Helleborus one of the first spring flowers in the garden

Hellebores just keep getting better and better

Over the years, new cultivars have evolved with more upward-facing flowers and color ranges from pinks to reds to all the colors of the rainbow.

I have written about hellebores many times over the years, and each time it seems like the breeders just keep improving them.

Before I delve too deeply into some of the new introductions, let’s do a quick refresher.

Hellebores are evergreen perennials that bloom in the fall through late winter and prefer a shady location with good draining soil. Perhaps the terms Christmas Rose or Lenten Rose might sound more familiar — don’t get confused here, they look nothing like roses and bear no relation! Before all the improvements in breeding, flower colors were mostly white to a pale pink and generally nodding downward, which made them a bit difficult to view. Over the years, new cultivars have evolved with more upward-facing flowers and color ranges from pinks to reds in the Christmas Rose varieties, to all the colors of the rainbow (except perhaps blue) in the Lenten Rose varieties. As if those choices weren’t enough to satisfy the most discriminating gardener, you can also find double and picotee flavors that are incredibly showy, especially in a winter garden when there is not a lot of competition for colorful flowers.

As I said earlier, hellebores thrive in shady locations, and don’t mind a little drought as well. They are slow-growing and rarely need dividing, so once planted you almost never need to thin them out. They make great companions to ferns and ornamental grasses and just about any shade-loving plant. If you are short on space in the garden, try planting them in containers with other evergreen, winter hardy perennials or even dwarf conifers. Throw in a colorful pansy now or a primrose in February for an added spark of color.

As for care and maintenance, it is best to remove last year’s foliage as the flowers emerge. This will better show off the flowers and it eliminates any source of new infections that might spread to the new growth. Slow-acting organic fertilizers should be applied as the new growth develops, usually in February, and then again in late summer. Sometimes aphids can be a nuisance, but they are easily controlled with a hard blast of water or a natural insecticide like Neem Oil, or even ladybugs. Otherwise, these are pretty much carefree perennials to have in the garden or containers.

There are so many new hybrids on the market that it can be overwhelming, but here are a few I spotted that seem well worth trying.

Ice N Roses series: These hybrids come out of Germany and are part of the Hellebore Gold Collection. They are all excellent choices. “Red” is an outstanding dark red selection with outward-facing flowers. “Picotee” is even more dazzling with bicolor rose-pink and white flowers. “Nightingale” boasts deep dusky red blooms, and for the purer at heart, “Bianco” will brighten up your garden with pure white blooms.

Frost Kiss series: All of these varieties have incredible marbled foliage that adds to the interest. “Anna”s Red” came out a few years ago with huge red flowers. “Dorothy’s Dawn” has light pink flowers held high above the foliage. “Penny’s Pink” has purple buds that open to pink flowers.

“Snow Fever”: This one is grown for the stunning variegated foliage that looks like it is frosted with snow — the flowers are a pale apple-green

“Winterbells”: This is an unusual cross which sports more finely divided foliage and masses of smaller bell-like flowers on top.

Add some winter interest to your garden by checking out the many varieties currently in stock. You won’t be disappointed. Stay safe and keep on gardening.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, and can be reached at sunnysidenursery@msn.com

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