Sunday, 6 January 2013

Hellebore babies!

It’s that time of the year, when I go around looking for signs of hellebores emerging from the ground. I have seen some for a while, actually – I saw the first shoots long before Christmas, but at this time of year they are painfully slow to come up. This week I have tidied up around the hellebores and taken care of my first hellebore babies!

I started out with hellebores in 2004 with 3 plants, and my garden was different back then so the 3 hellebores were on a slight slope, hanging over an edge onto the lawn. Any seeds produced from flowers escaping my secateurs would not have resulted in anything, they would have ended up on the grass and been cut as I mowed it. Here is my hellebore area after redesigning my garden in 2011 and getting rid of the last bit of lawn. When I moved the 3 Helleborus hybridus further down to where they now are, I accidentally split one of them, so now I got 4 healthy plants, I also added 2 Helleborus niger to my collection a year ago and last autumn I bought a Helleborus hybridus 'Double White Spotted' – so in total I now have 7 mature plants.

This is the biggest of all the Helleborus hybridus, always producing the most flowers, in a dark maroon colour. This year’s new shoots are already emerging in the centre of the plant, but can you spot the tiny leaves that are dotted around everywhere? I couldn’t believe my eyes when I started counting (although I gave up counting after a while, I think there must be more than a hundred seedlings!)

Here are some of the babies, close up. I had to find info on the Internet to find out what to do with them, getting hellebore babies is a new thing to me so I wasn’t sure what to do. After reading for several days I am still unsure what to do with them! Some say to leave them where they are and just let them get on with it on their own. Other say to lift the seedlings when they have got at least one true leaf, some say not until after August. Other again say that the root system on the seedlings are so long that you’ll never get them out of the ground unbroken so they have to be lifted and re-potted as soon as they emerge. Yikes! Which method is right? Which one should I choose??

Here is one seedling, so fresh it still got the seed hanging on, and look at the long root it got! (Hellebore seeds are 3-5 mm long, sorry I should have placed a tape measure here). I can imaging these seedlings will be a nightmare to untangle individually in 6-8 months time unless I dig very deep and then just flush with lots of water. I have never done this before, will be like most things I do; the trial and error method!

After cutting off all the old hellebore leaves I got a bit better view of the seedlings and made a decision to do all 4 methods. Well, at least that’s what I am thinking now, so I have carefully lifted some of the babies that were awkwardly close to the border anyway, they have now got a new home in small pots. I made a compost mix for them which I hope they will like out of 1/3 garden soil, 1/3 finely chipped bark and 1/3 ordinary compost. I then plan to at least try to lift some seedling when they have got a set of true leaves, and then some again after August. Hopefully there will still be some left that can just get on with it on their own!

I got so inspired by the hellebore babies that I looked into the other babies I’ve had this winter, cyclamens! I usually deadhead my cyclamens throughout the autumn, winter and spring, but I let the last few flowers on each plant go to seed late in the spring. I have had cyclamen babies before, lots of them, but they usually die during the spring and don’t emerge next autumn. I assume it is because there are so many of them and perhaps also because as the weather gets warmer they might simply dry out being so close to the surface. I have never thinned them out, just left them to it, but this year I am trying something new, I have re-potted some of the babies to see if they will survive better away from the mother plant and with less competition.

So here are my babies: 20 hellebore seedlings in 10 pots and 117 cyclamen seedlings in 29 pots. If I can find room for more pots I will divide these when necessary, if not I will simply just thin out and discard. The hellebore seedlings might take 3 years before they flower, the cyclamens might take 4 years before first flower – this is not a project for the impatient gardener! But that’s OK, I will put them together with the Lilium regale seeds I planted last November, they also won’t flower for at least 3, maybe 4 years. This autumn I will collect hellebore seeds and sow them fresh, I think it must be much easier to sow directly in pots than try to lift them like I am doing now!

Here is a hellebore that flowers! The first hellebore of 2013, Helleborus niger – not fully open yet, and only one single flower so far, but hopefully more to come :-)


If you have experience with hellebore babies I would love to hear what you do with them! Do you use any of the methods I have described, or something completely different? Do you prefer to sow the fresh seeds or do you let the seeds drop and then deal with the babies? And finally, to all you with hellebore experience; one of my oldest hellebores have stopped producing flowers, it hasn’t produced flowers for the last 4-5 years or so – long before I moved it so it’s got nothing to do with being moved. It produces very healthy leaves every spring so it seems there is nothing wrong with the plant, I just would have liked to see it in flower again. I don’t fertilise my hellebores, I don’t think that’s common to do in Britain, but I give them fresh bark mulch every year. And all the hellebores get the same treatment, it’s just one of them that doesn’t flower anymore. Any suggestion to what I can do with this hellebore would be greatly appreciated. Until next time, take care.

