How to Divide Helleborus

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In one of gardening's most magical transformations, the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) slips the bonds of late-winter Earth to fill the hearts of all with see it with hope. That hope is realized in early spring, when the Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) opens its flowers in anticipation of Easter and the bright, warm days soon to come.

These and other hellebores (Helleborus spp.) -- shade-loving perennials suitable for U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, depending on variety -- bloom in a dazzling range of solid or contrasting colors. To propagate a favorite variety, divide its clumps in late winter or spring when its new flowering stems appear.

Warning

  • Hellebores don't require division to maintain their vigor. Older, woody-rooted plants plants are best left alone. Limit dividing to young plants with between five and 10 flowers.

Prepare a New Site

Before dividing, choose and prepare the planting site for the root divisions. Hellebores love moist, organically rich soil and tree-filtered sun or partial shade. Afternoon shade is particularly important in hot-summer climates. Where winters are extreme, a sheltered site is best.

After weeding the site, loosen the soil with a spade or tilling fork and remove stick, stones and other debris. Amend the soil by working a 3-inch layer of organic compost into its top 6 to 8 inches.

Dividing the Plants

Divide the hellebores in cool weather, preferably with rain the forecast. Water them well one or two days before you plan to divide them.

Things You'll Need

Step 1

Dig an 8-inch-deep circle around the hellebore plant, 6 inches from its outermost leaves. Use the spade's sharp point to loosen the soil as you go.

Step 2

When the roots feel loose enough to lift without resisting, lift the plant from the ground and shake off as much soil as possible.

Step 3

Rinse the roots with the hose sprayer attachment, turning the plant until all of them are clean.

Step 4

Examine the hellebore's crown, where its above-ground stems connect to the roots, for natural dividing points. Each new division must have one or more buds, some woody rhizome tissue and some growing roots.

Step 5

Divide the plant by cutting through the tough, woody tissue with the sharp wide-bladed knife. If you have difficulty, limit yourself to three cuts.

Transplanting the Divisions

Move the divisions to their prepared site and dig holes three times the width of, and just a little deeper than, their roots. Center one of them over its hole with the crown at the soil line, and cover it with the compost-amended soil. Tamp firmly to remove air pockets and stabilize the plant.

When you're done, mulch around the transplants with a layer of leaf mold, the spongy, soil-topping layer left by decaying leaves. Water the plants thoroughly, and keep their soil moist until they begin putting out new growth a sign that their roots have become established.

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