Always the Latest: Frostfree Hellebore

The owners of Wallis House always planted the latest, whether cultivar or type of plant. When Mrs. Wallis’ father bought the property from his uncle’s estate, he said that he was doing so to give Nannine a place to garden. And she did. Always the latest and that has been carried forth by The Garden Club of Kentucky.

Helleborus is one of the under-appreciated and planted of all of our perennials. The evergreen quietly fills garden gaps until this time of year when it blooms forth from before Christmas (H. niger) through late spring. The three types are H. niger, Christmas hellebore that ‘blooms’ in December, followed by Lenten Rose (H. orientalis) and H. x hybrid including the relatively new charming container-grown FrostKiss, which will survive extreme cold. It is a mid-late season Lenten Rose. 

Two weeks ago, buds magically appeared half-hidden among the new foliage. Each day more are appearing – pink rimmed white, deep purple, pink, green, and some speckled. The pure colors are actually bracts (modified leaves) that provide the color for the new flowers well into April. The flower is actually the yellow center.

New to these colorful winter bracts is the relatively new Frostfree hybrid. The charmingly small container-grown plant  will spread to 2’x2’ and blooms into April. Unlike other hellebores, it will bloom within the first year of planting, starting as days shorten and temperatures drop to 40-50 degrees.

In addition to year-round interest, Frostfree is minimal maintenance. Here are some tips:

  • Do not cut leaves as they are the source of new flowers.
  • Apply a slow-release fertilizer; a small amount more if flowering ceases.
  •  In the summer, water as needed but not during the heat of the day.
  • Plant in 30 percent shade, well-drained coarse, pH 5.5 soil.
  • It may be planted in spring or fall when it is actively growing but not in the summer.
  • Astilbe, brunneria, fern, hosta and lungwort are wonderful companion plants.

Frostfree hellebore source: White Flower Farm (whiteflowerfarm.com, 800-503-9624); Burpee(burpee.com, 800-888-1447).