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Hellebores – roses of winter

Winter roses

Winter rose is one of the many names given to plants in the increasingly popular Helleborus group. They’re also called Christmas roses, Lenten roses (both names reflecting their northern hemisphere flowering time), or simply nicknamed ‘hellebores’.

They have attractive leathery leaves, often with spiny borders, and pretty, open, cup-shaped flowers that do look a bit like single roses (hence the name) in shades of pink, maroon and cream that can age to a fascinating green. The species have been widely hybridised but they all provide interest at a time of year when flowers can be scarce.

Planting

Even though they’re so hardy, just like any other plant hellebores will perform much better if given good care. They’re shade tolerant and can handle dry periods, which makes them ideal for use as ground covers under established trees.

Before planting, enrich the soil with some organic compost. Dig in Dynamic Lifter pellets and, in most areas, some Yates Garden Lime. Water well after planting and sprinkle around some Yates Waterwise Soil Saturator to help moisture penetrate into the root area.

Pots

Hellebores can also be grown in pots. You won’t need a very deep container – a trough like the Yates Tuscan Edge trough would be ideal and, because these have a self-watering feature, they’re easy to look after. Choose a top quality potting mix – like Yates Professional with added water-storing crystals – and feed a couple of times a year with Yates Acticote.

Propagation

Hellebores grow readily from seed and, if they’re happy, the plants will often spread themselves around the garden. But if you want to try growing numbers of plants from seed, it’s recommended to mix the seeds through some moist peat moss and leave in the freezer for a few weeks before sowing into pots of Yates Seed Raising Mix. This is called stratifying, a process that imitates the cold winter the seeds would experience in their natural habitat. Take care when storing and handling the seeds and flowers – all parts of the plants are poisonous.

Problems

Hellebores have very few problems – most can be solved by growing the plants in congenial conditions (which means adequate food and water). The plants aren’t often attacked by snails, but do provide shelter for these pests. Hence, a judicious sprinkle of snail pellets every so often – Blitzem or Baysol – will help.

If the plants start to look untidy, there’s no harm in pruning off the ugly bits. New shoots will soon emerge and open into fresh leaves.

Cut flowers

The rose-like flowers of hellebores look charming in mixed posies, but very young blooms are inclined to droop quickly. Pick mature blooms early in the morning, and split the stems vertically. Then plunge into water for a good soak before arranging.


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