Rose, are tough, frost-hardy perennials that add color and a spark of life to your winter garden. With glossy, leather-like deep green leaves, hellebores like to be planted under high branching trees, on the north or east side of walls, or in raised beds. They prefer partial sun, but some can take full sun. For best results, plant hellebores in well-drained soil amended with plenty of organic matter. Once planted, hellebores don’t like to be disturbed. But if they are well sited, they may self-sow, and you can transplant young seedlings in the early spring. All parts of these plants are poisonous, so are good choices for gardens shared with deer, gophers, or moles.

Hellebore flowers are usually shaped like cups or bells, either outward facing or drooping. They range in color from white and green through pink and red to deep purple, and gradually turn green as they age. In addition, hellebores make wonderful additions to floral arrangements. To seal the ends of cut stems, sear over a flame or immerse in boiling water for a few seconds, then place in cold water. Alternatively, you can simply float the attractive flowers in a bowl of water.

Here are some popular hellebores to spruce up your winter garden:

  • Helleborus argutifolius are erect or sprawling, growing 2-3 feet high and wide with blue-green leaves. The leafy stems carry clusters of two-inch, pale green flowers. This species is more sun tolerant than some others.
  • Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ features dark green leaves and flowers that change colors. Red buds open into ivory flowers that turn rose and chartreuse as they age.
  • Helleborus niger, or “Christmas rose” bears dark green leaves and grows one foot high and 18inches wide. Blooming from Christmas to spring, they start out with white, saucer-shaped flowers that turn pinkish with time. This hellebore prefers alkaline soil and shade.


By Julie McMillan 

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