34 comments:

  1. Helene - well done on all your seedlings. Personally, I'm a bit too anal as far as weeding goes so as soon as I see a bit green - out it comes!
    I asked advice from other gardeners recently on a garden website re hellebores - different hellebores have different needs according to a few experienced gardeners. My question was not on seedling but I've copied and pasted the answer that touches on seedlings -
    " the best time to move H x hybridus or H.orientalis, according to the experts and professional growers is Sept/October. They form their new roots at the onset of Autumn with colder weather. So if you are going to move them at any other time, then make sure you do as little damage to the existing roots as you can as they possibly will not make new ones until next Autumn.
    Certainly the only real success I have had with seedlings is when I have moved them in September. The seedlings too are very susceptible to root drying. I dig them up and put them straight into a bucket of water where they stay until potted up."
    If I remember correctly Hellebores prefer a slightly alkanine soil. As you commented on my blog re your acid soil maybe treating the individual plants with something.
    Helleborus don't do very well in my garden (although I do have them) and I put it down to the wrong soil that they don't thrive!!
    RHS website is usually a great place to find these things out.

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    1. Hi Angie, and thanks for the info! I have consulted the RHS website too, among the many website I have looked at about hellebores, RHS have two pages that mention soil requirements for hellebores and they say:

      1.Hellebores prefer to grow in rich, well-drained soil in dappled shade.

      2.Helleborus x hybridus will tolerate all but very poorly drained or dry soils, but the optimum conditions for cultivation are a heavy, neutral to alkaline soil and dappled shade.

      I have always thought that hellebores weren’t that fuzzy about the soil and I guess RHS confirms that. Unfortunately I can’t find anything on the RHS site about what to do with seedlings in the ground when you got them in clusters of 30 or so. I am just worried I won’t be able to untangle them if I leave them until the autumn. Time will show :-)

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  2. What a wonderful tribute to how happy these plants are in your garden :) Now you have your own little nursery. I love your final photo, nothing like a seedling to get me excited for the upcoming growing season.

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    1. I am excited about this too, although I am fussing a bit like a new mother, won’t risk losing all these babies due to not treating them properly!

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  3. I have hellebrores that were given me as seedlings from a friend. They have't bloomed yet so I don't have any seedlings. But I'm looking forward to the day when I have enough to pass on. You're such a great gardener I'm sure your babies will thrive. :o)

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    1. Great, as you got them as seedlings you won’t know what colour the flowers will be, so that will be a surprise to you, how exciting it will be when they start flowering!!

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  4. Hi, Hellene
    I also have hellebrores. We fertilize them from October to April, except in hot season, then they produce flowers every year.
    Your hellebrores and cyclamen babies are great! You're such a good gardener!!

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    1. Keity, I am going to start fertilising my hellebores too, even if it isn’t common to do so here in Britain. I usually give them a fresh layer of bark mulch every year, but this year I will give them some feed too. But I tried to find out when the right time for that would be here in Britain, and again, the more places I look, the more answers I get!

      1.Feed after flowering and in autumn.

      2.A feed in late winter just as the flower stems emerge will improve flower quality.

      Seems I need to ask what other people do about this too!

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  5. Hi Helene, I just got back into Hellebores last year and I also have loads of seedlings ready to be potted up. I am not an expert on them but I know someone who is --- http://carolynsshadegardens.com/

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    1. Yes, I have been trying to go through her vast website to find what to do with seedlings in the ground, have found so much other interesting stuff there that I got sidetracked several times – still not found what I was looking for!
      Good luck with your seedlings, are you potting them up now or waiting for them to get bigger?

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  6. Hi Helene,
    I've never tried moving self-sown hellebore seedlings. I let them grow where they've fallen, believing that Mother Nature knows best. One thing I have learned about hellebores, is that they make very deep roots, to protect the plants from severe frost. And apparently, the top growth is triggered by the winter solstice.
    Good luck with your hellebore babies, and I hope your old plant flowers again.

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    1. Thanks Crystal, I will leave some to see if they do better than the once I pot on, it’s just so many of them in each cluster!

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  7. I've left most of my hellebore babes in situ and those that haven't been trampled underfoot have made it, in fact yesterday I noticed one older babie is now flowering itself. I have moved a few but as toddlers rather than wee babes.:-)

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    1. That’s great to hear! Did you have such clusters of seedlings as I have? And did all the seedlings survive and come up the next year? I am just worried about overcrowding – they can’t possibly all stay in the same place and become toddlers and survive, and become grownups, can they? :-)

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  8. Hi Helene
    I only have one Hellebore but I just loved watching it flower last spring and then watched as it tripled in size over the summer! Later in Mar/April I will go looking for babies. You are lucky to start the growing season so soon.

