Helleborus × hybridus (Ballard's Group)
Common Name: hellebore
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Ranunculaceae
Zone: 4 to 9
Height: 1.00 to 1.50 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 1.50 feet
Bloom Time: February to April
Bloom Description: Yellow to pink to red to maroon to blackish-purple
Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Evergreen
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Deer, Heavy Shade

Culture

Easily grown in organically rich, fertile, humusy, alkaline, medium moisture, well-drained soils in part shade to full shade. Prefers light to moderate shade. Although the foliage is evergreen, it may become scorched and tattered in extremely harsh winters, particularly if not sited in locations protected from cold winter winds and/or insulated by snow cover. Cut back flowering stems after bloom to promote new foliage growth. Established plants that become congested may be divided in late summer to early fall. Hybrid hellebores are often grown from seed (some come true and some don’t), but plants will take two years to bloom when grown from seed.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Hybrid hellebores, sometimes commonly called hybrid Lenten roses or hybrid winter roses, are bushy, clump-forming perennials which typically grow to 12-15” tall. They are noted for producing single, cup-shaped flowers (typically 2-3” diameter) with five showy, usually overlapping petals (technically sepals), but sometimes come in a double flowered form. Flowers bloom in a large variety of colors, including various shades and tints of white, pink, red, purple, and yellow, and sometimes have inside spotting. Bloom typically commences in mid to late winter extending into early spring. Flowers appear at the tips of branched stems clad with evergreen dark green leaves which are divided into glossy, leathery, deeply-lobed, often toothed, lanceolate to elliptic segments.

Genus name comes from the Greek words bora meaning food and helein meaning injures/destroys in reference to the plant’s toxic leaves, stems and roots which are poisonous to humans if ingested. Hellebores is also the old Greek name for H. orientalis.

Ballard's Group were hybridized by the late Helen Ballard of England. In the mid-1900s, she began crossing H. orientalis with several other species including H. odorus (yellow), H. purpurescens (purple to gray) and H. torquatus (dark purple to black) to create a strain of Lenten rose hybrids which included many different hues ranging from yellow to pink to red to maroon to blackish-purple. Although Ballard strain plants are sometimes sold as cultivars of H. orientalis, they are by and large garden hybrids which are more accurately described as H. x hybridus and are often sold by color rather than descriptive cultivar name. They are evergreen, bushy, clump-forming perennials which typically grow 12-18" tall with a similar to slightly larger spread. Nodding, cup-shaped flowers (to 2" diameter) with overlapping petals and center crowns of conspicuously contrasting yellow stamens appear in clusters (cymes) at the tips of leafy stems from February through April. Bloom period can be longer in mild winters. Glossy, deeply-cut, dark green, deeply-lobed, evergreen leaves.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Crown rot and leaf spot are occasional problems. Leaves, stems and roots are poisonous.

Garden Uses

Flowers that bloom in February/March in St. Louis are true harbingers of spring. Best planted in large groups. Locate plants near a kitchen window, patio or walkway so that the early bloom may be enjoyed to the fullest. Group in shady locations under trees, large shrubs or in woodland gardens. May also be incorporated into a naturalized area where the clumps will slowly spread through self-seeding. Mass for an attractive year round ground cover.