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What's YOUR method of growing hellebores from seed?

17 years ago

It's been mentioned elsewhere that this would make a good post as we can all get involved and compare our different methods used to grow hellebores from seed. I'm happy to start the ball rolling so here is how I grow hellebores from seed. Bear in mind that I'm in England so the methods that I use suit our climate. Also, it would be a brave person to claim that their methods are the only correct ones. Hellebore seed is very flexible and responds to many different techniques regarding germination. As more and more people share their methods, this will become apparent.

I sow seed as soon as I have it. For my own this will be early June and for bought seed this is usually mid July. I sow the seeds in square 1 litre pots, 20 seeds to a pot. I use a peat based multi-purpose compost with a little perlite added for drainage. I sow the seeds approx. 10mm deep and top-dress the pots with a 5mm layer of fine grit, just to stop mosses forming on the compost surface.

After watering the pots, I then put them on the floor underneath the staging in the (unheated) glasshouse.

I check the pots every couple of weeks just to make sure they haven't dryed out. Germination usually starts for me in December and carries on until March. When I move the seedlings into their own pots depends on how many seeds have germinated in the pot. If all or nearly all have germinated (H.x hybridus seems to germinate all at once for me), I move them into 3 inch pots at the seed leaf stage. I tip the whole pot out on to the bench and break away the seedlings one by one, making sure that as much compost as possible is surrounding the roots. I find that moving the seedlings this early spurs them on and they soon produce true leaves.

The treatment for species is much the same as above except that I find that germination occurs over a longer period of time. Some seedlings may be well on their way to producing their second true leaf and other seeds in the same pot may be just starting to germinate. Rather than potting the seedlings up in multi-purpose compost, I prefer to use a soil based mix with sharp grit added to aid drainage.

The young plants stay in their 3 inch pots until May/June when they are then moved into 1 litre pots. The hybrids and a few of the species will stay in the 1 litre pots until early September; they will then be planted out into rows where they can be studied and compared with each other. Most of the species are slower than the hybrids and therefore will stay in their 1 litre pots until the following year; they are then either planted out or moved into a 2 litre pot.

And that's how I grow hellebores from seed. Not as complicated as some methods but I do like to keep things simple and I'm satisfied with the germination percentage that I get.

If you use a more complicated method or even a more simple method, then stick with it if you have a satisfactory amount of seeds germinate. If not, then perhaps this posting will be a good place to pick up some tips.

Best Wishes,


Comments (59)

  • bruceNH

    Fresh seed is best, properly stored seed will sprout.


  • superphosphate

    I have some 'Lady ' series Hellebores from Jelitto Seeds, Germany doing fine in real one gallons. Got the seeds midsummer 2000. Planted them then, and they sprouted early spring 2001.
    This winter I purchased Jelitto's H. niger 'Maximus'. The seeds arrived now to my surprise. Question is, will doing warm moist stratification 6 weeks followed by 6-8 cold get these to germinate? Or should they be planted fresh only? How does stratification work on these? The 'Lady' series are H. orientalis whereas these winter delivered seeds are H. niger, if it makes a difference.

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  • bruceNH

    I would place them in damp media right away for at least 6 to 8 weeks and then into the fridge crisper until they sprouted.


  • pansgardener_waz7

    OK Here goes-My stock plants are one very large and beautiful dark red (with some spots) Sunshine oriental hybred, and a variety of very good red pink and white Royal Heritage Strain orientals. These I have been hand polinating for some years and the results are begining to show. This year I have offspring that are better than any of the parents, Ya Hoooooo finally!!! When the first seed capsul splits I gather all the capsuls by cutting them off the mother plants and put them in marked paper bags .I want to know which ones are which all the way to flowering in three years. While the seed caps are drying in the paper bags I start preparing the plug trays for planting. I use a comercial seed starting mix (available at any good garden center)It usually takes only a few days for the seed caps to open and the seed to fall to the bottom of the bag. I start sowing right away then cover it all with grit. The grit keeps the ants from getting the seed.It also helps to prevent moss growth and keeps moisture in the medium. Grit is heavy and stays on top of the soil even when I get a little caried away with the water pressure. My experience has shown me that once the seed coat begins to wrinkle the germination will be almost nothing. I prefer not to plant seed that is older than two weeks but I have stretched it to three weeks with satisfactory results. The seeds I planted last june/july are germinating now.Pinks always seem to be first out of the starting gate with reds following and whites last. Last year I planted some seed of niger and purpuresesce also. The purpuresence is coming up but no sign of niger yet. I prepared plug trays yesterday for seeds that are on the way from Tasmania. But I digress.----Seeds germinate in Jan?Feb. Since they are in individual plugs I don't have to do anything with them until June when they are big enough to be moved to deep 3" pots. And so on and so on until one fine morn, in about 3 years we get to see the "finished" product. It is never really finished because as soon as I see it I am planning the next cross with the pick of the lot or deciding to let this one go and keep that one and so on and so on. It's enough to keep one from ever getting old. I guess I should mention that I live in zone 7 and my plug flats are in an unheated greenhouse with no ends (22 degrees F last night). Happy Planting J.

