When to divide hellebores?

Hellebore Care Instructions


Hybrid hellebores (Helleborus X hybridus) are very tolerant and will grow well in most soils as long as the ground is not extremely dry or stagnantly waterlogged, although they usually survive even those conditions. They prefer a sheltered position in semi-shade (dense shade can reduce flowering) with a rich, moist, free draining soil. If possible, it is desirable to plant hellebores on a sloping bed, both to improve drainage and also to make it easier to look into the flowers, which naturally nod. All hellebores are deer proof.

Soil Type

Although very tolerant of soil type, hellebores are deep-rooted and to flower at their best, they appreciate plenty of nutrients and adequate moisture. They will benefit from being planted in deeply dug soil improved with plenty of humus, in the form of leaf mold, compost, or old manure. We mulch once a year in winter with a local compost called Steer Plus, but be careful to not bury the crown of the plant with mulch.

Remove Old Foliage and Stems

Remove the old faded flower stems, unless you require seed, or you will have an excess of seedlings beneath your mother plant. Remove all foliage from hybrid hellebores and the deciduous species in December or January. This is done to improve the appearance of the plant (the old leaves eventually die, slowly), making it easier to see the flowers and also prevent the spread of any existing disease to the newly emerging flower stems and leaves.

Disease and Pests

Hellebores are generally trouble-free and easy-to-grow plants. Some of the occasional problems that they may experience are fungal diseases, aphids, and slug or snail damage. We do not spray against fungus in the garden, but prefer to cull plants that show weakness to disease. If aphids become a significant problem there is a spray sold by Gardens Alive called Pyola Oil or Take Down, available on Amazon, that is a mixture of pyrethrins and canola oil that is very effective and is acceptable to organic growers.


Hellebores are typically long-lived plants. The regular mulching helps keep them healthy and free-flowering. They do not usually need to be divided for the health of the plant, but if you wish to transplant or divide a hellebore, that is best done in September or October. Dividing is best accomplished by digging the whole plant, washing the crown free of soil in order to make it easier to see what you are doing, and then cutting between the growth buds with a sharp knife. If you leave at least three buds in each division, the plant will recover more quickly.

Seed Sowing

Sow hellebore seed as soon as possible (preferably in June to August). We use a mix of 75% Black Gold® and 25% perlite. Sow the seed thinly and cover with 1/4″ (6mm) layer of #2 chick grit (obtainable at any feed store). Leave the pot out in the open, not in direct sun, and do not allow them to dry out. When germination has occurred, bring them into a cold frame or cool greenhouse, taking care against possible damage from slugs or mice. Transplant into small pots when the first true leaves appear and they are large enough to handle. We use 4″x4″x6″ band pots and a product called Patio Potting Soil formulated by a local forest products company, Rexius. Pot on as required. Liquid feed regularly from about six weeks after potting on.

Cut Flowers

Linda Beutler and her commercial floral design students impart their wisdom below with the best way to preserve your Helleborus X hybridus blooms.

Cut Hellebore Water Recipe:

In a quart of water, add one packet (which equals one level, not heaping) tablespoon of commercial floral preservative, and 2 tablespoons of ethyl alcohol. NOTE: the CCC students used ethyl alcohol containing acetone. For the next best results you could swap isopropyl alcohol for ethyl alcohol (95% ethyl alcohol is available at Oregon Liquor stores). Use only mature flowers with seed already forming.


  • Leave the hellebore stems as long as possible and harvest the stems when the nectaries have fallen off the primary (first to open flower, with secondary buds open or opening).
  • Always cut the ends of any cut plant stems at an angle.
  • Don’t be skimpy with the water; you want at least half of the stem length submerged. In our experiments we used vases that held a quart of solution. Helleborus X hybridus stems don’t have bark or a tough outer sheath so some water/solution will be absorbed through the sides of the stems as well as being drawn up the cut end.
  • Don’t overdose the formula be adding more commercial preservative of alcohol. This isn’t like cooking with garlic—more is not better.
  • If the hellebore stems develop a “cooked” looking cut end after a week or so, simply pull them from the water and cut that portion of the stem off.
  • If you don’t have commercial preservative, you will still notice better vase life for hellebores by just using the alcohol, still only 2 T. per quart of water.

