Winter is here and so are the blooms on hellebore plants. Hellebores are the perfect perennial for Western Washington gardeners, because not only are they slug-, drought- and deer-resistant, they love our rain and bloom in the shade of evergreen trees.
The good news is you can now find hellebores for sale as holiday gift plants that can be transplanted out into the garden for years of enjoyment. Here are the most-asked questions about adopting a hellebore.
Q. I see hellebore plants for sale wrapped up in red paper for the holidays. How long can these plants stay indoors before they must be planted outside? J. Email
A. Hellebores can survive inside a heated home for a few weeks, but will suffer less if kept cool near a window or allowed to sit outdoors in a protected area at night. Be sure to make a drainage hole in any holiday pot wrapping to keep the roots from sitting in water. Keep the soil slightly moist, but not wet.
Q. I am looking for the name of a special type of hellebore variety that blooms in December and January and has blossoms that face more upright rather than downward. I had admired some in my neighbor’s garden, but she could not remember the name. She did say they were expensive plants. P.L. Tacoma
A. Lucky you to live in Western Washington, where the price of heavenly hellebores in the upright facing Gold Collection has come down to earth. This may be because several of the improved varieties are grown right here in the Skagit Valley.
This winter I have seen these improved varieties for sale at local nurseries, as well as big box stores. Look for the pure white “Joseph Lemper,” with extra-large flowers, the early blooming “Jacob” that begins flowering in November and continues until March, the pastel beauty of “Pink Frost,” and the elegant “Silver Moon” with creamy white, upright blooms that fade to a rosy hue as they age — perfect against the unusual silver foliage.
Searching out these hardy hellebores is a great excuse to visit a nursery on a winter day. Hellebores are long-lived perennials, so they are not expensive — they are an investment. A hellebore will cost less than a dinner out, but give back beauty for decades.
Q. I was told you can never move a hellebore once you plant it. True or false? G.H., Enumclaw
A. False. That old husband tale started because the deep root system of a hellebore makes them notoriously hard to transplant or move once established. It is true that hellebores should never be divided up the way you can split apart and divide other perennials such as daylilies and iris.
If you really must move a hellebore plant, do the dirty deed in the fall when your hellebore will be dormant. Dig a trench around the plant and try to scoop a shovel under the entire root system. Move a hellebore plant only if it is really necessary — no matter how careful you are, the hellebore is going to pout a bit if you move it, and it may take several years before it blooms again with the same vigor.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.