Are Hellebores Annual, Biennial, or Perennial Flowers?
Curious to find out if hellebore are perennial, biennial, or annual flowers before you start planting them this season? While it might seem like a simple answer, the answer actually is a little more complex and depends on your geographic location. In this article, gardening expert Jill Drago examines if hellebore are annual, biennial, or perennial flowers.
When I think of spring, many of the plants that come to mind are daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, or pansies. While each of these has the potential of a return depending on where you live, none of these are guaranteed perennial plants. But what about hellebore or hellebore hybrids? Are these shade loving flowers considered annuals or perennials?
I personally am a big perennial lover. I love that you can count on them to return. When I add new perennials to my gardens, I always try to fill in the seasonal gaps where I may be missing flowers or even seasonal interest such as fall color. One of the most difficult times to fill up with blooms is the early spring. That’s where hellebore comes in.
If you’ve decided to give hellebore a try but want to know if they will come back each year or need to be replanted, keep on reading. We look at this popular flower and examine if they are treated as annuals, biennials, or perennial flowers depending on your climate!
The Short Answer
Hellebores are without a doubt perennial plants in USDA hardiness zones 3-9. Unlike an annual plant which will need to be replanted year after year, or a biennial that you will need to replant every other year, hellebores are very cold tolerant and will return in the next year. While they thrive in colder climates, they can be grown as an annual in warmer regions too.
The Long Answer
Annual plants sprout, grow, flower, and then die within a year. They complete an entire life cycle and then never come back. Some may seed and then the seeds may grow into a new plant the following season.
Most flowering perennials will sprout, grow, flower, go dormant, and then continue to grow in the warmer months. These plants last much longer, though they tend to grow much slower. They can last around two years or as long as 30+ years, depending on the plant and its growing conditions.
Hellebores are evergreen perennials that grow best in hardiness zones 3-9, where the temperatures stay above -40°F. They can manage through frosty temperatures and should not die during the winter months. They come back every year and can live for longer than a decade under the right conditions.
The only time they are considered an annual flower is in USDA hardiness zone 10 and up, due to the extreme heat.
The name hellebore means “to harm,” which indicates just how toxic this plant is. It was used as a poison in ancient times, but thankfully it has much happier uses today.
Hellebores have beautiful flowers that range in color. Common colors include pink, white, green, apricot, purple, and they even come in black. The flowers hang in an outward direction from a single stem and bloom from late winter or early spring through the summer.
Hellebores are considered slow-growing plants. They can take up to 18 months to reach their mature size, and even longer if grown by seed.
Gardeners choose to grow hellebores in outdoor gardens, but they are also found indoors as houseplants as well. They grow best in partial to full shade during warm months and appreciate more sun in the colder winter months.
There are many different types of hellebores. The longest-lived is the Lenten Rose. These plants if grown in the right conditions can last for decades. The most cold-hardy is the Christmas Rose, also known as Helleborus niger.
Are They Evergreen or Herbaceous?
Hellebores are considered to be evergreen plants. They are also considered herbaceous. These two terms are very different, so it can be confusing as to how they can be considered both.
An herbaceous perennial is a perennial that dies all the way to the ground each year. Their roots stay alive and will send up new growth in the following year. These plants will live for many years. They are known to establish themselves quickly and easily become the backbone of most gardens. Common herbaceous perennials are hosta or coneflower.
Evergreen perennials are perennials that keep their foliage year-round and live for more than one year. Their foliage tends to be a bit more tolerant of the cold and harsh winter weather. Common evergreen perennials are heath or candytuft.
So how is it possible to be both herbaceous AND evergreen? Well, hellebores do not have any woody stems or growth on them like a hydrangea or lilac which in this case makes it herbaceous. However, the bottom growth of leaves is hardy enough to last through even the toughest of frosts, making it evergreen.
Most hellebores are hardy from zones 3-9. These plants are evergreen and very cold tolerant. However, they are also tolerant of heat and some drought. This is especially true if you have planted your hellebore in full shade.
Zones 3-9 take up a good portion of the United States, only leaving out the southern tip of Florida and a few spots in California. When you consider the differences in climate and weather in these zones, it is impossible to deny this is a great plant for anyone with the right amount of shade who is looking for some later winter/spring blooms in their gardens!
Growing hellebores in the correct climate is crucial for the overall health and growth of the plant. Hellebores require 4-6 weeks of temperatures from 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit.
During this period the plant will go dormant. If they continued to produce new growth in harsh winter conditions the plant could be damaged beyond repair.
After a typical winter, the hellebores will begin to bloom in late February. However, in a warmer climate, some species of hellebore, especially Helleborus niger or the Christmas Rose, will bloom closer to Christmas. All of the other hellebores will bloom anywhere between December and April and will remain in bloom for a month or longer.
Hellebores do not require any extra maintenance over the winter. You may opt to cut the entire back to the crown if severe frost is a threat in your area. The crown of the plant is where the roots meet the stems.
Or you can leave the plant as is and allow the leaves to flatten out as the winter goes on. These plants are very tough and can rough it out even through the toughest of winters.
Hellebores grow best in partial to full shade. This makes it a great option for under a tree canopy. In the wintertime, the plant can benefit from some more sun, which would occur naturally if you planted it under a tree.
Planting hellebores in a woodland garden is a win-win. Their blossoms will light up your garden, and you will not feel obligated to clean up any of the leaves as the season progresses. This will provide more food back to the root system over the winter and will allow for a greater bloom in the next season.
Watering will be minimal after you have established the plant. They prefer to be planted in well-draining soil, amending your soil with compost is a good way to keep the roots moist, but not soaked.
Using a flowering plant fertilizer in the spring and again in the fall will help the plants produce beautiful blooms, as well as keep the foliage healthy. If you notice that your hellebore isn’t producing many flowers, double-check your fertilizer and make sure it is receiving a good amount of phosphorus, this is the nutrient that is most important for creating flowers.
Occasionally you can find hellebores that have been brought out of dormancy early and sold as a gift plant, similar to a poinsettia around Christmas or spring bulbs in early February. This would probably be the only case where I would maybe consider a hellebore an annual.
If you receive a hellebore like this, or purchase one yourself you can absolutely keep it growing in your home. Keep it watered, not too wet, and remove any leaves that start to brown or spot.
Once the ground has thawed in the spring go right ahead and plant it in the ground just as you would any other hellebore. Find a location with mostly full shade to protect it from the summer sun, but with a little more sunlight to keep the roots warm in the winter.
It is important to note that this plant may skip a season of flowering once you have planted it in the ground due to the forced blooming that you enjoyed in the wintertime in your home!
Hellebores are a great addition to the spring bloomers in your garden. Planted among spring bulbs you could really have an amazing display on your hands. Don’t forget you can always plant hellebore in a container too!
This spring when you’re walking through your garden center filling up your cart with new plants, be sure to check out the hellebores. What you find may surprise you, and will undoubtedly be worth your while.