All tagged Hellebores

Quick Guide to Growing Hellebores

Blooming from December into early spring, they are a much-anticipated bloom, the first of the year here in Oregon. Hellebores like a shady position in the garden with well-drained soil. They love a well-prepared site, cultivated deeply for their long and fleshy roots, about two to three feet deep and amended with rotten manure.

Video: How to Grow, Hydrate and Hold Cut Hellebores

Susan from Shady Grove Gardens is joining us to share some information on growing, hydrating and holding cut hellebores! Susan has been working with flowers for 31 years and has been so gracious to come and share. If you've ever been captivated by the charm of the hellebore you are in for a real treat!



I'm Kelly, and I'm here with my friend Susan from Shady Grove Gardens. She's a grower here in Boone, North Carolina! Susan, why don't you tell us a little bit about what you do up at Shady Grove Gardens? 

All right. Well, we're growers and florist. And we've been doing-- this is year 31. 

31, wow. 

We grow our flowers and use them for all our wedding designs. 


So, we grow well over 300 different varieties, and we sell them to people like Kelly. 

Like me! Actually, to me! Yes. 


And florist. 

So, I'm, like, nodding, like, oh, this is new information. But I of course know this, because Susan is one of the growers here in Boone. So, a lot of flowers that you saw whenever we were doing bunches of weddings and things like that, some of those things came from Susan's farm. 

Mhm! And we sell directly to brides, as well. 

OK, fantastic. So, before you started doing weddings and doing flowers just cut, you had a little bit of experience in landscape design. And then also tell us a little bit about your education. 

Well, I have a master's in Biology, and I have a Naturals degree and a Botany degree. And then I did landscape gardening, for about 20 years. And then we slowly transitioned into having a flower farm. 

So that's all we do, now. We have a flower farm and a nursery. We grow all our own seedlings. And I'm the grower, seedling, office mouse, designer. And Brent, my husband, is the main grower and farm manager. 

Yeah! Because they've got some flowers at their main place, where all of the seedlings and office work takes place. And they have a beautiful, you call it "The Peak," that's out-- just beautiful mountain views. I mean, one of the prettiest farms that I've ever been to. Fantastic views, great location. So, again, all of that then happens out at the Peak. 

Tell me a little bit about that Naturalist degree. What's included in that? 

Well, it's from Appalachian State. And, back then, we just did a lot of fieldwork. So it was all ornithology, mycology-- which is mushrooms-- 

You're going to have to tell me what-- so, mushrooms-- got it. 

Mushrooms and fungus, you know. So it was all fieldwork, as opposed to, like, learning how to do lab sorts of things. 

OK, sure. 

But I also took Plant Physiology and things like that, as well. 

Yeah, fantastic. Well, when it comes to hellebores, there are a few things that are really great that we want to share about keeping them hydrated. And one of them actually goes back to some of this plant physiology and some of those things that Susan's been talking about. 

And one of them is keeping the water that you're using-- having quite a full vase of water. Because having all of this water in here creates pressure that then pushes the water up through the stems! So that's one of the first things about hellebore hydration. And that would apply to a wide variety of plants, actually. 

So, it's great to have some deep water, whenever you're working with hellebores. We have several different types of hellebores here. And Susan really loves the ones that have their necks up, because they are a lot easier to use in arrangements. So, do you want to tell us a little bit about the ones that you brought today? 

All right. This one is actually a seedling, from my other hellebores around the yard. I will point out that it takes four years for them, at least, to bloom. And they don't move terribly well. 

So I love this one, and it's in a pot, so it's going probably back in my yard somewhere. 

OK, it's ready to go out. Uh-huh. 

This one is one that you can buy on the market. It's called Winter Thriller. There is a mix, and this one is Pink Ballerina. And it's a really nice ruffled double. 

But it does hang down a little bit. So, Kelly might be able to tell you how to solve that problem. 

[LAUGH] Yeah. Well, whenever they have kind of that natural facing, like, that their heads are moving down, sometimes what I'll do is take a branch-- like, for example, spiraea and quince are blooming at a similar time as the hellebore. And they both have, like, nice, branchy stems. 

