Elleboro - Helleborus

Elleboro - Helleborus

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It is also called Christmas Rose, because the hellebore blossoms between December and February, as soon as warm days occur during the winter. In reality it is not a rose, but a genus that counts about 25-30 species of perennials, some with an evergreen leaf. The foliage is vigorous, consisting of large palmate leaves, composed of oval segments, dark green; during the late winter months it produces thin, fleshy stems that carry single or cluster flowers, very large, which resemble the flowers of the dog rose; the colors of hellebore are generally white and purple, but there are varieties of flowers that are delicately pink, green, cream.
They are plants that can be easily found even in nature, often on the edges of hilly forests, in partially shady and quite humid areas, often on the bed of small seasonal waterways; they can be successfully grown in the garden as long as you follow their needs.

Cultivation techniques

The hellebores they are half-shade plants, or complete shade in the hottest areas of the peninsula and during the summer; in general we tend to place them in a place where the foot of the plant is sheltered, while the aerial part is exposed to the sun; in this way the root system does not suffer the summer drought and enjoys almost always fresh and often moist soil.
Watering must be regular, so that the soil is always quite humid, so water is supplied regularly from March to October, then the frequency of watering is reduced during the cold and rainy months; It is however good to watch out that the ground never remains excessively dry for prolonged periods of time, given that the hellebores they develop especially during the autumn and winter months. In any case, even spring and summer watering are important, because even if not in bloom during the warm months the hellebores produce a lot of foliage, forming small decorative bushes.
They are grown in the common garden soil, lightened with pumice stone and enriched with manure or granular fertilizer; to improve the mixture of the soil and make it soft, before planting a hellebore, let's remember to work the substratum well, mixing also universal soil. Generally a couple of interventions a year with slow release granular fertilizer can supply all the mineral substances necessary for the development of the plant.

Hellebore features

Hellebores are absolutely simple plants to grow. They are mostly tolerant to a wide range of soils and conditions and are also considered long-lived perennials. This is why they are becoming very popular in the gardens of our country. Until a few years ago the only known and widespread variety was the hickeborus niger (also called "Christmas rose"). Finally, even in our country, various types of hybrids are spreading, characterized by new colors, sizes and growth habit. The flowering period, whose characteristic is the precociousness of the vintage, is lengthened and consequently all the genre is more and more appreciated and inserted in the green spaces more frequently.
Clearly, as regards resistance and adaptability, there may be differences between species and species: some of these modern hybrids (in particular the most sought after and particular ones) may require more attention. However, they can absolutely be considered herbaceous very satisfying from all points of view.

Cultivation Hellebore

Soil almost all varieties of hellebore they prefer a substrate with a neutral or subacid pH, possibly characterized by a low percentage of calcium. However it is not strange that they can grow well even in strongly acid soils, such as those suitable for rhododendrons and camellias.
What they absolutely cannot stand is to sink the roots into a constantly wet substrate. If our result is too compact and clayey it will be important, before planting, to activate to create an excellent drainage layer using for example gravel. It will also be essential to extract it and mix it with organic soil improver to make it more aerated and permeable.
However, let us remember that in the presence of rich, clayey soils, a good solution can be to insert the hellebores in areas more exposed to light and heat.

The hellebore is also used as a cut flower; given the winter flowering it often happens that the flowers are ruined by the weather; It is therefore advisable to take the flowers when they are still in bud, with the petals intact. They are flowers that are easily seen in the gray winter forest, and often in large numbers, it is advisable to grow them in the garden if you want to enjoy the flowers, leaving in their place the wild hellebores.The hellebore in herbal medicine

All parts of the plant, including the roots, contain alkaloids that make the plant very toxic, eg to humans and animals; these are highly irritating substances if applied locally, but if ingested they have a strong cardiotonic action, similar to that of digitalis. For centuries these properties of the hellebore have been exploited in herbal medicine, where the hellebore is used as a cardiotonic and as a powerful purgative. In general, there are no problems for those who wish to harvest a hellebore flower, although it is advisable to do so by wearing gloves; at the same time cultivating hellebores in the garden is not dangerous, as the foliage does not have a pleasant taste, and therefore it is very difficult for people or animals to be pushed to consume them.

Planting hellebore

This operation is really the key to obtaining successful plants. The ideal is to proceed in mid-autumn. First of all it is necessary to work the area well in advance. In fact, many hybroro hybrids develop a very extensive root system that also serves as a reserve. If the newly inserted seedlings can quickly develop a good hypogeum apparatus we will obtain a faster growth and a more abundant flowering already from the first year.
It should also be noted that the hellebores, unlike other perennials, do not require frequent division interventions. Generally the bushes widen, but they always remain well vital even in the center; among other things, they do not particularly like to be extracted and handled (it then takes a long time before they fully recover). This means that once the installation is completed, it will no longer be possible to intervene in that area for a long time. It is therefore worthwhile to dedicate more time to it immediately.
How to proceed?
First of all let's dig a good deep at least twice our vessel and about 50 cm wide. We break the side walls with the help of a pitchfork (to make them well penetrated by the roots) and we add abundant organic matter and a few handfuls of slow release granular fertilizer for flowering plants. We insert the plant and we cover with the remaining compound possibly lightened, pressing well with the feet.
Very important is the height of the collar. The seedlings extracted from pots are good to maintain the same level of the ground. Those deriving from one of our divisions will be buried more, so that the collar is covered by about 2.5 cm of soil.
We irrigate abundantly and cover with 3 cm of organic mulch.

