Collecting pollen from hellebore flower

How to breed hellebores

Hellebores are easy to cross-breed. Find out how to breed your own, in our guide.

A table displaying which months are best to sow, plant and harvest.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
To do
To do

Do not To do in January

Do To do in February

Do To do in March

Do not To do in April

Do To do in May

Do not To do in June

Do not To do in July

Do not To do in August

Do not To do in September

Do To do in October

Do To do in November

Do not To do in December

The most familiar, and widely grown hellebores, are forms of Helleborus x hybridus, which used to be Helleborus orientalis, or ‘the Lenten rose’. It’s in its glory long before Lent – even when Easter comes early – but its common name was presumably given to distinguish it from ‘The Christmas Rose’, Helleborus niger, which flowers even earlier, sometimes in December, but usually in January. One of the features that makes hellebores so prized by gardeners is that they’re so easy to cross-breed. They will hybridise by themselves, without any assistance from the gardener, creating fabulous new colours and strains. Or you can step in – no special skills required – to help create plants that are unique to your garden.

If you decide to grow your own plants, all you need are two really good hellebores and a lot of patience. If your varieties are mediocre, or you just don’t have any, treat yourself to some new ones. Either choose two quite different varieties or, if you want to concentrate on a particular characteristic or colour, choose those that display unique features. Plants can be pollinated in pots in coldframes or unheated greenhouses, or outside in the open garden. It’s warmer work when done in the greenhouse, but pollinated flowers are more prone to rotting when indoors.

When your new seedlings flower for the first time, in the depths of the winter gloom, you will have the privilege of being the first person ever to gaze at that flower. No wonder hellebores have made themselves indispensable to anyone who wants their garden to shine at this dreary time of year.

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You Will Need

  • Hellebore plants
  • Marker pen
  • Wool in different colours
  • Plant labels
  • Notepad
  • Loam-based compost
  • Horticultural grit
  • 10cm pots

Step 1

Gather pollen

Collecting pollen from hellebore flower
Collecting pollen from hellebore flower

In February or March select the plants from which you will breed your hellebore. Choose a ‘mother’ plant – the one to be pollinated, which will eventually bear the seeds – for its vigour and a good, even flower shape. Choose a ‘father’ plant – which will supply the pollen – for the colour and shape of its flowers. Rub your pen vigorously against your sleeve to produce static and place it next to the anthers – the pollen almost jumps onto the pen.

Step 2

Transfer pollen

Dabbing pollen on to the central stigma
Dabbing pollen on to the central stigma

Carefully open a fat, virgin bud of the ‘mother’ plant and dab the collected pollen on to the central stigma. Close the petals and, if you can, repeat the process on three separate days.

Step 3

Mark your flowers

Tying coloured wool around the pollinated hellebore flower
Tying coloured wool around the pollinated hellebore flower

Loosely tie a bit of coloured wool behind the flower of your ‘mother’ plant so you can identify it later. Place a paper bag around the flower to stop bees adding pollen from different hellebores.

Step 4

Make a note of the parent plants

make a note of the hellebores you have cross-pollinated
Make a note of the hellebores you have cross-pollinated

In your notebook, make a note of the plants you have cross-pollinated. Also, it’s also a good idea to cut a piece of wool and tape it into the book, so you know which notes refer to which plant.

Step 5

Catch the seeds

Swollen hellebore seedpods
Swollen hellebore seedpods

Keep an eye on the developing seedpods and catch them before they fall to the ground. Sow them on the surface of moist, gritty, loam-based compost, and cover with a fine layer of grit. Keep the pots outside or in a cold frame.

Step 6

Look after the seedlings

Close up of Hellebore seedlings
Close up of Hellebore seedlings

Germination occurs the following autumn and winter. Pot the seedlings on when the first true leaves have emerged. As long as you look after the plants and they grow strongly, they should flower the following year.

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