So what I'll do is put this one-- you know, since this is a short stem, I put this kind of lower in the arrangement. But I would just, like, hook its little neck, here, onto one of those branches, or prop it over one of the branches, so that you could get that effect. And sometimes, too, seeing the backs of the stems, and the silhouettes that you get-- 

It just all depends what the point is, and what the purpose of that flower that you're using is, in your arrangement. Because this, even pointing down like this, I think, would be really lovely, depending on the lines and the shapes that you're using in your arrangement. But if you have some that are a little bit droopier, you can prop them up using those branches and things. 

So, love this. Pink Ballerina. Another one that's on the market right now, this one's called Pink Frost. And this is one-- I got a couple of these at Lowe's-- had them. 

I like the stiff stem on that one. 

Yeah. Very hardy. And that's what Susan-- as soon as Susan picked it, she's like, yeah, this is a really hardy one. And several years ago I visited Pine Knot Farms, which is where some of the research in this book took place. And I cut several different types from their garden. They were so gracious, to let me do that. 

And this was the variety that really held up well, comparatively. I mean, this went on for almost a month, I think, whenever I had it that first time. So I think this is a really great one, if you're looking to add some cuts to your garden. 

But really, most hellebores, I think, do hold up quite well. All of the progress that they've made in breeding and all those kinds of things, they're a great, strong plant. 

So, anyway, this one, I just cut from the garden, right before we came in to record today. So I'm going to give it a quick snip, exposing as much of this area as I can. And then I'm going to have some Quick Dip, here, from Floralife. And I'm just going to do a 1, 2, 3. [LAUGH] 

And then I'm going to put in that deep water. And then, same thing with this. And this one, I'm not 100% sure on what exactly this is called, but I got it here at Pine Knot Farms, if you really love it and you're looking for one that's similar. It's a very unique-- 

It doesn't have the picotee, like this Ballerina. I love the little spots. But this is more of a gradation in color, from white to this just really rich burgundy. And the back sides of the petals are so lovely, too. And a double, like the Ballerina that we have, here. 

And most of the hellebores on the market now are hybrids, so you just have to go by variety name and which ones you like. 

Yeah. There we go. OK. So those ones are in there, and they're ready to go. 

So, Quick Dip is one way that you can process your hellebore. And another way that you can do it, kind of an old-fashioned technique-- we just wanted to show a couple of different techniques that you could try out-- is to take-- 

And, Jessie, why don't we just get a close-up of this, if we can, here. We want to get water up into the stem as quickly as possible. So we're just doing a very small, gentle, super-gentle scoring of the stem. 

And that is also done with tulips, occasionally. And that just helps them get water into that-- what's it called? The xylem? 


In the-- 

Yeah, in the xylem. In case you have a stem that's sealed off at the base, somehow, that allows more water uptake. And if there's air bubbles in there, like an embolism comes out. 

Mhm. So there we go! So, tell us a little bit about how the Quick Dip works. Because it serves somewhat kind of a similar purpose, when it comes to-- 

It does. 

--the air bubbles and the embolism-- things like that. 

In theory, you shouldn't have to do this on your own cuts. But with the ones that are shipped in, especially if you have them wilted, the Quick Dip, what it does is it changes the surface tension of the liquid and the water that you're trying to get taken up. 

So, it's acidic, and it's just-- that's all you need, is that few seconds to change that surface pH. 

So, the acid breaks down kind of the surface. 


Mhm. And then it pops those bubbles and lets everything flow through freely! 

And that's similar to what you're doing with the slits. You're allowing the air bubbles to be dissolved, in one way or another. And you get more uptake. 

OK. Yeah, because sometimes with hellebores, we get those little, droopy necks at the top, especially when you're shipping them in wholesale. And for a long time-- Susan and I were just talking about how, for a long time, it was considered that hellebores just weren't a "good" cut flower. And how unfortunate that we lost that. 

