Hellebores (sometimes known as the Christmas or Lenten rose) are perennial garden plants with elegant flowers, perfect for brightening up shady areas during late winter and early spring. Some species are grown for their striking evergreen architectural foliage.

Helleborus  Marion White Group© RHS / PUB0010508

Helleborus Marion White Group© RHS / PUB0010508

Quick facts

Common name: Christmas rose, Lenten rose.
Botanical name: Helleborus sps.
Group: Herbaceous perennial, often evergreen.
Flowering time: Late winter to early spring
Planting time: Early spring
Height & spread: 30cm-1.2m (1-4ft) height, 45-90cm (18in-3ft) spread.
Aspect: North- or east-facing
Hardiness: Fully hardy
Difficulty: Easy

Cultivation notes

Hellebores prefer to grow in rich, well-drained soil in dappled shade. Avoid planting in very dry or waterlogged soil. Provide shelter from strong, cold winds.

Water during dry spells and mulch annually with leaf mould, chipped bark or other organic matter in autumn.

Where growth is unsatisfactory, apply a general-purpose fertiliser, such as growmore or fish, blood & bone, in spring at 50-70g per square metre (1½-2 oz per square yard). Container grown specimens can be fed with balanced liquid fertiliser, or with a high potassium fertiliser such as tomato feed, to encourage blooms.

Pruning and training

The subtle flowers of many hellebores are often hidden by the large leaves, so ensure they can be seen clearly by removing the old leaves on stemless types in late winter or early spring as the flower buds emerge. This is particularly important for diseased foliage that can harbour hellebore leaf spot, an unsightly fungal disease. Exposing the flowers in this way will also help insects to pollinate the flowers and ensure good seed set for new plants that can be propagated from the resulting seed.

After flowering, tidy up plants as below:

  • For stinking hellebore (H. foetidus) and H. argutifolius: cut off flowered stems at ground level
  • For other hellebores: deadhead spent flowers only


Large clumps of named cultivars and most species can be increased by division in early spring, although many professional growers prefer to divide Oriental hybrids (Helleborus × hybridus) in September.

For the best results, ensure that clumps are split into several pieces of a reasonable size, with at least one growth point, and water well until they are established in the soil. The new divisions may be slow to establish, due to the lack of fine roots, and flowering may be poor in the following year, but they are likely to settle in given time.

Exceptions:  Helleborus foetidus and H. argutifolius are not suitable for division, but can be raised by sowing fresh seed early in the year. It may take two to three years before plants reach flowering size.

Cultivar Selection

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Hellebores may suffer from certain pest and disease problems specific to this group of plants; hellebore aphid, hellebore black death, hellebore leaf miner and hellebore leaf spot.

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