  • brugmansia_50

    I received fresh seeds last spring and planted right away as instructed...notta, nothing happened. Seeds are still in their pots (I'm determined aren't Should I put the pots into the fridge for 6 weeks to now produce a cold spell or are the seeds useless now?
    Any information would be helpful..

  • maryvonne

    Some of you have mentioned that your get blooms on your H. x hybridus's in the 2nd year. I've only grown one batch of seeds so far and they took 3 full years to bloom and some are still not blooming yet. I leave my seedlings outside because of laziness and lack of time. I do have 2 large greenhouses I use for propataing shrubs and usually have room left over. Would it help if I brought them in over winter? This is an unheated plastic covered greenhouse with doors. I have lots of new seedlings coming up and it would be nice to speed up the blooming precess. I'm not that young any more and don't have forever to wait to see the results especially if I'm going to hand pollinate.

  • bruceNH

    Yes, the more growing time they have, the larger they become, the less time to bloom.

    Once they begin to really grow, they like root room and fertilizer. If they have cool weather with no frost and have root room to grow with good fertilizing people report flowering in 14 months from seed for H.x hybridus.

    I grow the seedlings inside the first winter and in the fall they are planted out to be wintered and I have quite a bit of flowering the second spring. In the third spring they are very large plants and are mature flowering.


  • bruceNH

    I brought this to the top again, please add your method for starting hellebore seed.

  • deeds1

    I, for one, can vouch for Tim's methods.

    Thanks Tim

  • claysoil

    Did anyone answer Brugmansia's question? That has to be so disappointing, no germination at all. Where are the seeds now? Have they had warm cold cycles? Have they been allowed to dry out? I'm just starting out myself, but my understanding is that the seeds need to be moist and have 6 weeks of warm, followed by 6 weeks of cold in order to germinate. If they are dried out, it's going to take longer.

  • Greenmanplants

    This was posted elsewhere but I've pased it in as it makes sense when so many questions are raised on this subject, to have a number of answers together.

    I hand pollinate and mark the blooms with a bit of wool and a tag giving parentage and date of pollination. I keep a log of crosses made and when I see the first pods splitting, go check for the next ones, gathering the seed just before ripe.( I've had problems in the past with mice eating all the ripe seed.)

    I use 1 litre deep pots 5.5" deep by 5" across with a gritty compost, 1 part each JI no3, peat, and cornish grit, filled nearly to the brim with 20-30 seeds per pot then topped off with quarter-half inch of cornish grit.

    I soak this from the base till the grit is wet then stand the pots in a deep tray drilled to leave half an inch of water in the base. (slugs cannot cross the water) They sit in this wet cold environment all winter and usually come up with 95% germination in the spring(anytime from December through March, the species generally slower).

    I pot them on or plant them out when the first proper leaves have formed, the gritty open compost means that you can shake them out very easily and get a good 4" of root, make sure that the tip of the root is pointing down into your planting hole, (deeper pot 2L deep). Also make sure that the stem does not get bruised as they will damp off quickly.

    I have a special raised bed which I clear on a two yearly basis. This houses about 1000 seedlings, I dig in about 50% fresh rich compost into each half as I renew. The seedlings are planted out about 4" apart in batches according to the pots, ie one pot will give about 2ft square planting. In addition to the deep rich soil I feed with half strength seaweed liquid feed 3 or 4 times in the growing season, I get about 25%-50% plants flowering 18mths from sowing depending on the batches(6mths in pot, 1 year in raised bed). The rest tend to take a year longer.

