Hellebore Hardy

hellebore hardy (1)Would that every plant in my garden could be hellebore hardy. Hellebore hardy? Hellebore hardy is that state of plant being which is as tough as nails, bud and bloom hardy, every day in hostile weather, as in every crappy spring wild card day hardy. We have had crazy cold and blustery weather the first 12 days of April. As in daytime highs of 28 degrees, and some night time lows at 19 degrees.  If it were January, or February, or even the first part of March, these temperatures would not bother anything in my garden.  At that time, every plant is dormant, and oblivious to the day to day changes in temperature. This kind of cold in the spring can damage emerging flowers and leaves. Our espaliered fruit trees are very close to blooming.  I am hoping they hold off for a week, as below freezing temperatures can easily damage or wipe out those flowers. The flowering stalks of my hellebores emerged from the ground a month ago. The have been growing steadily, in spite of a lengthy bout of really cold and windy weather.

hellebore hardy (3)The flowering stalks of the hellebores usually come out of the ground in my zone in mid March. They are programmed to come out of the ground, fighting. How they fight to bloom enchants me. March and April are politely known as transitional months in Michigan.  As in 2.5 parts winter dueling fiercely with .5 parts of spring.  Hellebores bloom in spite of that conflict-  I admire that cheekiness about them. Their ability to withstand cold, snow, ice, freezing rain and wind when they have broken dormancy and begun to grow is remarkable.  All the more extraordinary is their ability to shrug off this hostile weather while in full bloom. This picture was taken at the end of the day on April 10. I was worried that every flower would be at least damaged, if not obliterated by morning.

hellebore hardy (2)It was not an idle worry. My white flowered magnolia stellata is full of white flowers gone to brown mush.  The early flowering magnolias are not hellebore hardy. Their flowering can be laid low and obliterated by cold April weather.  I don’t love them less for this.  I just know that a tumultuous spring has its disappointments, and its survivors. My stellata blooms well 2 out of 5 years.

hellebore hardy (8)The hellebores are survivors.  They do not need any help from me if the beginning of spring is deadly cold. They never ask for much of anything, actually. As for April 11, my hellebores revived. Once the snow and ice melted, and the air temperatures warmed up, my hellebores got back to the business of blooming. My old clumps are sensational this year.

hellebore hardy (12)This big clump, one of many of the old Royal Heritage strain that I grow, is unfazed by inclement weather.

hellebore hardy (5)It is hard to believe that these flowers survived night temperatures ranging from 19 to 27 degrees, over a period of almost 2 weeks.

hellebore hardy (6)Hellebore flowers are big and showy.  What is just as showy is how they handle the late winter weather. Showier still is that these plants are still growing strong, despite their age.  Most of my original group was planted well over a decade ago. I do not often see the Royal Heritage strain offered for sale – pity that.

hellebore hardy (9)To follow are some pictures of my hellebores – both old and new.  I appreciate every one of them, especially given that most of the rest of the garden is still biding its time, hoping for a clearer sign that spring is here.

hellebore hardy (7)Royal heritage strain

hellebore hardy (17)Conny is a newer variety.  This is its 3rd spring.

hellebore hardy (10)Royal Heritage strain

hellebore hardy (11)Royal heritage strain

hellebore hardy (14)Royal Heritage strain

hellebore hardy (18)This spotted double is a newer variety whose name I cannot remember. Lovely, and sparse.

hellebore hardy (16)My newest group of more recently bred hellebore hybrids are gawky and thin. I am hoping to see them put on some weight this year. It is too soon to determine whether they will form big and persistent clumps. The Royal Heritage Mix may not have the interesting shapes and the clearer colors as the newest varieties that are available, but they are reliable. Should you have an interest in this discussion regarding hellebores persistence, I would invite you to read an essay from the well known English gardener and garden writer, Noel Kingbury. His column is a regular read for me. He worries that the new cultivars are not as vigorous as the old fashioned varieties.  His life is a world away from mine, but his commentary on the garden is of interest to me.   http://noels-garden.blogspot.com/2016/02/hellebore-troubles.html


  1. Cathy Peterson says

    I have one hellebore plant & it was not fazed by last week’s crazy weather in northern Illinois. Your plants are beautiful. . . .makes me want to plant more.

  2. Hellebores are an annual highlight in my Virginia gardens. The Royal Heritage seen here are in my gardens, given to me by a friend nearly a decade ago. Thinking that they are only shade plants, I am surprised to see a large self-sown group thriving in full sun. To date, I have four large areas of hellebore and the only maintenance is leaf removal every February.
    They also make wonderful/popular cut stems at the farmer’s market this month. Considered a bullet proof plant, I celebrate hellebores every season.

  3. How to make them attractive rather than leggy stems with clump of attractive flowers above?

  4. michaele anderson says

    You have some real beauties. One thing I couldn’t help but notice is how each of your plants has been pretty much well tidied of any surrounding old foliage. Makes me think you must be an excellent indoor housekeeper as well! Anyway, when do cut off the old leaves? I always worry that removing them might make the plants more vulnerable to late freezes.

  5. It looks like some of your hellebores might be in full sun – is this true or only during the winter months? Thank you!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Carla, one group of hellebores is in full sun. They do get regular water. The other group is in very bright shade. I actually think hellebores are very adaptable to varying light conditions. best, Deborah

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Carla, one group is in full sun, and they get regular moisture. Another group is in very bright shade. Both groups do well. best, Deborah

  6. Lisa - Ontario says

    I believe I have one of the Royal Heritage strain. It is my best hellebore. Perhaps we had more snow than you, some of my hellebore stems bent in two and didn’t pop back up. Also for the first time some of my hellebores rotted over the winter. For not having much winter it certainly did some damage.