But we moved into a season where a lot of our sourcing was coming from other countries. And we were doing a lot of shipping in planes and all those types of things. And so, comparatively, in the world of flowers, it was a little bit more complicated to get hellebores going, and because of their bloom season being whenever it's cooler-- things like this-- maybe flowers weren't as much in demand. 

So there was sort of this little period of history, in the cut-flower world, where they disappeared. But whenever we were doing cut flowers using things that were in our own backyard, before, you know, airplanes and all those types of transportation methods were a piece of it, this is something that you'll see in floral history and in art and different things. You'll see these being used. 

Well, the hybrids certainly have made them more popular, because there's nicer colors, better stems. But yes, back in the '40s, when people grew their own flowers as a florist, they used them. 

And then, the tropics, they don't do well in the tropics. They have to have that cold period. They bloom in the snow. They're Lenten roses. So, now that there's more North American growers, we have more hellebores. 

More hellebores. Yeah, and how lucky we are, because just the variety that's available, now. And Pine Knot Farm has done so much work in pushing us forward, in terms of just the interesting types and colors and, you know, all the doubles and picotees and all those beautiful gradiations in the colors of the petals. I mean, it's just fantastic. They have such a great variety, there. 

Tell us, Susan, a little bit about these little rubber-band guys. 


We were talking about when the best time is to cut them. In the summertime, we, of course, whenever it's warmer, we want to cut them early in the morning or late in the evening. But what's interesting about hellebores is, they are blooming whenever it is freezing, unlike most other flowers. So you actually have to pay attention to, is it frozen? [LAUGH] 

Well, these were cut last night, at 11 o'clock at night. And they were frozen solid. So, I had my doubts about bringing them over to Kelly. But, sure enough-- 

Yeah, pull them out! 

--every single one of them-- 

Wobble them around a little bit. 

--looks just fine. They're a little more wilty than the ones I cut the day before, before the freeze, but not much. 

So here's day before the freeze, what we're looking at, here. 

And this one's not too terribly much different. 

I don't see a huge, like, visible difference. What do you think? 

I don't! Now, what you're going to notice, especially if you're getting ones from your own yard, is the buds probably will never look good. They may turn brown. 

If they were frozen. 

Or the immature ones, that stem might decline much faster. But the bigger ones, they will be fine. 


Now, it does depend on how long they stay cold, and whether it's windy and they have wind chill and dehydration. But a short spurt of snow or deep cold, they are OK! 

Mhm. Yeah, and that's something else that's important to consider, is, what-- and, a lot of times, with cuts, when you're having things, if you're someone who's having things shipped to you, there is a whole life that that flower lived before it even landed at your doorstep. And so, you might be doing all of the by-the-book right things to do but still be like, but these never opened, or these just kind of-- you know, whatever. 

They had a whole life. They could have not been hydrated properly, whenever they were a plant in the ground. They could have been malnourished. It's like, how strong was that plant before it was actually cut? 

And so, one of the great things about hellebores, I think that they are-- it's something that I think everybody should have in their-- I think everybody should have these in their garden. They're very easy, once you've got them in the ground. 

They're easy. 

A very easy plant. And tell us a little bit about when you think the best time is to cut them. Like, you would water them two days before or-- 

Yeah, about-- 

--what do you think? 

You know, just make sure it's either rained, or you watered, about 48 hours out. And then you should be able to cut them early in the morning, as long as they're not frozen, is probably your best time. And bring them in immediately, and put them straight into water. Where you could go wrong is leaving them lay around, like I did with the one. 

Yeah, yeah! 


But, even so, look at how-- I don't remember exactly which one it was, but there's only three to choose from. 

It's the one I cut with the knife. 

Oh, yes, this one. 

It's this one. So this one accidentally got left out overnight in freezing-cold weather. And I didn't pick it up till that afternoon. The next day, and it is perfectly fine. 

Yeah, look at this. 

And I didn't put it in anything. This just went into water. So that's a tough plant. You know, it's almost an evergreen. Now, you'll also notice on these blooms, here-- I think it's on this one-- you can see where there is some freeze damage from the past freeze. 