How to Divide Helleborus

In one of gardening’s most magical transformations, the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) slips the bonds of late-winter Earth to fill the hearts of all with see it with hope. That hope is realized in early spring, when the Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) opens its flowers in anticipation of Easter and the bright, warm days soon to come.

These and other hellebores (Helleborus spp.) — shade-loving perennials suitable for U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, depending on variety — bloom in a dazzling range of solid or contrasting colors. To propagate a favorite variety, divide its clumps in late winter or spring when its new flowering stems appear.

Prepare a New Site

Before dividing, choose and prepare the planting site for the root divisions. Hellebores love moist, organically rich soil and tree-filtered sun or partial shade. Afternoon shade is particularly important in hot-summer climates. Where winters are extreme, a sheltered site is best.

After weeding the site, loosen the soil with a spade or tilling fork and remove stick, stones and other debris. Amend the soil by working a 3-inch layer of organic compost into its top 6 to 8 inches.

Dividing the Plants

Divide the hellebores in cool weather, preferably with rain the forecast. Water them well one or two days before you plan to divide them.

Dig an 8-inch-deep circle around the hellebore plant, 6 inches from its outermost leaves. Use the spade’s sharp point to loosen the soil as you go.

When the roots feel loose enough to lift without resisting, lift the plant from the ground and shake off as much soil as possible.

Rinse the roots with the hose sprayer attachment, turning the plant until all of them are clean.

Examine the hellebore’s crown, where its above-ground stems connect to the roots, for natural dividing points. Each new division must have one or more buds, some woody rhizome tissue and some growing roots.

Divide the plant by cutting through the tough, woody tissue with the sharp wide-bladed knife. If you have difficulty, limit yourself to three cuts.

Transplanting the Divisions

Move the divisions to their prepared site and dig holes three times the width of, and just a little deeper than, their roots. Center one of them over its hole with the crown at the soil line, and cover it with the compost-amended soil. Tamp firmly to remove air pockets and stabilize the plant.

When you’re done, mulch around the transplants with a layer of leaf mold, the spongy, soil-topping layer left by decaying leaves. Water the plants thoroughly, and keep their soil moist until they begin putting out new growth a sign that their roots have become established.



Hellebores are best divided in early spring or autumn. Only hellebores that do not produce stems (acaulescent plants), can be propagated by division. Stemmed (caulescent) hellebores cannot be divided. Before lifting the plant with a spade or garden fork, tie the leaves together with a rope to avoid unnecessary damage to the plant or yourself. Some Lenten Rose varieties have leaves with a sharply serrated edge. Subsequently, dig out the plant with as large a root ball as possible.

Using two garden forks has proven to be the method of choice for dividing hellebore plants, depending on rhizome size. Drive one fork into the plant’s root ball centre. Then place the other fork right behind the first one and move them carefully away from each other to divide the rhizome. For smaller plants, you can use a knife to carefully divide them.

Replant each new section immediately so that they don’t dry out. The best method to avoid the plants being infested with diseases or populated by pests is to remove any leaves that were damaged during the division process.

Transplanting A Hellebore – When Can You Divide Lenten Rose Plants

Hellebores belong to a genus of over 20 plants. The most commonly grown are Lenten rose and Christmas rose. The plants primarily bloom in late winter to early spring and are excellent specimens for a shady location in the garden. Dividing hellebore plants is not necessary, but it can enhance flowering in older plants. Division is not only a great way to propagate hellebores that have become old, but you can also easily repot the numerous babies the plant readily produces each year.

Can You Divide Lenten Rose?

Hellebores form dusky bronze to creamy white blooms. They are native to central and south Europe where they grow in poor soils in mountain regions. These plants are very tough and need little care. They are hardy to zone 4, and deer and rabbits ignore them in favor of tastier treats. The plants can be a bit on the costly side, so knowing how to propagate hellebores can increase your stock without breaking the bank. Seed is one option, but so is division.

