Dishing the dirt: Hellebores, the winter charmer

Published 6:56 pm Friday, December 2, 2016

Hellebores are small, evergreen plants that add color and charm to winter gardens. They are small enough to be tucked into small areas of the garden or can be planted in mass under high branching trees or in beds. Their persistent blooms typically last beyond published bloom periods well into the spring. Flowers are usually cup or bell shaped either outward facing or drooping. They consist of a ring of petal-like sepals ranging in color from white and green through pink, red and deep purple adding a big boost for winter interest. Best of all they are not damaged by deer or rodents.

The Christmas Rose (Heleborus niger) is an elegant plant approximately 12-inch tall with no obvious stems. Blooming begins in December and carries through to spring. Flowers appear singly or in groups of two or three on a stout stem about the same height as the foliage clump.

Another popular species is the Lenten Rose (Heleborus orientalis) which tolerates warm-winter climates. The foliage adds a bold texture to the woodland garden. Rising from a central crown, the leaves are large, dark green and glossy. The leafy flower stem raises above the plant clumps and stand 12- to 18-inches tall. The flower appears in February and follows the bloom period with interesting seedpods.

Hellebores in full or partial shade, in North Carolina, plants can tolerate a half day of sun, but need shade in the afternoon. You will want to plant them in good, well-drained soil amended with plenty of organic matter. They prefer soil that is somewhat alkaline and should be fed once or twice a year. Don’t disturb Hellebores once planted; they resent moving and may take two or more years to re-establish. Make note, all parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested.

Blooms are also attractive in arrangements. After you cut them, slice a bottom inch of the stems lengthwise or seal cut ends by searing over a flame or immersing in boiling water for a few seconds. Then place in cold water or simply float flowers in a bowl of water.

In addition to the above, there are other species available. To learn more, visit the following websites: (Note: type in “helleborus” as the scientific name) and

The information for this article is given courtesy of the Extension master gardeners who are volunteers under the direction of the Beaufort County Cooperative Extension. They are available to answer your questions concerning lawns, vegetables, trees, ornamentals, fruits, plant problems and diseases, pests, soil and many other horticulture issues relating to gardening in North Carolina. You can contact a master gardener with questions by leaving a voice mail at 252-946-0111 or email the master gardener at and a volunteer will respond to you inquiries.

Chris Young is a certified master gardener volunteer.



Lawn Care
• Maintain cool season grasses by mowing as needed.
• Keep tree leaves from collecting on your lawn.

• If you have received your soil recommendations, apply lime as suggested. Don’t apply fertilizer until spring (it takes about three months for lime to change the soil’s pH).
• Fertilize houseplants as needed.

• Continue to water new plantings if rainfall isn’t adequate.

• Prune berry-producing plants, if berries are desired in table arrangements over the holidays.
• Cut back herbaceous perennials after the frost kills the tops.
• Any dead or diseased wood can be pruned out anytime of the year.
• Weeds or unnecessary trees should be removed from the landscape.

• None

Other Activities
• Remember to fill your bird feeders and suet holders and keep fresh water in the birdbath.
• Poinsettias should be placed in the sunniest room in the house.
• Order fruit trees and grape vines now if you wish to plant them in February and March.
• Cover strawberries with pine straw or wheat barley to protect them from the cold.
• Continue putting the leaves from your yard into a compost bin.
• If you cover your shrubs, be cautious and use only burlap or white plastic.