OK. Here, let me hold that out, so Jessie can see it really well. But, if you can just kind of get rid of this-- you good, Jessie? You see that OK? I mean, you can just pinch this out-- 


And it's still perfectly fine to use. 

And I use them like that, because people love green flowers. 


And so, these will all turn green in a few months. And that's generally when I use them. Because my brides are getting married in May and not in February or March. So, even the burgundies turn towards a green color. 

Yeah. They all sort of fade, a little bit, as they're aging. And-- good grief-- OK, so, this starts coming out-- well, I know, we're up in the mountains. It's a little bit cooler longer. But the amount of time that this stays on the plant is really fantastic-- that it's usable as a cut. I mean, you really have, I would say three-- 

Into June. I use them into June. 

--solid three months! 


Yeah. So, their color tones and things are going to be changing throughout that period. And the look of them, of course, will change. So-- let's see. Do we have any where the seed pods are maybe a little bit more developed? 

A few. And there is a reason why it's called "Lenten rose." It's at its peak during Lent, which is now. 

Which is now, mhm. 

There was-- I think one of the white ones has a pod on it. 


Because they're a little earlier. So, some of these will come in at different times. So you have to kind of look at the ones that work for your yard. 

Mmm-- I feel like this one might be kind of as close as we're doing to get-- 

Oh, that's right. 

--in terms of time period, right now. But these will actually swell out. So, this is the female part of the plant. Right? Yeah? 

Mhm. That's your ovary forming, there. 

Mhm! And then these are the male part of the plant. You can see the pollen popping off of them. So the pollen's popping down in here and then going down in. And these are going to, then-- these little parts, right here, Jessie. They're very small right now. 

Mmm. It's right here. Can you see that? That's going to swell. 

Mhm. And make seeds. That's the ovary, and that's where the seeds will come on and live. So, there's lots of different stages, so you can have it where it's, you know-- actually, in this book, there's tons of pictures in there I could show. 

There's a green seed pod. And they're very usable with the green seed pod on them. 

Mhm. Yeah, absolutely. So, here's a picture of the life stages of the hellebore. And here is the part where-- you know, this is what it's going to look like late in the season, once the seed pods have developed and ripened on the plant. 

But tell us a little bit, Susan, about this life cycle that we're looking at, here. I know you mentioned four years to bloom, on this. 

So, if you're growing them in your yard, and you let the seed pods drop the seeds-- which you can barely see in the photo, there-- you should, in theory, have seedlings the next year. But they're going to be tiny. They're going to be like these little seedlings you see here. 

Now, you can move them. And probably the best time to move them is when they're that small. 

Oh, OK. 

They don't especially like being divided. They don't especially like being moved. 


But the other important thing is, once they get really big and mature, they make a better cut flower. So maybe that first year or so, you might not really expect those flowers to be great and hold up well. 

Kind of like a peony, maybe. Like, you know, that kind of three-year mark. Well, for a lot of-- you grow a lot of perennials. And three years is when they kind of have established and they're doing well. 

So, as far as bloom goes, for those little guys that you might be wanting to do yourself, don't expect to see anything for about four years. 

Yeah? [LAUGH] Patience, big-time. 

And that's why hellebores are not that commercially available or that inexpensive, if you're buying. 

Right. They are a more expensive plant, and there's a lot of time that's involved in babying those things, unlike some of these annuals that you can pop up pretty inexpensively, at Lowe's or different things. Like this one, here, the Pink Frost, I think that that was maybe $16 or $18, compared to some of the other, kind of, quick annuals that they have or biannuals that they have that are coming and going. 

Yes I saw some at Lowe's, just yesterday, day before. $17 for just the standard Lowe's gallon pot. 

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. But they're great when you can get them going and established. There's nothing else really happening in the garden at that time. 

That's true. 

So it is that kind of like-- I guess I think I plant them more for myself, because it's like, oh, here's something! 


You know, spring is here. Anything else that you wanted to share? 

I started growing them because all my brides were asking for green-- 

Oh, OK! 