Starting hellebores by seed can be difficult, but out in nature these plant seeds grow

prolifically. In most cases, though, it can take 3 to 5 years to get a blooming specimen from seed, which is why most gardeners purchase a mature plant that is already blooming. Or, as with most perennials, you can divide hellebores.

You need to make sure the plant is healthy and well established because the process will leave the pieces in a weakened state. Fall is the best time to attempt dividing hellebore plants. A new Lenten rose transplant from dividing needs to be monitored carefully and given some extra attention until the root mass adjusts.

Transplanting a Hellebore

The best time for division is when you are already transplanting a hellebore. These plants are fussy about being moved and it is best to do it only when necessary. Dig up the whole plant, wash off the soil and use a clean, sterile, sharp knife to cut the root mass into 2 or 3 sections.

Each little transplant should then be installed in well worked soil with plenty of organic matter in a partially shaded location. Provide supplemental water as the plant adjusts. Once each section is adjusted and fully back to health, you should have blooms the following season, which is far more quickly than propagation by seed.

How to Propagate Hellebores

The other way to get more hellebores is to simply harvest the babies from under the plant leaves. These will rarely get very large under the parent, as they are missing out on a lot of light and have competition for water and nutrients.

Repot the small plants in 4-inch pots in well-draining potting soil. Keep them mildly moist in partial shade for a year and then transplant them to larger containers the following fall. Containers can be kept outdoors year round unless a sustained freezing event is expected. In such cases, move the young plants to an unheated area, like the garage.

After another year, install the babies in the ground. Space young plants 15 inches (38 cm.) apart to allow them room to grow. Wait patiently and around year 3 to 5, you should have a mature, fully blooming plant.

UPDATE (April 10, 2013): My plants have flower buds!

Are you afraid to grow hellebore? I am. Like clematis, they are a plant that I have long associated with hoity-toity gardeners and their fancy pants gardens. Their ticket price doesn’t help matters. Hellebores are notoriously expensive plants, often coming in at the $20-30 mark in most retail garden centres. That’s a lot of money to sink into a plant that I am almost certain I will kill.

And then I met Barry Parker.

Barry loves hellebores. He also loves clematis (but that’s a story for another day). And you know what? Barry’s garden is awfully fancy. Few fully staffed, public gardens I have visited have been able to pull off what Barry achieves in his urban Toronto backyard. While the initial shock has worn off, after 4 years, it still blows my mind every time that I visit it.

It may be fancy and a little bit intimidating, but I never walk away from Barry’s garden feeling like a failure in my own. I think this is owing to Barry’s heart of gold and his cheerful, encouraging, and generous charm. Instead, I always leave Barry’s garden with a can-do attitude and the drive to do better. Whats more, having Barry as a friend has helped me come a long way in undoing old, self-imposed stereotypes about gardeners, plants, and gardens.

Despite all of this, I am still afraid of the big, bad hellebore.

Last year, Barry gifted me a trio of three-year-old seedlings that he had potted up from his garden. I took the plants tentatively. While I appreciate his generosity (as I said, they are not cheap to buy), plant gifts from Barry do hold a self-imposed pressure to keep them alive! Up until that point I understood that hellebores are a Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) perennial that enjoy shade. I have an almost entirely full sun garden. But of course there is more to shade than just shade. There is dry shade. And moist shade. There is shade that changes with the seasons. There is the condition of the soil. And there are three fancy plants with a combined retail cost of approximately $90 in my care. Gah!

It is now early spring, and the hellebores that I inherited from Barry are beginning to appear from underneath a patch of snow and ice. They look fresh, green, and most importantly ALIVE, but the question remains: What in the heck do I do now? And so I decided to turn to my friend Barry, the Hellebore Whisper, for advice in hopes of better understanding the needs of a plant that I have come to wildly mythologize and consequently, misunderstand. What I’ve learned has been very helpful and maybe (just maybe), I might even get up the courage to purchase a fourth plant this spring!