    Previous experiments with more than half an inch of water in the base of the trays resulted in plenty of seedlings but they soon rotted off with too much moisture. Without the constant moisture I would get only 30-50% germination, ie if the seeds became dessicated as with stored seed, germination is severly impacted, however as many have noted here and elsewhere, once re-hydrated, germination resumes in the second year(also seen with the few sporadic extra seedlings in the beds planted out from the pots which I tend to rogue out as they may be older seed parentage of which has been lost). If you get seed that is anything but plump and fresh, soak it for a day or so before planting in a moist but not wet environment, if seed has been dry, keep the pot for 2 full seasons before deciding that you've had no or poor germination.
    As regards open ground, I get quite a few seedlings at the base of their parents where I have not deadheaded, however I believe the mice can see these off once they get the flavour for's worth protecting your seed trays/pots from mice if you can. I tend to pot any remaining self sown ones up in little pots when they're a couple of leaves big and give them away at school fairs etc as they'll be open crossed and not worth waiting 2 years to see if a very lucky accident(which cannot be re-produced) has happened.
    This year I'm not bothering with any hand pollination as I have so many seedlings from last years crossings I have a major backlog of about 2000 seedlings, plus everything was into bloom so early(mid January) that I hardly had time to get out there with my paintbrush.

    After all, it's only a hobby(addiction):-) It's the hardy orchids, arisaemas, trillium and paris that really get me going.

    Cheers Greenmanplants

  • Doris_J

    Just a reminder--if your seeds don't germinate, don't tose the containers! I have several batches that didn't germinate until the second winter. Sometimes it happens. So now, I have a pleasant surprise!

  • phoebe1969

    This sounds really complicated to me. I just traded for some seed and am overwhelmed by what I just read. Can anyone give me the newbie's way? I just may be headed to the catalogue to order a plant.......

  • Greenmanplants


    You're right, we all get too wrapped up in perfect technique and miss the simple point.

    Sow the seed in a deep pot of just damp, seed compost, leave outside, in a sheltered spot out of direct sun and let nature do the rest.

    Cheers Greenmanplants

  • hemnancy

    I have a little row of H. orientalis and they self-sow around the mother plants. My only problem is how long to wait to dig them up and transplant them.

  • Greenmanplants

    When they have 1 or 2 proper little leaves, they will have about 3-4inches of root, handle them gently.

    Cheers Greenmanplants

  • Hellebora

    I have found that it works to let them grow where they are, in the soil outdoors, as mine normally self-seed like crazy. I have tried potting up seedlings, but our weather here in coastal B.C. has been a bit unusual - a lot of rain, followed by, say, a sudden drop to -12C for 4 days. I think they hate to be waterlogged. (Graham Rice's book called "Hellebore" mentions that it's easiest to let them grow in the soil as well...) In any case, I lost a lot of first and second year seedlings and even older plants this year. So....I think I'll let Mother Nature do it. I know it's not always convenient, but since I tend to let things grow where they are, even if it's in the middle of the seems to work for me. I don't weed much, either. In other words, half my garden is self-sown. I am looking for fresh seed this June, and I think I'll try an outdoor seed bed out of the wind.

  • Greenmanplants

    Hellebora, All well and good but when do you clear these seedlings out to make space. My full size plants measure about 3foot diameter and 2 foot high. Any seedlings struggling under that are either never going to achieve their potential, and die out or will impair their mothers space, ending with stunted or spoiled plants at best. Quite apart from all the other companions that grow between the plants when the leaves are off in the spring.

    No I would suggest that your transplanting technique needs a bit of practice, you shouldn't lose seedlings like that. They hate waterlogging and will most certainly die from that, neither do they like being baked dry, cool moist and careful handling, potted in deep pots with the root pointing downwards and you should retain 100%.

    Cheers Greenmanplants

  • cfmuehling

    Here's something not addressed here!

    I asked in another thread about my seeds I purchased. They're packaged, so I have no idea now not "fresh" they might be.

    Lisa_H suggested I pot them, cover them and stick them outside, similar to the winter sowing I've been trying.