Growing hellebore in pots

Choosing the varieties with caution is undoubtedly possible in container cultivation. Some varieties even grow better in a small space. Among these we can indicate the hybrids of H. lividus, versicarius, sternii and ballardiae. Unfortunately they are varieties that are difficult to find on the market, but we can turn to retailers specialized in the internet, both in Italy and abroad (especially in the United Kingdom).
Unfortunately both the hellebore niger and the hybrids widespread in our country do not adapt to pot cultivation because they develop a very broad and above all deep root system. In a short time they therefore tend to occupy all the space available to them and then perish. In addition to this, they are very susceptible to root rots which, as is known, are one of the most frequent problems in cultivating in confined spaces.
However, after choosing a suitable variety, let's move towards terracotta vases. In addition to being more decorative, they allow greater breathability and counteract the accumulation of liquids. First of all we prepare on the bottom a thick draining layer formed by gravel or expanded clay. The soil should be lighter and more permeable than the one we would use in the garden. We then insert more organic matter and sand (or inert materials such as agriperlite).
The irrigations must be frequent during the vegetative period always leaving the substratum humid (but never soaked!). We avoid the use of saucers.
We administer a liquid fertilizer for flowering plants every ten days.
Repotting generally is necessary every two years. It is good to increase the diameter in the first 4 years and then proceed with a division if necessary.

Basic care

During the year we will have to dedicate ourselves to the hellebores only a few times, more than anything else to give them nourishment and to guarantee a pleasant and clean look to the bush.


Towards the end of October it is good to take action by distributing a good amount of organic fertilizer. Generally well-seasoned manure is used, perhaps mixing a few handfuls of cornunghia or bone meal.


In order to stimulate the growth of new vegetation and to maintain orderly subjects and devoid of affections it is good between December and January to devote themselves to the removal of the foliage that is too old, damaged or that presents stains due to cryptogams. This precaution will also help us to avoid the further spread of scab.
In mid-spring-early summer (although depending on the variety) it will be important to engage in the removal of exhausted flowers, unless you want to keep them to encourage self-dissemination (or to collect the seeds ourselves).

Pests and diseases

Generally, hellebores are rather resistant plants and rarely present health problems.
However the main enemies are:
- Aphids usually they go to settle inside the buds, at the beginning of spring. The first detectable signs are the presence of honeydew on the leaves and consequently the smoke. It is remedied by contact insecticides and ingestion
- Black bum (or black death) It is a disease that has spread rather recently, but to be taken seriously. The distinctive signs are dark spots on the back of the leaves, in particular at the veins. Later they can also appear on flowers. It is currently assumed that the cause is a virus, probably transmitted by aphids. Prevention is therefore very important. Unfortunately, once the plant is affected there is no remedy, other than to remove it and eliminate it.
- Black spot It is the disease that occurs most frequently on the hellebores. It is characterized by the appearance of brown or black spots on the foliage, most often converging. With time large necrotic areas are created, the foliage turns yellow and the plant, in general, is strongly weakened. At the end of autumn the spores move to the ground where they winter and then return to strike in the spring.
It is frequent where the climate is hot and humid. To prevent it it is important to clean the area around the bush very well by removing all the infected material. To prevent the leaves can be vaporized with cupric or specific synthetic products.
- Snails and snails they can be very harmful in the spring, during the night, when they feed on flower buds and new leaves. We can set traps with beer or spread around a few handfuls of ash. In severe cases we resort to lumachicidi, paying attention to children and pets.


The simplest method to obtain new seedlings is undoubtedly the division.
The bush must be extracted from the ground using a pitchfork. We eliminate as much as possible the rootlets and the attached soil. We divide into sections by helping ourselves with two pitchforks, pulling them in opposite directions. This may also require a lot of strength because the roots over time become very woody and quite hard. The ideal length for each individual segment is 6 cm. We will try to get small sections, in order to have to intervene as little as possible.
After the division, in fact, the plant may not even flower for more than three years. It is therefore important to delay these maneuvers to the maximum.
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The hellebore calendar

December January
Niger flowering, early varieties and forced plants

New leaves in oriental hybrids

Distribution cupboards Beginning of oriental hybrid flowering

irrigation Fine flowering oriental hybrids

May to October
Distribution of copper and irrigation Vegetative phase without flowering, seeds ripening

November December
Plant cleaning, fertilization, mulching Beginning of production of buds and new leaves