An Interview with Barry Parker, Hellebore Lover

Q: If I’m ever going to tackle this fear, I need to get a clearer picture as to the conditions that hellebores prefer. Help!

Barry: Hellebores are enormously adaptable, in nature they come from the edges of woodland, and in scrubby land at usually high altitude regions of central Europe. I plant them close to or under small trees in my small city garden, which gives them sun in the spring and as the trees fill out they get partial shade in the summer. Coming from mountainous regions they can withstand winter temperatures well below 18C, and can be grown in areas as low as zone 4, possibly zone 3 with winter protection.

Q: As you know, I have a mostly sunny garden with a few spots that receive either late or early day shade. Which spot would be best for hellebores? I have mentioned to you that one of those spots is cold and stays cold later than other parts of my garden. Is this spot okay for hellebores or should I choose a location that warms up earlier?

Barry: In your zone 6 garden, some shade during the summer is, I think, advisable. Don’t worry about looking for a warm location, they will bid their time in the cold until the conditions are right and can take care of themselves in the meantime.

Q: What kind of care do my plants need in the early spring as they are coming out of dormancy? Should I prune away old foliage? Fertilize?

Barry: In early spring when temperatures are above 0C it is probably safe to remove all the old foliage. Try to do this before the flowers develop too much as you can easily damage them in the process of removing the leaves.
I fertilize in the Fall, using bonemeal, giving them a good feed early in the season as they come out of dormancy.

Q: You have a plant in your garden that has flowered mid-winter in your garden (January)? What variety is this? Do you do anything special to encourage early blooming? Is it vulnerable at this stage? Do you do anything to protect it?

Barry: This is Helleborus niger ‘Praecox’ a form of the species with very early flowers that bloom starting in November and continuing throughout the winter if mild enough. Often it will rebound after being hit with sub zero temps, when there is a warm winter day. Perhaps it would benefit from some protection to keep the flowers going. There are often some unopened buds in the Spring that can be persuaded to bloom indoors as a cut flower.

Q: After blooming care: Must I deadhead? Can I leave seed bearing varieties to produce seed and possibly seedlings?

Barry: The five petal-like sepals persist throughout the summer and are very ornamental, even though they lose much of their colour. So dead-heading is not a good idea. However they will produce huge amounts of seed and in a year or two you find all sorts of seedlings growing around (and sometimes in) the crown of the parent plant. At first I tried to save many of these seedlings, but with time I’ve learnt to just weed them out, otherwise I’d end up with a congested mono-planting. A few seedlings have grown on to become nice plants, but the majority are not so good. I have one plant that seeded itself right up to and in the roots of a dogwood and impossible to dig out, but fortunately it’s a nice looking plant, having inherited some nice colour from its parents.

Q: When is the best time to buy hellebores?

Barry: Don’t get me started on this question! Here in Southern Ontario we have this mindset that gardening doesn’t start until May. Many garden centres don’t open until then and all they have to order are Hellebores past their best, particularly if they have been forced in a greenhouse over the winter. If you are lucky enough to live in Europe or warmer parts of the U.S. and Canada, you’ll probably find nurseries that put on Hellebore events early in the year where you can buy plants in their prime and choose the colours and forms you like best.

Q: It’s very early spring. I’ve bought myself a new hellebore in a pot, but the soil in my garden is still very frozen. What do I do? Do I need to keep it somewhere cold or warm? How soon can I plant it outside?

Barry: If you buy a plant that is more advanced than it would be outside (i.e. a plant that has been forced for quick retailing) think of it as a plant that you are purchasing for next year, when it will have settled into the soil in your garden and will be at its very best. In the meantime, keep it in the pot outside and close to the house in a sheltered spot. Give it protection if the weather is still frigid (a cardboard box at night would be all you’d need) and when the soil has warmed up and is workable you can plant it where you choose.

Q: Can you suggest a few favorite varieties for beginners? A variety that you love personally?

