Tempting Red Hellebore Flowers for Winter Cheer
Red flowered Hellebores are still the holy grail for plant geeks but they are so tough that anyone can covet these and grow them.
‘Peppermint Ice’, ‘Amethyst Gem’ and ‘Ashwood Double Bi Color Shades’ are Hellebore cultivated varieties with red to eggplant hued double flowers. They wow us in late winter with a long vibrant flower display.
As a Portland landscape designer I like to use Hellebore in my designs. The Helleborus x hybridus plants (which is what we are focusing on today) can live for a hundred years, deer don’t like them, they are low water and except for a typically minor problem with aphids, and a little slug activity they are pretty pest free. The leaves are leathery, attractive and provide interesting contrast with a range of plant material to include feathery fern fronds, ornamental grass or tiny leafed boxwood.
They are shade tolerant although I tend to use these three in strong morning sun with dappled or full afternoon shade.
Double flowers give us more color than the singles but the singles, with only 5 to 7 petals, are also stunning and low maintenance. ‘Ashwood Double BiColor Shades’ have a wine red petal with a darker edge which is opposite of ‘Amethyst Gem’.
Using Hellebore as a cut flower
The flowers last a long time in the landscape but not long as a cut flower because the stems wither quickly. Most people cut the stems off and float them in a bowl. I’ve picked them from my NW Portland garden, knowing they would only look good for a few days. There are techniques for making them last which involve picking them at the right time based on the age of the flower and using an alcohol solution in the vase. Follow this link to NW Garden Nursery and read the bottom of their culture sheet. Now that you are bringing the flowers inside please be aware that all parts of the plant are toxic.
All Hellebore flowers tend to nod down rather than face up. This protects the flowers from cold damage (disfigurement/freezer burn) because water drips off the flower and is not trapped inside. Nature designed this plant to flower in winter.
What about aphids?
What about aphids? My only problem with Hellebore is aphids. Some years I don’t have any noticeable aphid activity. When I do it’s so early in the year that handy predators like lacewing and lady bug are still in sleep mode or haven’t hatched yet so I’m on my own. Dealing with them is easy. Use a spray bottle filled with water or 1 tsp of dish soap to 1 gallon of water and spray down your plant. Use your hose or this great gadget called the bug blaster which you can buy at Portland Nursery. (I’ve got to get one this year to use in my veggie garden too.) Don’t use a pesticide because most of them will harm bees even if they are not present when you spray. Aphids have soft bodies and will be damaged by the force of the water or the soapy solution will invade their bodies and disable them. You will have to knock them down with water or soapy water once or twice a week to prevent the temporary cosmetic damage. I’ve never lost a hellebore plant to anything let alone a virus but in recent years virus has spread from plant to plant by aphids. It is only an issue for professional growers or collectors.
How to care for your Hellebore
How to care for your Hellebore: I water once or twice a week its first summer and then once a week after that. Drip irrigation would be best rather than overhead sprinklers because drip can water deep into the soil. Established Hellebore become quite a low water needs plant and might be content with every ten days or less. An application of mulch around the plant once or twice a year is a good practice. If your soil is so good that they make seedlings, be aware they won’t have the same flower as your hybridized plant. I cut the old leaves off the plant in late winter so that the flowers are not visually diminished by the previous years worn foliage.
How to kill a Hellebore
Plant it in a low spot where winter rain will rot the roots. Over water it and fertilize it heavily.