    Would these packeted seeds need time in the fridge with some wet paper towel do you think? Or just fridge time and into the dirt?

    I really love these little things and can't wait to see if I can get blooms!


  • piksi_hk

    I just received fresh hellebore seeds from a wonderful trader (she sent them in a moist coffee filter in a zip-locked bag). I'm still a little confused: do I just pot them up and let nature do its work? Or place in fridge?

    I'm in zone 9 so it's quite different weather than most of you so I'm not sure what to do.

  • Greenmanplants

    Plant them up now and cover with a bit of grit, they'll be up in January.

    Cheers Greenmanplants

  • bruceNH

    Yes, plant them!

  • waplummer

    I just let them self sow. I have hundreds of seedlings, most of which whill never grow up.

  • colaga

    Hi, I am completely new to gardening and I have ordered some Helleborus orientalis hybrid seeds (currently awaiting their arrival). It said on the packet that it might take a year to germinate and that they should be kept in a temp of 70-40F 20-25C.
    Question.. can I leave the seeds to germinate in a completely covered pot -I mean covered with an object that doesn't let through any light at all, or do they need some light to germinate?
    I ask this because I have a little, hidden from the sight, window in the house, window where I could place the flowerpot and it wouldn't be such an eyesore for a whole year! Problem is, that window gets direct sunlight for a few hours each day and it gets really warm. Now that would be perfect for the required temperature, just not sure if it's ok to completely cover the flowerpot, so it's completely dark for the seeds.

    Thank you for your help!

  • morz8

    Your window is inside? I don't think you'll have good results without giving the seeds a range of temperatures. A warm moist period (2 - 4 months), followed by a moist chill of approximately the same number of weeks, raising the temperature to warmer but still cool is the general method of sowing hellebores. If the seed has been allowed to dry and has been stored, more than one cycle of temperatures may be needed; fastest germination occurs with very fresh seed. The easiest way to do these is often sow, covered with sowing medium, then top the pot with grit or fine aquarium gravel to deter any algae or moss from outdoors and water occasionally if there has been no rain.

    You can try imitating the course nature would take by using your refrigerator for the moist chill...

    Helleborus argutifolius, croaticus, dyclophyllus, dumetorum, foetidus, lividus, multifidus, niger, odorus, orientalis, purpurescens, vesicarius, viridis, and x sternii , Pour hot water over seeds, let soak 1-3 days until swelling noticeable. Sow at 22C (71ºF) for 6 wks or more. Move to -4 to +4ºC (24-39ºF) for 6-8 wks. Then raise the temperature to 10ºC (50ºF). If no germination in 4-6 wks, repeat the cycle from the beginning. If the warm/cold cycles were not long enough, a new warm/cold cycle is needed. short viable.

  • colaga

    Thank you so much for the thorough advice!

  • mikeybob

    I used small mason jars and filled them half full of wet perlite and put the seeds on top. And I covered the jars with foil. After a month I put the jars in the fridge, that must have been five or six weeks ago and the seeds are starting to sprout now.

    I plan to plant the one pictured very soon, but when is the best time to plant? Should I plant the seeds as soon as they show any sign of sprouting and move them to room temperature? I can see that the seed coat splits and that means they are going to sprout so I could plant them then, or is it better to wait another week or two until they look like the one pictured?


  • morz8

    This seedling is still in your refrigerator? It needs light.

    As for the rest of your question, I haven't handled my germinating seeds when that immature, I sow in potting medium and don't pot individually until they have one or two pairs of true leaves. But, they will have no drainage, no nutrition in perlite, and no light in your refrigerated mason jar, and I would pot them quickly.

  • evonnestoryteller

    This is a great post for all sorts of growing techniques.

    I am wondering how to pick the best outdoor bed to start the seeds. For instance, can they be started under a pine canopy if they are towards the edges and the soil is prepared correctly? Will they get too much light if planted under trees that lose their leaves? Will hellebores do as well under many shaded different types of shaded areas?

  • mynameismelissa

    I'm brand new to sowing seeds. I have a weird question. I picked the first batch of seed pods in late May when I noticed them splitting, but when I opened them I was lucky to get 1 seed from each pod, some had none but just a sprinkle of these super-tiny specks of seeds. I'm guessing I should be planting just the larger, pepper-kernel-sized bits but why do some pods not produce seeds? I just picked a second batch and found absolutely no seeds. Were they not pollinated? Should I expect to find multiple seeds in each pod?