  7. Joyce Bentley says

    I read that one can plant Hellebores right up against tree trunks, and I stupidly did!! Second year and the Hellebores are blooming their heads off – newer varieties, and doing well in half sun here in north Atlanta. One of the plants will win the space war, and I’m betting on the Hellebores rather than the 2-foot diameter oak!! In another area, my now 15 year old varieties are nearly 4 feet in diameter in full shade. I’m buying these plants and trying them everywhere. If we had a few sunbeams to spare, I’d ship them to you… Hang on – Spring is coming.

  8. Nancy Bellaire says

    Thanks for the great post. I have been waiting to remove the old leaves thinking it might help with the freezing temps. From the looks of your flowers, I can snip away.

    • I love hellebores, they are easy and don’t fuss much. Too bad my kids weren’t the same! Oh well, you can’t win them all.

  9. Alane Roundtree says

    Thank you Deborah for posting the beautiful photos and descriptions of your hellebores. Truly a magnificent plant for the Northern gardener to love.

  10. Deborah Silver says

    Dear Michaele, I cut the old foliage off early. I do not believe they protect the plants from bad spring weather. The one year I waited until the flower buds were up, I accidentally cut some off. Dang. best, Deborah

  11. Deborah Silver says

    Dear Kristina, the hellebores bloom first-the new season’s foliage comes later. Bigger, older clumps look less gangly, as there are lots of flower stalks. best, Deborah

  12. Eileen Harryvan says

    Thanks to your blog I’ve discovered Hellebore & I can’t wait to decide where mine will thrive in our re-arranged garden spaces. Now that the weather here in Michigan has finally turned warmer I’m really looking forward to making some changes & implementing your suggestions.
    All our best, E

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Eileen, you have plenty of places where hellebores would thrive. If you plant them on that upper level in front of the house, you will be able to look up into their flowering faces from the walk. best, Deborah

  13. Carol Watkins says

    I was just recently told about Hellebore from a friend- and then your newsletter comes. I have a question not addressed yet- as I live in central IN, and our soil is quite clay like- do they have a certain type of soil they like? Acid, alkaline, sandy, peaty,- clay ? They are so gorgeous! Lowes here has some, I may have to get some if they can take heavier soil?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Carol, my soil at home is clay, and they do fine. That said, I have used bark fines, or ground up hard word bark, as a mulch for years. That has leavened my soil. best, Deborah

  14. Pat Zubak says

    Hi Deborah,
    Thank you for your wonderful and timely posts. They usually encourage me to keep at it, being a neophyte gardener. My magnolia also turned brown and I now know it wasn’t because of an act or omission on my part. I have some beautiful hellebores in my garden that I’d like to move to shadier spots but I have read different opinions about transplanting them. Do you have any advice? I’d really appreciate some!

  15. Mariana Greene says

    In the winter and spring of 2015 we had record rainfall in Dallas. Many of my newer hellebore hybrids drowned, evidently, and turned to mush by early summer, as did many established roses. The first hellebores I planted, however, maybe 20 years ago, stood their ground to bloom again this year. We do not remove the leaves here in Dallas, because they usually stay green all winter. I prefer that to bare dirt. Plus, bare dirt is an open invitation to the city chickens let out for a ramble.

  16. Dear Deborah,
    We are a small band of devoted followers in Salem, MA. We have read your blog faithfully since your container designs inspired our own efforts when we purchased six very tall planters for the entry stairs of our 1836 granite Gothic-style Unitarian Universalist church.

    Last year we started a program we call “Altar to Garden”, and we provide an occasional alternative to cut flowers on Sundays. One of first tries at this was early last spring, with a gorgeous display of hellebores nested in moss. They then graced our foyer for a week or two before finding their way into the garden beds, and this spring (a difficult one here as well) they have been been blooming beautifully for at least a month. Thank you from our garden committee for your generosity in sharing your creativity, expertise, and skills. You have helped us try things we might never have dared.

  17. Your hellebores are gorgeous – they are very popular for plantings in parks, etc. here, and in my view are ruined by lack of maintenance, as the new growth/blooms are fighting their way thru last year’s winter damaged foliage. I’m guessing you cut down the old foliage in the fall?


    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Ceci, I leave the old foliage on all winter-and cut back just as the bloom stalks are coming out of the ground.

  18. I doubt there is anything in my garden that I enjoy more than the hellebores because of when they arrive, their persistence, beauty and self-seeding ability. The black ones are my absolute favorite. They bring a smile each and every time I see them.

  19. Christina says

    Does someone know if the foliage of hellebores stays green and full throughout the summer and fall? I’d like to intersperse it amongst my boxwood groupings, somewhat as a ground cover …

  20. A 12 degree low here did take it’s toll on some varieties’ blossoms.

    • Deborah Silver says

      12 degrees is impossibly cold. What a misery for you. I hope the weather is better now. best, Deborah

  21. Dera Weaver says

    Deborah, I always love reading your posts. Your flowering grass “rug” is still a vivid picture in my mind!

    Are you aware of the “Black Death” virus that’s beginning to decimate hellebores down here in the South? https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=167

    It evidently has been around for a while in the UK, but my gardening friends and I are just beginning to cope with it. And by “cope”, I mean dig up our treasured hellebores that have contracted the virus. Just before my garden was on tour this spring, I had to remove a 10′ x 20′ swath of old, reliable hellebores, and it’s just heartbreaking. As a friend said, “When did we ever think we wouldn’t be able to count on the hellebores?”

    Right now I’m not planning on replanting any hellebores, but I just wondered if in your circles you’re aware of any advances in the treatment, or if there is yet a virus-resistant strain? Everything I read says ominously, “Infected plants do not recover.”

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Dera, I have never heard of this! I will look it up-thanks for bringing it to my attention. I am so sorry about your plants. best, Deborah

Leave a Comment