Plants & Growing

Hellebore Care & Growing Tips In The UK

purple hellbore flowers in the garden
Written by Chris Briggs

Hellebore plants are a very popular species in the UK, and they can be found in countless gardens across the country.

Hellebore is the name given to a species of perennial flowering plants. There are roughly 20 different plants that fall under the hellebore umbrella that come in a wide range of colours.

If you’ve ever wanted to grow your own hellebore then you should find this guide extremely helpful. We’ll be looking at all aspects of growing and caring for hellebore in your garden so you’ll be fully prepared to deal with any problems that might arise and know exactly what steps to take to ensure your hellebore thrives.

What this guide will cover –

  • Background, origins and varieties
  • Planting, feeding and care
  • Pruning Hellebore
  • Habitat and growing conditions
  • Where to buy Hellebore
  • Common Hellebore diseases and problems

Background, Origins & Varieties

The term ‘Hellebore’ was first established in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus in Species Plantarum. The various plants that encompass the hellebore genus were first found throughout Asia and Europe. Although hellebore plants are similar in their appearance to roses, and in fact many are referred to using that term, they are not related to the rose family at all.

Christmas Rose Hellebore with snow on leaves
Christmas Rose Hellebore in a snowy garden setting

Hellebore plants have five sepals, which unlike petals, do not fall and will often remain on the plant for several months. The colour of the sepals will depend on the species. Some of the colouring you’ll find on the sepals of hellebore plants include dark red, white and pink, yellow, double pink and blue-black.

Something that makes hellebore plants attractive to gardeners is their ability to cope well in all conditions, with many species being evergreen and able to withstand frost and other harsh conditions very well.

Planting, Feeding & Care

Planting

If you want to grow your own hellebore, then the good news is that they’re quite easy to grow. They generally last throughout the year and can withstand most weather conditions, including harsh winters.

The first thing you’ll need to decide on is which type of hellebore plant you want to grow. People usually select based on the colour they want. There is a wide selection of colours available and of course, you don’t need to be limited to just one.

When choosing a position for your plants, ideally you will put them in a spot that gets at least some sunlight during the day. There are certain species of hellebore that will grow in the shade, such as Helleborus Foetidus, but generally, you’ll want to ensure they get at least some sunlight during the day.

Choosing the right time to plant is another important factor when growing your own hellebore. Generally, you’ll want to plant them in either autumn or spring. It’s better to avoid planting them in the summer since they’re less likely to get the water they need to thrive.

You’ll also want to consider the condition of the soil where you’re planting them. It should be moist but not waterlogged. If the soil is in poor condition or extremely dry, then you should improve it as best you can before planting your hellebore.

If you’re planting multiple hellebore then be sure to leave a good amount of space between them. There should be at least 30cm between each one, so they have enough room to grow.

It is possible to grow certain species of hellebore in containers. If you do decide to grow hellebore in a container then you’ll want to make sure the container is roughly the same size or slightly larger than the one you bought it in. You should also make sure that any containers you use have a good number of drainage holes.

Feeding and watering

Once you’ve planted your hellebore, you’ll need to make sure they’re properly watered and fed.  Any newly planted hellebore will need regular watering throughout their first season, from spring to summer. Even plants that are well established will need to be watered during dry spells.

Providing you plant your hellebore in good conditions, it shouldn’t be necessary in most cases to feed them. If you notice that they’re not growing well then you can use fertiliser, but often poor growth is due to the soil either being too dry or overly saturated so be sure to check if this is the problem first.  

On-going care and propagation

There are a couple of ways to propagate hellebore plants. The first is by division. To accomplish this, you should carefully dig the plants up, keeping the roots in-tact, and then splitting the clump so that each section has at least one shoot.

You can then plant the divisions, making sure to water them well after planting until they’re properly established. It will take a good while (up to 2 years) for plants that are propagated this way to flower properly but the results are worth it.

The other method for propagating hellebore is using seeds. To do this you should collect the seeds from the pods once they start opening and then sow them, preferably during the summer.

Pruning Hellebore

Pruning is another important aspect of growing hellebore, particularly because their sepals don’t fall. Pruning hellebore is quite easy but it’s important to know how to go about it properly as well as the best time to do it…

Pink speckled Hellebore flowers in garden
Pink speckled Hellebore flowering in an early spring setting

The best time to prune hellebore would be when new growth begins to appear. This generally happens in either late winter or early spring. When you notice new growth, you should remove any old growth to make way for it.

To prune hellebore, you should simply remove any old growth by cutting cleanly at the stems. Make sure to cut as close to the ground as possible. When pruning hellebore, you should always wear gardening gloves since the sap from the plant can be irritable to your skin. You should also make sure you clean any gardening tools you use afterwards too.