    Thanks for any help and all the hints listed above.

  • morz8

    Some years are better than others for seed set, weather plays a big part - drought can be especially hard on seed formation. In this mild moist climate, I can usually count on large quantities of seed, but I do have one hybrid yellow flowered plant that never provides seed, not in the five years or so it's been producing flowers. Lots of flowers, no seed.

    The seeds are shiny, black, and there should be several per pod.

  • loretta5_gw

    I'm one of those gardeners who can't germinate anything outside over the summer because I forget about them, etc. So my Hellebore germinating method is this:

    I get my seed from a seed exchange in February. So my seed is not strictly fresh. Hopefully it has been kept in a cool place refrigerator) until I get it. This is usually the case though I have gotten some that had desiccated and could not germinate.

    I sow in small baggies in damp (not wet) perlite and let the bag lay on a counter somewhere at room temperature 8 weeks or so. I check the moisture level whenever I think of it. Then I put them in the back of the refrigerator until they germinate. That happens 4-6 months later. Again I check the moisture level when I think of it. I pot them up when I see they have roots, sometimes they also have a leaf or two, sometimes not. I put them in individual pots and grow them on cool.

    I sowed some in baggies of perlite in late April, put them through a warm and cold moist stratification as described above and they germinated last month. They are potted and growing along out on my porch in the shade. (I remember to water them if I see them on the porch.) I suspect they may be too small for me to feel comfortable putting them in the ground this fall but since I sow seed and grow cuttings throughout the year I'll put them under lights in my unheated basement until time to plant them out in the spring. If I hadnt forgotten them and had bagged them in February they would be large enough to go out this fall.

    As to the question of no seed in the pods, know that some Hellebores are sterile. I have one, a species Hellebore, that is well over 20 years old and has never produced any seed. It has however produced divisions so now I have 4 plants instead of one. I may try separating them one day. The rule is dont try to divide species Hellebores. They dont like it and are likely as not to die. So I'm holding off.

    What a fun thread.

  • loretta5_gw


    I meant to say I put the seed in baggies with Verimiculite - NOT perlite. I use damp vermiculite.

  • kms4me

    I accidentally sent two packets of hellebore seeds through the power wash cycle of my washer, complete with hot water and bleach (they didn't go through the dryer). I didn't have high hopes for them but gave them warm/moist treatment followed by cold stratification, and they germinated much more quickly than those seeds I didn't wash, also for the first time in growing hellies from seed, I had almost 100% germination.

    I wouldn't recommend it exactly, just thought it was interesting.


  • morz8

    kms, I haven't done that with anything as expensive as hellebore seeds, but I do admit to washing Nigella Miss Jekyll and to putting those through the dryer in jeans pocket. They germinated too :)

  • claysoil

    Evonnestory, If you are still following this thread (!) hellebores do well in varying degrees of light. If you are growing species, you can search for specific information on each of them. As for the x. hybridus, it is advertised as a shade plant, but here in zone 6 mine have thrived in varying degrees of sun, including glaring afternoon sun. I'd be more careful in warmer climates.

    I'd take in to consideration competition with tree roots though.

  • countrycarolyn

    I really wished I would of read this thread sooner!! Now I know!!

  • turveyd_shaw_ca

    i live in the rockies, and i would just love to grow hellebore, but i can't seem to get the seasons right. frost doesn't really go till mid-may - i have two precious plants which are now sleeping under gauze under straw under burlap. i'm hoping that they survive - i won't be able to check on them for a month at least.
    does anyone know about hellebores and how to help them survive the harsh winters in the Alberta/BC border? i'm trying to grow some from seed, but once again, the seasons are against us, the summers are so short. help!

  • Fleur

    I'm bumping this to the top again so I can readily find it. I'll need it soon. Thanks everyone.

  • Solomon Dang-Goldberg

    So I sowed fresh hellebores seed sometime I june of this year. I places 200 I a small tupperware container with some moist coco coir and on top of a terrarium light. A few weeks later, when I opened it, alot of the seeds were moldy. So after all that, I just tossed all the seeds into a square gallon pot with potting soil and topped that off with some sand and left the outside under a potting bench. Last week, I dug around and found that the ones that didnt rot in the tupperware have roots about an inch long.