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    1. Yes, it has started rather nice and early this year, but last year spring was 6-7 weeks late so it all evens out!

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  9. How exciting to have all those babies! I will be curious to hear the advice from other gardeners. I, too, have noticed babies in previous years, but I didn't do anything with them and they never got very big. I think I might try your approaches of repotting them or planting the seeds directly in a pot. Good luck!

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    1. Thank you! Luckily I have so many babies that I can experiment and do several approaches, but it will be a long wait to see which one is successful and which is not...

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  10. I know absolutely nothing about hellebores. I have one in my garden - but it's new to me this year, so I'm just hoping it will flower. I never thought about it having babies! Congratulations to you! I hope you find all the answers you need and that you get a lot of free plants out of it!

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    1. Thank you Hollley, and if your hellebore is mature enough to flower it will probably produce some seeds too - you might be mother to hellebore babies next spring!!

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  11. I have been dealing with hellebore seedlings for over 20 years and they are not the least bit delicate. In fact, once you have enough hellebores they are kind of pesky because they are so prolific. Here's what you can do: If the seedling is far enough from the mother plant to give it room, thin out all the seedlings except the biggest and let it mature in place. If the seedlings are too close to the mother plant, thin them to a few and let those develop their true leaves. Once they do that, you can move them in the spring or the fall to another spot. Having to wait for fall is a complete myth which is prevalent in the US too. It must have been in some article way back when. Hybrid hellebores grow anywhere except poorly drained sites including full sun (especially your full sun), full shade, dry soil, and acid soil. They like compost. Hybrid hellebores are some of the toughest plants on the planet so forge ahead.

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    1. Hi Carolyn, and thank you for making everything clear to me! I can’t wait for my hellebores to become ‘pesky’, I think that’s a good few years till though… Since writing this post I have discovered many more seedlings, probably around 100 more, so I will just thin out and discard like you say, no need to try to save them all – where would I have them if they all grew up to mature plants?? Imagine 200 helleborus hybridus in my tiny garden in 4-5 years time. Could be a lovely garden, but at the expense of all my other plants!!

      I did try to search your website for hellebore seedlings and got a lot of interesting stuff, just not what to do with the babies in situ. Thank you again for stopping by and killing off some myths :-)

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  12. Your hellebore seedlings look so promising. So much is going on in your garden at this time of year. I love that they offer us a winter surprise.

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    1. And they just seem to be popping up, more and more! This year I will definitely collect the seeds and not let any of them just disperse at will :-)

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  13. Helene, you've started the spring season! The all advises say different things so you're right--try all of them, you've got enough seedling. Good luck!

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    1. It has been spring here for a long time, but this week winter will be back! Winter is funny in London, it can be anything between minus 5 or plus 15 Celsius. We will most likely get snow on Sunday or Monday and then perhaps again in the week. But hopefully it won't last long :-)

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  14. I am going to sound like the worst mother in the world, but I am never too precious about my hellebore babies. I leave them in situ - they have got this far without my intervention - then I move them when I find a suitable home for them. I may sound harsh on the nurture-front, but I am always words extremely delighted when they self-seed and they always settle happily into their new homes, although I do water them in well.

    I am looking forward to reading about the results of your trials with the different methods.

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    1. I will let you all know how it goes! Although it will take a while before I can safely say which ones that survies or looks more healthy, at least one year, possibly two years :-)

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  15. I don't think my hellebores have ever seeded themselves, so far, but I have saved seeds and successfully grown plants from them - I lost one plant this year I am not really sure why it died, maybe if I leave it it will re-grow. I must say I never used to like hellebores, but they have definitely grown on me.

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    1. I am going to try saving seeds and sow them this year, I haven't done that before either, just thrown them away. Hellebores have become a nice addition to the woodland corner of my garden, very different from my roses, dahlias and lilies - nice to be able to have a variety in such a tiny garden as I have :-)

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  16. Great idea trying a number of different methods. Everyone always seems to have a different way of doing things and all them work, just a matter of finding what works for you.

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    1. Trial and error have always been my way of learning anyway :-)

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  17. Congratulations on your hellebore babies! They're a lot of fun to work with. I've heard stories of people who plant a few very different varieties together. They have a blast seeing the cool crosses that spring up from the soil.

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    1. Thank you! I bought a 'Double White Spotted' last autumn and placed it close to my dark maroon, wonder what kind of babies they will make!

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