It’s incredibly important to remove any old growth when you notice it since allowing it to stay can cause it to get tangled up with new growth and can be very difficult to remove further down the line.

Habitat & Growing Conditions

Natural habitats

Many people mistakenly believe that hellebore in the wild grow in the woodland and in the shade exclusively. However, this is not the case. Hellebore can thrive in a wide variety of settings, from mountains to meadows. They are extremely hardy and can survive most weather conditions very well.  

In many of the places they can be found growing in the wild, hellebore will only get partial shade and can experience weeks or sometimes even months without water. During this period, they can go dormant, yet they flourish again once there’s been a downpour.

A green Hellebore flower in a garden flowerbed
A green Hellebore flower in a garden flowerbed

There are places where hellebore can be found in the woods and when they are, they’re usually able to receive full sunlight during the summer months. They can also survive in the shade in the woods, but they won’t flower in the same way.

Growing conditions

When grown in the garden, hellebore thrives in deep soil that’s able to retain moisture without getting waterlogged due to heavy rain in the autumn and winter. Drainage is often an issue with hellebore and ideally, when planted in the garden, it would be in soil that’s mixed with sand to allow for better drainage.

It’s a good idea to add mulch to the soil where any hellebore is planted. An organic leaf mulch would work best.

If you want hellebore plants to flower their best, then it’s recommended that you plant them in a spot where they are fully exposed to the sun during winter and early spring.

Some shade in the summer would be best but hellebore is still able to survive, even if they are fully exposed to the sun. If they don’t get enough water during this time, they’ll simply go dormant. It’s important to bear in mind that overwatering can easily kill hellebore and is much worse for them than being exposed to too much sunlight.

If you’re going to feed hellebore, then it’s best to do it in late winter and use just a small amount of fertiliser. You can cut off the leaves in the winter if you want, but it’s not necessary since they will be shed during the springtime. It is a good idea to remove leaves if you notice any fungal spores on them, however.

Where To Buy Hellebore

There are plenty of places you can buy hellebore plants – both online and in-person. When buying hellebore there are certain things you should be aware of. Of course, you’ll want to research the particular species you’re buying so you know if you’ll be able to provide it with suitable growing conditions. In addition to this, you’ll also want to check the reputation of the shop/website that you’re buying from.

A plant nursery is a particularly good place to buy hellebore since you know the plants will have been well looked after before they reach you.

Common Hellebore Diseases & Problems

Unfortunately, hellebore plants are prone to certain diseases, particularly if they’re not looked after properly. One such disease is known as hellebore leaf spot. This is a type of fungal disease that affects the leaves and the stem, leaving reddish-brown marks. The best way to prevent the spread of leaf spot is to immediately remove any leaves that have been affected. Another good way to prevent leaf spot is to cut off any foliage at the end of the season. This stops it spreading throughout the winter.

Another common disease that hellebore suffers from is known as hellebore black death and is as serious as it sounds. There is no cure for this so if you have any plants that develop it, you should dig them up immediately and destroy them.

Grey mould is another common disease for hellebore plants. It causes the tissue to decay and a fuzzy mould to grow over the parts of the plant where the fungus is present. Hellebore plants are most prone to developing grey mould if they have an open wound or if they’re in less than optimal conditions. Humidity does play a role in the fungus developing but it can affect hellebore plants at any time of the year, including winter.

Hellebore isn’t just prone to diseases that are naturally occurring. It can also be targeted by insects. Phytomyza hellebore, or hellebore leaf miner as it’s also known, is a very small fly that infests certain species of hellebore plants. This insect can cause great damage to hellebore since it will not only dig tunnels into the leaves, causing them to become discoloured, but it will also turn the leaves into a nesting ground, where other flies will lay their larvae.

Another type of insect that attacks hellebore plants is known as hellebore aphid. This small insect will coat hellebore plants in a layer of honeydew that will cause the leaves and flowers to become mouldy. What makes hellebore aphids particularly harmful to hellebore plants is that they attack every part of them, including the stem, leaves and the inside of the flowers.  

Fighting pests and diseases

There are chemical solutions you can use on hellebore in order to try and prevent them from developing any diseases. These usually come in the form of sprays and contain a mixture of insecticide and fungicide. You simply spray the solution onto the leaves in order to protect your plants.

When trying to deal with insects that are harmful to hellebore, you can either use insecticides or in the case of hellebore aphids, squashing them. It’s always important to tackle the problem of diseases and insects early on when you first notice symptoms. Doing this will enable you to prevent the problem from spreading and allow your plants to flourish.

About the author

Chris Briggs

Chris loves the outdoors and exploring nature. He is a freelance writer and has written extensively on subjects including travel, DIY and gardening.

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