    How long until leaves? I plan on bringing them indoors under lights in my unheated basement when it starts to freeze here.

  • siarl_bychan

    All the articles I've read about harvesting time for hellebores is June, however, I already have well developed seeds on the blooms and it's the end of February. Is it because it takes until June or late Spring for the seeds to mature? Or perhaps it may be that this is the Chihuahuan Desert and the Winters here are on the mild side. The temps here drop to right at freezing during the night for a few hours but that's it. Then the daytime temps rise to 60s and 70s.

  • loretta5_gw

    Like all seeds, Hellebore seeds are best sown immediately after they ripen. Whenever that is. So sow your seeds when they ripen and they will be fine. If you have to hold them for some reason, be assured that they will still germinate. Because of the timing of one of my seed exchanges I have to sow Hellebore seeds in February of the following year, and they germinate. They may germinate a bit slower but they germinate just fine. Good luck.

    A note in case you need it: when the seed pods look as though they are getting to the point when they will open and disperse the seed, bag them with cheesecloth, or a piece of cut up panty hose, or something, to keep the seed from dispersing on the ground when you aren't looking. Of course seed on the ground produces Hellebores too. :-)

  • siarl_bychan

    Thank you Loretta5 for the advice and I will certainly place a small bag over the seed pods.

  • geoforce

    I put the seeds I particularly care about in a zip-lock baggie with moist potting mix in the butter compartment on the refrigerator door. Keeping watch every week or so Through the clear baggie, when a good portion have sent out a root I take them out and plant them in 4" square plastic pots under lights. Gives me about a 3-4 month head start and plant them out in garden in mid April or so.

    Most seed I don't bother with as they sprout where they drop and I weed out thousands every year.

    As loretta says, bag the flowers you are particularly interested in to save the seed. Small cloth sacks which are available with drawstrings like the old 'Bull Durham' tobacco sacks work particularly well.

  • leebears36

    I have many tiny Hellebores in the gardens. Some have told me that their seedlings didn't bloom or do well. I don't collect the seeds just let them fall and give away the seedlings. What would be the reason they don't bloom?

    I have a Master Gardener trainee class coming to pot up the little ones, just wondering what to tell them. I live near the Washington coast.

  • loretta5_gw

    They do bloom. And they do well also. I don't know why anyone would tell you that. Some of my very nice Hellebore plants are products of seedlings dug from beneath their mother plants. People say the darndest things.

  • morz8

    leebears, the seedlings may not bloom with an identical flower to its parents but those self sown seedlings can produce some very nice flowering plants. There's no reason not to share and enjoy them....

  • geoforce

    Yes as mentioned, seedlings can be just about anything. My best yet yellow was a chance seedling (probably from a yellow sith red spots nearby) which gives a good clear yellow without the spots. Each is different, though they tend to gravitate to the dark magenta range if you have any of those in your garden.

  • jacqueline9CA

    I never try to collect and get seeds to sprout - I just leave the plants alone, and when I want more hellebores in another part of the garden, I pot up some of the many many babies which are under/around the large plants. I have discovered that in this climate, I need to leave them in pots or planted in the garden in partial shade for a couple of years before they will bloom, but then they do fine. I have never had any which refused to bloom. One of the best plants in my garden, as far as being pest free and looking good 12 months of the year, and being reliable about blooming in the winter.


  • oldbat2be

    I am bumping this thread. I have hellebores in two areas of the garden; one with mature plants and the second in an area where I've been scattering seeds occasionally. This year, I found hundreds of babies around my mature plants. I transplanted around 300 of the babies over to the other area and now have collected seed to scatter in the same area.

    The new area has partial sun. We are in New England.

    My questions are:

    1) Should I scatter the seeds, scatter and rake in lightly, or scatter and then cover with a light layer of something? I would prefer not to pot them and then have to plant them later. (Too much chance of me forgetting about them!)

    2) When I see a baby ( around an inch and a half tall, with a 4" root), did that sprout from last year's seed or this year's? And as a followup, is the young plant (around 7-9 inches, with larger leaves), a 2 year old?

    Thanks, I do love these plants!

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