Hurrah for Hellebores – Propagating Hellebores

Published: June 29, 2022





Propagating Hellebores

By Seed

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Helleborus ‘Penny's Pink'

You may like to try and hand pollinate your own hellebores by choosing two really good ones, perhaps a really nice form or one with excellent vigour and the other one with perhaps a good colour or special markings. Choose the mother plant for vigour and good flower shape and form and the father for good colour and perhaps markings. Remove the ripe pollen from the father plant. Touch the stamens with a black plastic pen, the pollen will ‘jump' onto the pen. Carefully transfer this pollen to the ripe stigma of the mother. You will need to pop a muslin bag over the pollinated (mother) plant to prevent an insect from pollinating it again. The bag will collect the seed when it ripens and falls from the seed pod later in the year. Carol Klein has a super visual guide on pollinating hellebores, on the BBC website.

Collect and sow hellebore seed as soon as possible (preferably in July or August). If you are buying seed sow it a fresh as possible. Sow into a mix of 50% John Innes Seed Compost and 50% multi-purpose. Sow the seed thinly and cover with 6mm (1/4″) layer of a mixture of 50% vermiculite and 50% washed grit. Leave the pots out in the open, but do not allow them to dry out. When germination has occurred, bring them into a cold frame or cool greenhouse, taking care against possible damage from slugs or mice. Prick out into small pots, when the seed leaves are large enough to handle, using a mixture of two parts, (by bulk) of John Innes No.2, one part washed grit and one part multi-purpose potting compost. Pot on as required. Liquid feed regularly from about six weeks after potting on. Covering the pot with fine chicken wire will help to prevent damage from mice and voles.

Incidental breeding

Unless dead flowers are removed promptly seed will set. Named varieties of hellebore do not come true from seed. They are notorious for cross pollinating and after three or four years many seedlings will be flowering and the choice varieties crowded out by an intriguing tapestry of shades, murky colours and less impressive flowers. Allow only the very best colours and forms to remain in your garden; occasionally something stunning may turn up by pot luck if sturdy seedlings are grown on and assessed.

Division

Like hostas, hellebores are best left to develop into impressive clumps with real presence. If you must divide them, wait until the clumps are really big and chop with a spade into large sections, preferably on a cool day early in September and replant or pot up immediately. When dividing a younger plant, dig it up, wash off all the soil and carefully tease apart the different sections, each with a crown. A knife may be needed to help things along. This is the way all named forms are bulked up. Plants which have been moved, ill-treated or divided may sulk and not flower for a year or two and not every type of hellebore lends itself to division.

Pests and Diseases

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There is one serious and incurable disease of hellebores. ‘Black death'reveals itself as black streaks and spots in the foliage and flowers. Now this has been identified as ‘Helleborus net necrosis virus'. The crucial piece of news for gardeners is that it is spread by aphids, so if you start with healthy plants from a specialist, and keep them aphid-free, there should be no problems.

It also helps to ensure that all foliage removed in winter is burnt. Good air circulation helps to keep plants clean. Sometimes hellebores look very spotty, this may not be Black Death, just ‘Black Spot'which is not as bad! Remove and burn all marked leaves, stems and flowers. Plants occasionally can get smut, if they do remove and burn affected parts. Luckily there are few pests apart from aphids, although vine weevil grubs may eat the roots, but I have never seen that happen! Slugs, voles and mice can nibble stems and the odd tiny snail may sometimes be seen in a flower.

How to grow Hellebores

Hellebores are perennials, members of the Ranunculaceae, the buttercup family. In the wild they grow in central and southern Europe, Turkey, Russia and China. Most grow on deciduous woodland slopes or shaded clearings among scrub or rocks. Some grow on open, sunny slopes which become shaded later in the year. They prefer limestone but will tolerate acid soils.

Most hellebores are easy to grow; any good soil suits them well and most thrive in dappled shade, partial shade or even sun if the soil remains moist. As they prefer slightly alkaline soil, acid soil will benefit from the addition of mushroom compost. Thin sandy soil is not ideal, bulk it up with compost etc and use mulches two or three times a year. In a sunny border they enjoy being ‘shaded out' by plants such as hemerocallis, whose fresh emerging foliage also complements the plants in February/March.

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Helleborus ‘Briar Rose'

The sun lovers include , Helleborus x sternii and the crosses such as Helleborus x nigercors and Helleborus x ericsmithii (now appearing under a range of different names such as ‘Ivory Prince', ‘Moonbeam', ‘Bob's Best').

is the most difficult to establish; rich soil but sharp drainage and light shade but sheltered is the advice often given. Hedge bottoms may suit, so long as they are not too dry. They can do well in pots.

A very pretty but somewhat tender cross is between niger and lividus, named Helleborus x ballardiae after Helen Ballard who first made the cross. It is often sold under other names such as ‘Pink Frost'. This hellebore requires a very sheltered spot – it may survive in a pot that can be moved to a frost free porch on very frosty nights. from Majorca is tender and difficult, even in an alpine house or frost free greenhouse. A much tougher cross with niger is Helleborus x nigercors; niger and corsicus (now known as argutifolius). This cross was registered in 1934. An exciting new niger cross is a niger x hybridus called Helleborus ‘Walburton's Rosemary' bred by David Tristam whose father bred one of our finest Helleborus niger ‘Potter's Wheel'.

The easiest to grow are the Helleborus x hybridus, (often known as or the Lenten Rose) they will tolerate a wide range of conditions. Plant them on a bank so that you will be able to look directly into the flowers. Those with pure white, pale pink or pale yellow flowers make the most impact from a distance; doubles, and prettily speckled kinds are better appreciated more closely. Choose the ones you like best when they're in flower. and most of the other species, such as , Helleborus purpurescens and , Helleborus cyclophylus and Helleborus odorus are easy going, too.

Caring for Hellebores

If the hellebore is in the acaulescent group (with flowers and leaves on separate stems, such as Helleborus hybridus) cut off all the old foliage between November and January to prevent black spot. Follow with a generous mulch, mushroom compost is ideal. Hellebores which are in the caulescent group (that is when flowers appear on the same stems as leaves, such as Helleborus foetidus and Helleborus argutifolius), should have the whole stem with leaves and flowers on, removed in early summer. Spotted and tatty foliage can be removed at any time. All hellebores will also benefit from a late winter and/or autumn mulch of good garden compost or well rotted manure or mushroom compost. An autumn feed of bonemeal is beneficial. Do not let invasive plants encroach.

Diana Guy

Copyright © for this article and pictures by Diana Guy (2013). Reproduced with permission.