Early color for winter gardens

Plant hellebores for blooms of pale green to ruby, garnet, and deep amethyst. Here's your easy growing guide

Party Dress Hellebore
Photo: Photo: Rob D. Brodman

Covered in blooms that range from pale green and creamy white to ruby, garnet, and deep amethyst, hellebores are at their prettiest from winter into spring, when their delicate flowers open like cups or bells amid leathery green leaves.

These shade-loving perennials add sparkle any time of year, whether in pots or in garden beds.

Planting these beauties

Hellebores range from 1 to 3 feet tall and wide, and they thrive in nearly all but the coldest mountain regions and the hottest, driest parts of the West. Many are evergreen. And given the right care, they can live for decades.

Plant them in a spot that gets part to full shade (in Southern California, Corsican hellebore tolerates more sun than other species).

Provide good air circulation and well-drained soil that's been amended with compost or organic matter. Alkaline soil is best, but most hellebores can adapt to acid soil.

Set them in the ground with their crowns (the point where their roots and top structure join) slightly higher than the surrounding soil level to avoid crown rot. Wear gloves; some gardeners have allergic reactions to the plant's poisonous alkaloid sap, which is toxic enough to repel deer.

For a woodland effect, grow hellebores among ferns or other moisture-loving perennials, or mass them beneath high-branching trees.

In pots, mix them with foliage in contrasting hues ― pale green Wester Flisk with plum heucheras, for example.

Secrets to their success

Hellebores like moist soil and prefer moderate to regular water, though once established (after two years), they can tolerate some drought.

Mulch plants with aged compost in spring and fall (keep it away from the plant's crown). In well-amended soil, supplemental fertilizer is seldom needed.

In early spring, before plants send out fresh leaves, cut back any frost-damaged foliage.

Info: Buy plants at nurseries or online from Big Dipper Farm in Washington.

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