There are so many to choose from — I love them all! There are the species (currently 17, but knowing botanists, that could change), primary hybrids or intersectional hybrids that are the hybrids of two species, and there are crazy mixed up hybrids whose lineages are impossible to untangle. These would be referred to as Helleborus hybridus.

The variety is endless, they come in a huge range of colours, some clear, others with spotting, striping, and bicolours. There has been a trend to using tissue culture to produce large quantities of identical plants from a chosen hybrid, and some of these plants are very nice (I certainly have some of these), but I prefer plants that are developed in seed strains that are similar, but not identical. It is more rewarding to know that in some respect ythe plant you selected is unique.

Finally I would say that all Hellebores are easy to grow, even for the beginner. Here are some of my favourites:

Helleborus hybridus (Dark pink with cream interior). Hellebores from named seed strains are generally called H. hybridus
Any of the species. Photo by Barry Parker.
H. niger ‘Praecox’
H. nigercors (a primary hybrid of niger and argutifolius). Photo by Barry Parker.
I particularly like cream and greenish flowers.

Thanks Barry!


Still feeling intimidated by hellebore or just curious to learn more? Barry recommends the book, Hellebores: A Comprehensive Guide by C. Coleston Burrell. I’ll give away one copy to a random winner.

All you have to do to enter is say something about hellebore in the comments. Have you grown them? Do you want to, but are afraid to try? What is your favourite variety/colour/colour combination? And of course, you can always just type in “count me in,” and that will count as an entry, too.

The winner will be drawn at random after entries close at midnight on Wednesday, April 3, and informed by email.


Disclosure: Please note that Amazon links earn me a small commission, which are put towards purchasing books as giveaway prizes. Please see my current Publication Policy for more info.

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Hellebore Flowers Offer Beautiful Late-Winter Blooms

A winter champion, luscious hybrid hellebores are some of the first to bloom By Janet Loughrey


Helleborus x hybridus

Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.

  • Common name: Hybrid Lenten rose
  • Zones: 4 to 9; evergreen in 6 to 9
  • Bloom time: February-May
  • Bloom size: 2 to 3 1/2”
  • Height/Spread: 18 to 24” tall and 24” wide
  • Site: Partial shade, well-draining soil
  • Characteristics: Low-maintenance, deer-resistant

Hybrid hellebores get their common name, Lenten rose, from the rose-like flowers that appear in early spring around the Christian observance of Lent. The “blooms” (which are actually sepals that protect the true flowers) last for several months, from February until May, and the foliage is evergreen in all but the coldest regions.


Tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions, hybrid hellebores perform best when sited in partial shade in rich, moist, but well-draining soil. Hellebores are quite easy to grow, and since they are perennials, will continue to bloom for a number of years.

Hellebore planting tips:

  • Many gardeners like to plant hellebores on a hillside or in raised flower beds to better enjoy their downward-facing blooms. See an excellent example of this planting strategy: A Winter Jewel Box.
  • When transplanting hellebores directly from their nursery containers, be sure to shake off the potting mix and free up any bound roots.
  • Be careful not to plant your hellebores too deeply as this can hinder flower production. Make sure the crown of the plant is just slightly buried beneath the soil.
  • Plant with companions such as snowdrops, crocus, muscari, daffodils, phlox, trillium and bleeding heart.
  • Hellebores contain toxins that are harmful to pets and humans, so keep them out of reach. See more Common Poisonous Plants for Dogs and Cats.

Hellebore care tips:

  • The leathery foliage of hellebore flowers looks best when sheared in late winter just before new growth emerges.
  • An annual application of manure or compost will help to boost the growth of your hellebores.
  • Provide plenty of water during spring and fall when they are actively growing. You can ease up during the summer because heat causes hellebores to go dormant.


Swipe to view slides

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Another selection from the Wedding Party® series, ‘Wedding Bells’ has 2 to 2-1/2″ clear white double flowers.

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‘Sandy Shores’ has delicate, 2-1/2 to 3″ single, pale apricot flowers with rosy pink backs. Another selection from the Honeymoon® series.

Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.