--and green flowers. 

Right, right. 

So, I needed something green, and there's only so many green flowers. And in June, and in May, perfect green flowers. 

Yeah, yeah. 

I also use the leaves. 

Mhm! Yeah, I love these. Mhm. These are so great. I'm not sure how you use them, exactly, but I like to use them low in arrangements, over the rim of the container, to frame some of the larger flowers. 

And the leaves you can use all season long. I might be-- am I destroying my plant by clipping from the leaves after they've bloomed? Maybe a little bit. [LAUGH] 

If it's a big plant, I think they can handle it. 

They can handle it? Mhm? OK, great! Well, I just wanted to share, again, this book. It's called Hellebores, a Comprehensive Guide. Burrell and Tyler are the authors on this. And it is one of the American Horticultural Society award-winning books. 

And you hop over-- this was at the Royal Horticultural Society gardens, in England. Whenever I was there, they have-- this is one of the ones that they have in their library. 

But it's a comprehensive guide. And there's all kinds of great resources in here and a lifetime of several people that are kind of summarized in here. And also, what we've got is, there's a plant trial, back here, that John Dole from NC State headed up, in the appendix-- which I guess I don't-- there's a little nutrient study, here, in C. 

Back here, in Appendix D of this book, there was a study that Fanelli and John Dole from NC State, the Department of Horticulture Science, put together-- a little experiment using hellebores as a cut flower. And their results-- and you can see all of, you know, what their control was and their temperature and all those kinds of things. 

But 17 and 1/2 days is where they landed. They were experimenting with cut-flower preservatives. So, like, not the Quick Dip specifically, but those kinds of hydrating solutions and holding solutions, versus when you're cutting the plant. Because, for almost-- a lot of people-- and Susan, you know, I would consider one of them-- that cutting them later, you know, finds that there's really not a whole lot of problem, once they've got those seed pods on them. 

So, that's what he was testing. You know, was there a notable difference between if the seed pods were developed versus if they weren't? And he didn't seem to find a major-- in this study, he didn't see a major difference. But it doesn't mean that there might not be for someone else. 

Like, this one's starting to form a seed pod. So I would prefer to use one like that, because it's a little more leathery. 

Sure, mhm. 

And I would assume that it would last longer than one that still has all its anthers. 

Very delicate and soft. Mhm. Exactly. 

John was using a hydrating solution and a holding solution. A holding solution is a professional solution you can get from Floralife, is the one he uses. 

Oh, and I think he did-- actually, in this experiment, I think he used-- 

And Chrysal. 

Yeah, I think he used both-- like, the kind of equivalents of both brands-- and didn't see a big difference. 

Basically, they have less sugar in them than the standard Floralife that you would get in the little packets. So that's really the main difference. The hydrator is just a solution you leave them in for several hours. And it's similar to Quick Dip-- 

Mhm, but the plant just sits in it for a while. 

--just a different brand. 

OK. Why do you think people-- why do you think that, like, higher sugar content that you would get in a packet, if you were buying flowers from a florist or something, why wouldn't it be the lower sugar count, if that actually makes them last longer? 

Yes. Because, when you give somebody regular Floralife, with a lot of sugar, that's carbohydrates. So that feeds the flower, and it also makes it continue to mature. 


So, if you're a flower grower or a florist, you just want to hold that in stasis. So you just barely want to feed it. You don't want it to continue to mature, and you don't want to feed the bacteria. Of course, there's things in there to keep the bacteria from growing. But that's why they give it very little sugar. 


And then the home person gets the product with the sugar. 

Right. So then they're really seeing kind of the best parts of the plant, and the rest of the life cycle of it, I guess. 

And most flowers are cut in bud, so you want them to stay in bud till they get to where they're going. 

Right And then that extra sugar lets them open. 


Perfect! Well, thank you so much, Susan, for popping on to join us, today, and to talk about hellebores a little bit. This has been really fun. And we're excited to share these beautiful things with you. 

So, best of luck on your hellebore planting that you have coming up. And you let us know if you have any questions.