In this video, Tony Avent walks us through hellebore production from seedling to flower at Plant Delights Nursery. New hybridized hellebores are available in a vast variety of colors as well as single or double flowered varieties. Add color to your winter garden with these fantastic perennials.
Today we're going to talk about helleborus hybrids or lenten roses. These are plants native to the Balkans and through the last the 100 years they've been hybridized tremendously and many of the species have been brought together: Helleborus purpurascens, Helleborus torquatus, Helleborus atrorubens, Helleborus viridis all mixed together to create what we know today is Helleborus x hybridus. Now over the past few years breeding has caused the flowers to get much larger, much better colors, doubles as well as singles now. We have everything from pinks to whites to yellows to reds to purples, just an incredible array of colors. So, we sort of want to walk through the process of what's involved in growing a Hellebore today.
This is the beginnings of our Hellebore hybridus seed crop, and the seed are gathered very early in the spring generally around June when they're ripe. They are winter flowers so of course the flowers finish around the first of April for us here in North Carolina. That makes the seed ripe about mid-June and again fresh seed is everything. The seeds are gathered. They are sewn immediately. They are sown within a couple days of when they're gathered, and they’re sown in the seed pots.
Hellebore seedlings germinating
Once they are sown in the pots, they are covered with a quarter inch of soil. We also use a small gravel on top which helps diseases stay out of the mix. Then these are put in a greenhouse that just stays ambient temperature which means in the summertime they're hot. In the wintertime they get very cold. They need to be kept around freezing in order to germinate. If not, they will not germinate well.
So, you can see, here we are in early February. The seed has germinated very nicely and they' re ready to transplant. This is just about the stage that we'd like to transplant those. We like to have two leaves, just starting on that third leaf, and we reach in, and we pull those out and you don't want to pull them out by the stem. You want to just grab the leaves because if you get the stem, you'll actually crush them. And so those are pulled out and you see the long roots, there's two, and we can at this point, if the roots are too long, we can actually prune those very simply just by breaking those off and this causes the roots to branch, giving you a better root structure.
Pulling up a hellebore seedling that is ready for transplant. Pull by the leaves, not the stem!
Those are then transplanted into the cell packs, and these are full of our potting soil. We just push a hole in, we've already done, and put those seedlings in there. The seedlings remain in here until about mid-May until they're large enough, they've rooted in and then these are transplanted into a one-quart pot further growing on.
Once the hellebore seedlings have been transplanted from the cell packs into the one-quart pots then it's just a matter of time and patience. These are now transplanted this past May so here we are in February, so these are almost a year old. Most hellebores take two years to flower. We'll get a random flower occasionally the first year, but it's generally going to be two years before we know for sure what the flower colors are going to be.
Sorting our flowering hellebores by color
Okay now the interesting part about hellebores is they don't always come true to color, so the key is you have to plant your colors and isolate those separately in the garden to be able to maintain those colors. So, a lot of what we do is experimenting. We will isolate some and then we will bloom those, which is now these are two-year-old plants they're in flower and we track to see if they're coming true from color; if not, we know that we've got them too close to another color.
So, here's what we would expect: this is our number 225 in the garden. We know that the parent has a white flower with a dark center and if we look through our two-year-old seedlings we will see there's a plant with white flowers with dark centers exactly what we expected, but in looking through, we're not getting a very high percentage, we're getting some. We also get some here, that went back to the parent. This is a very nice red violet so that's got a very large flower and what we like is it up-facing. Normally hellebores are down-facing so we're always putting in our breeding strains the ones that have up-facing or out-facing flowers so that one will get saved to become a seed parent for the future years.
Okay then we have some that just don't make the cut. Now here’s an example: this one is a sort of a violet and it's got some spots in it, but it doesn't match our quality that we want. So, this will actually get discarded so these will not be sold off. These will be put in our compost pile. Then we have things that are really ugly, and this is just when you have and are combining genes, you’re going to get a fair amount of what we call discards.
Nice coloration, but this hellebore doesn't quiet meet our standards and will be discarded
We're very particular about what we allowed to be sold in our color strains So the first one will be sold is our white with splotch color strain, the other will be sold as a red violet, these will be discards. So, for each group of seedlings we have we go through these. We go through about twice a week in the wintertime, selecting the colors and separating those and that way when we offer these for sale by colors, we've actually hand gone through each one to make sure the color conforms to what we say it is.
Now some hellebore breeders actually make hand crosses. We allow the bees to do ours here at the nursery, but these are actually made by hand and therefore the breeders can assure that these are going to come almost 100 percent true from color. This is one called ‘Painted Doubles’. And this one, we don't even need to flower these before we sell it because we know they're going to be a hundred percent consistent and that's what we monitor. We always keep a few from last year so that we can monitor the fact that they are a hundred percent consistent as we say.