Part of the Winter Thriller™ series introduced by Chris Hansen of Great Garden Plants, the oversized, velvety-crimson flowers are widely regarded as the truest red. Dark mahogany foliage that fades to dark green is a perfect complement to the striking blooms.

Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.


“I am partial to any of the double-flowered forms, as the blooms last longer,” says Fritz. “The clear lavender-pink color makes this a great companion to a wide range of spring ephemerals, such as early-blooming minor bulbs and forget-me-nots.”

Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.


One of the many striking named varieties in the Winter Jewels™ series by Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne of Northwest Garden Nursery, the soft-pink double flowers are infused with shades of crimson. Fritz finds the simultaneous veining, spotting, and edging to be “particularly intriguing.”

Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.


“This is the variety that people gravitate to the most in our display gardens,” notes Fritz. “It’s close to a true black and is stunning when paired with Galanthus (snowdrops).” Part of the Winter Jewels™ series.

Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.


Raspberry-mauve double blooms of this regal selection by Dan Hinkley are complemented by reddish new growth. Dramatic nodding flowers are best seen when planted on a hillside or steep slope so that they can be viewed from below.

Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.


Part of the Winter Jewels™ series, the lotus-like flowers create a tropical look. Fritz finds the bright-yellow color “cheerful, like daffodils; they stand out on a cloudy day.”

Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.


Introduced by Dan Hinkley, this is regarded as one of the best yellow forms. Deep burgundy flecking towards the center of the flowers makes this a striking companion to ‘Kingston Cardinal’.

For landscape craftsman Jerry Fritz, Helleborus x hybridus (hybrid Lenten rose) are staples in the landscapes he designs for his clients. “Hellebores are among the earliest and certainly the most exquisite flowers in the spring garden.” Until recently however, named varieties were all but impossible to find. Advances in propagation through division, tissue culture, and hand-pollination have resulted in more diverse flower colors, forms, patterns, increased plant vigor, and larger blooms. According to Fritz, “The newer hybrids are not only accessible and collectible, they are seriously addicting as well.” With improved breeding techniques producing a seemingly endless array of new varieties in recent years, these perennial favorites are worthy of a second look.

Fritz—a well-known speaker, author, and industry expert who has been featured in many national publications and appeared on the Martha Stewart Show—trials the newest hellebore cultivars at Linden Hill Gardens, his destination plant nursery in Ottsville, Pennsylvania. “The most exciting trends right now include truer and more unusual colors (from amber to almost black), increased plant heights, outward-facing blooms, and more exotic patterns of speckling, veining, and picotee edges,” he says. “The fact that Lenten roses can be successfully grown in most zones, are low-maintenance and deer-resistant, only enhances their already sky-high appeal. For me, hellebores are an indispensable plant for any serious gardener.”


Do hellebores spread? Yes, hellebores will self-sow. However, allowing them to do so may result in unexpected hybrids if you grow multiple types in close proximity. Thin out any new seedlings that are too close to mature plants. Expect self-sown plants to flower after three years.

Do hellebores need to be divided? It’s not usually necessary for the health of the plant; but if you wish to divide them, this is best done in fall. Hellebores can be fussy about being dug up and moved, so it’s generally just best to leave them be.

Last updated: January 22, 2020

Get more spring gardening ideas

This article was adapted from its original version for use on the web.

Ask a Question forum: Dividing Hellebores

Technically, you can divide a hellebore plant into as many divisions as you have growing points. But really, its is best to keep at least two growing points per division. It is easiest to dig up the entire plant and break apart or cut apart the divisions, but it is possible to separate a division from the side of an existing, in-ground plant with a shovel. Any divisions you make must have at least some roots attached.
The best time to divide is when the plant is starting to grow in the early spring. Remove any flowering stems. They can also be divided into the summer with more care.
Hellebore from seed is possible, but is a much longer process, and the resulting plants will not be copies of the mother. They may have slightly different leaves, different color flowers, etc. In addition germination and growth from seed is not straight forward as it is for vegetables (for instance). They require a specific method for success that you would need to follow.
Division is by far the easiest way to increase you plants.

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