In these last few days of garden activity, I took some time to clean up the hellebore bed. I usually remove the leaves in late fall, because snow ruins them over winter, and I don’t want to see the lovely spring blossoms rise amid dead foliage. And what did I find? A healthy army of hellebore seedlings under the skirts of several plants.
Purchased hellebore seeds are challenging to start, taking six to 18 months to germinate. They’ve had time to dry and develop complicated germinator inhibitors, which prevent the seeds from germinating in the wrong season and in less than optimum conditions. But they certainly can frustrate gardeners trying to start a patch of hellebores from seed.
I find it much easier to purchase a few hellebore plants, and then watch for their seedlings to appear at the end of each growing season. The seeds fall from the plants’ seed cases in midsummer, and take root around the base of the mother plants. The young seedlings I find in fall are only eight weeks old, yet they appear vigorous and strong. But with just a simple embryonic radicle root at this point, it’s better to let them remain where they are for winter. They’ll begin growing again in spring, and by midsummer next year, they can be moved into other garden areas. Each mother plant produces quite a few closely clustered seedlings, and this is a good way to develop patches of hellebores all over the garden. Hellebores grown from seed usually flower in their third or fourth year.
Seedlings of species plants like purple Helleborus atrorubens and white H. niger produces lots of seedlings that are identical to the parent. H. orientalis is more varied, and may produce seedlings that are combinations of pink and green, with or without a scattering of speckles. But whatever seedlings I get, they’re all a delight when they finally begin blooming. Hellebores are good groundcover plants and their handsome foliage looks fine all summer. All these plants require is a two-inch (5-cm) mulch with leaves in autumn, and a generous scattering of composted manure in spring. Providing regular irrigation increases the number of flower buds produced.