How to Grow and Care for Hellebore

Hellebore plant with purple flowers closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The common name "hellebore" is assigned to several species of plants in the Helleborus genus of the Ranunculaceae family, which also includes monkshood, delphinium, and anemone. Hellebore foliage is evergreen and forms a low clump with leaves that are lobed and palm-like. Hellebore plants are among the earliest perennial flowers to bloom, welcoming spring with their rose-like blossoms. In warm locales, Helleborus orientalis can bloom outdoors at Christmastime. In colder zones, hellebores will break through the frozen ground early in the spring. Their foliage remains attractive into the summer, so they are suitable for splashy, mass plantings. Keep in mind that this slow-growing plant can be toxic to dogs and cats.

Botanical Name Helleborus spp.
Common Name Hellebore, Lenten rose, Christmas rose
Family Ranunculaceae
Plant Type Herbaceous, perennial
Mature Size 1–2 ft. tall with a similar spread
Sun Exposure Partial, shade
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color White, pink, purple, yellow
Hardiness Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Native Area Middle East
Toxicity Toxic to dogs and cats

Hellebore Care

Hellebores are usually planted from potted nursery specimens, even when purchased from online retailers. Hellebore seeds are available, but they are sold in seed packets that include a mix of colors. If you want a particular variety, you will need to purchase potted nursery starts because they have either been selected or hybridized for specific colors.

Hellebores are very easy to grow in shady conditions where most plants struggle, provided they have some shelter from harsh winter winds. The only real maintenance the plants require is a little cleanup of their fading leaves. If foliage is winter-worn, it can be cut back to basal growth in the spring, before flowering.

Holly-leaved hellebore with green flower closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Hellebore plant with orange flowers surrounded by small purple flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Hellebore plants with purple flowers and green stems

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Christmas rose hellebore plant with white flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova


Hellebores prefer partial to full shade. They can handle spring sun, but plant them in a spot that will become shadier as trees and other plants flush out.


Hellebores grow best in soil that is rich with organic matter and well-draining. If your soil is acidic, consider adding lime, as hellebores prefer neutral or even alkaline conditions.


Although they like some moisture, hellebores should not be allowed to sit in wet soil for a prolonged time or they will rot. Once established, they can handle drier soil.

Temperature and Humidity

Hardiness will vary with species, but you can find hellebore suitable for USDA zones 3 to 9—most are hardy as far north as zone 4 or 5. In colder climates, protect hellebores from harsh winter winds. Hellebores tolerate a wide range of humidity.


Add an organic-rich fertilizer—compost or well-decayed manure—into the soil when planting, then continue to fertilize in spring and early fall. Applications of chemical fertilizer are rarely needed if the soil is rich enough.

Types of Hellebore

Hellebore is not to be confused with false hellebore (Veratrum viride). There are many wonderful hellebore varieties, often sold in a mix of colors. More and more hybrids are being offered in single colors. Here are some favorites:

  • 'Anna's Red': This plant has rich red-purple blooms and leaves that are veined with pink. It is suitable for zones 4 to 9.
  • 'Winter Jewels Amber Gem': Unique golden blossoms are edged with pink. Grow this plant in zones 5 to 8.
  • 'Phillip Ballard': This variety has dark blue, almost black flowers. It can be grown in zones 6 to 9.
  • 'Citron': This plant has unusual primrose yellow blooms and is suitable for zones 6 to 9.
  • 'Angel Glow': The cultivar has pale pink flowers that fade to green as they age. Grow it in zones 6 to 8.
  • 'Wester Flisk': These plants have a red tinge to the stems and leaf stalks. Flowers are greenish, edged with red and purple. It is suitable for USDA zones 6 to 9.

Propagating Hellebore

Hellebores can be propagated by division. The best time to divide is in early spring before they flower. It is easiest to dig the entire plant and shake or wash off the soil so you can see where the buds are on the crown. Make sure each division has at least 2 buds. (Helleborus foetidus and Helleborus argutifolius do not divide well and are best started from seed.)

Most varieties will reseed, but hybrids may produce seeds that don't "come true" to the parent plant. Seeds may produce plants that resemble one of the parent species, not the hybrid. You can move the seedlings to another location in the garden once they are large enough to handle and have developed true leaves.

Growing Hellebore From Seeds

Hellebore seeds don't remain viable very long. Always start with fresh seed. Fresh seeds can be planted in containers and left outdoors throughout the summer. Keep the soil moist and you should see germination in either the fall or the following spring.

If you collect seeds from the pods on growing plants, they should be planted right away— they will germinate with minimal effort. However, if they sit too long outside of the soil, they develop a hard coating and go dormant. It can take a year or more for them to complete this dormancy cycle.

Stored hellebore seeds need to be stratified before planting. They will do this naturally outdoors, but if you want to start seeds indoors, it will take some finesse.

First, soak the seeds in hot water until they start to swell. This can take a day or two. Then, sow them in a pot filled with potting mix and keep the pots at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit for six weeks. Finally, move the pots to a cooler spot, around 50 degrees. You should see germination and sprouting within another four to six weeks.


Hellebores are winter-hardy and require little attention to make it through the harsh winter months. They will usually bounce right back at the first sign of spring.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Hellebores don't get bothered by many insects, except for aphids. Affected parts can be removed, then spray the plant with horticultural oil or another pesticide.

The common diseases are usually fungal in origin: leaf spot and downy mildew, both of which can be treated with fungicides if the infection is severe.

One quite serious disease carries the ominous name "Black Death." This causes stunted plants and black streaks. It is caused by the Helleborus net necrosis virus, which is transmitted by aphids. If a plant is affected, your only recourse is to remove the plant entirely. Treat for aphids to prevent the spread of this disease.

How to Get Hellebore to Bloom

Hellebores can be planted in the spring or fall. Some species are slow to develop and may require two seasons before they bloom. Bloom time depends on both the species and your climate. The Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) can bloom in December in zone 7 or warmer but rarely blooms until spring in colder climates. Most species can be counted on to bloom somewhere between December and April and stay in bloom for a month or longer. Ensure the hellebore doesn't have too much nitrogen, as this will result in lovely foliage but a severe shortage of blooms.

  • What plants are similar to hellebore?

    Hellebores used to be the domain of specialty plant collectors, but recent hybridizing has introduced several varieties that are easy to grow and readily available. The three most familiar species are H. orientalis (often called Lenten rose), H.niger (commonly known as Christmas rose or black rose), and Helleborus foetidus (commonly known as stinking hellebore). Varieties labeled as Helleborus x hybridus are generally hybrids that have H. orientalis as the principal parent.

  • Can hellebore grow indoors?

    This is a plant that is sometimes sold for the winter season, much like poinsettias, then allowed to die off after the lush blooms have done their part. However, you can continue to care for the plant indoors until the spring thaw, when it should readily take to a new home in the garden.

  • How fast do hellebores grow?

    These are considered slow-growing plants that can take up to 18 months to reach their mature size of about 8 inches. Those that are grown from seed can take about three years to reach that point.