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Growing hellebores from seed

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  • Growing hellebores from seed

    This topic has been covered in the past but with the new format it's worth addressing again. I decided to create a new thread per lylalevi's inquiry in another thread.

    I've heard many reports of difficulty in germinating hellebore seed, but it's easy for me so I'm not sure if my experience will be helpful or not. I have used three methods:

    1. Natural: Allowing the seed drop from the mother plants produces excellent results in my garden climate.

    2. Prepared beds: Most of the seed I have sown has been in prepared beds. I prepare new or existing areas by digging approximately 6 inches down and amending the area so that it has a consistency that is both retentive and well draining. I make very shallow rows with anything on had (a stick, a hand spade) and deposit the seed in the grooved area. I then return the displaced soil to lightly cover the seed and gently firm it in the rows. I usually scatter an extremely thin layer of composted pine bark ("fines") over the area and water. This is all done as soon as seed is ready or whenever I receive them from other sources, typically in early summer. I then water every week or so during summer periods that receive no rainfall.

    3. Forced: I have also had good results through immediately putting fresh seed into a slightly moist media (e.g. vermiculite), sealing it in a plastic bag, and putting it in a dark spot indoors for several weeks. After that time, I take the bag and place it in the refrigerator for another few weeks. I then check periodically to observe germination progress. Once most of seeds produce their single roots, but before they elongate too much, I plant them in containers. These are then watered and placed in a bright area (either near a window indoors that recives direct light or under artificial grow lights).

  • #2
    About 10 years ago, I grew Mountain rue from seed, took 3 years before the plants were of any worthy size actually go into the garden.
    Started with 50 seeds, wintered over then 20 came up, kept in pots another year, then 10 came up. (well protected position) Finally the third year 6 nice strong ones made it, and they got planted. My lesson, I buy plants now and respect the nurseries.


    • #3
      Thank you....I will try again. The seeds I got were sent to me and supposed to be double...a few came up and then withered away.


      • #4
        I have tried various methods over the years,- all of them indoors,- but over the last few years I have even found quite a lot of seedlings under some of my plants, which is quite surprising given my zone. We did have lots of snow though,- so that helped protecting these chance seedings, I suppose. Since my space is very limited I don't keep these seedlings though, because I need it for my hand-pollinated ones.

        In terms of indoor germination I tried germinating the seeds between moist paper towel in a Ziplock bag and letting them go through the warm - cold cycle. It works, but not as well as germinating them in moist medium, which is my preferred method now. I use moist seed starter Promix with some extra vermiculite added and keep the seeds in this mix for at least 6 weeks at room temperature and then in the fridge.

        After germination I have tried various planting out methods as well.
        First the pots as described in the Strangman book, with about 30 seeds per pot. I left them in the garage and brought them into my cool laundry room under lights once I saw some germination. This method had two disadvantages: the humidity in the pots covered with little rocks was difficult to control / check and I felt that once I had moved the pots under the lights, the seedlings that had already germinated greened up nicely, but I didn't get a whole lot more germination. Maybe because the seeds that hadn't germinated yet would have been better off in the cold temperatures of the garage.

        Thus the next year I planted the germinated seeds into individual deep pots, again covered with rocks. This worked quite well, as now I was able to move every pot under the lights once the seedling was showing up. The disadvantage of this method was still though, that the humidity was difficult to evaluate in the cold of the garage and with the rocks on top of the soil. My feeeling was that at one point the pots got too dry, as all the seeds that I had planted had germinated, but then I still only got plants out of about 50% of these.

        Finally, last year, I think I found the method that works best for me. As the result of the problem actually, that I ran out of the small deep pots and my nursery did too. So I took one of these clear rectangular containers that you buy spring mix salad in (the big 1 pound / 16 oz. packages) and sowed my seeds in nice rows. I covered with the little rocks as well, but since the containers are clear controlling the moisture level wasn't a problem anymore. As the roots were long at the time I sowed these germinated seeds, I moved them under the lights in my cool (15 to 17 degrees Celsius) laundry room right away. This container gave me the strongest seedlings ever, most probably because it was so deep and the roots were able to develop very nicely.
        So this is my preferred method so far.

        Fresh seed of course always works best, and thus the seeds from my own hand-pollinations which go into moist medium right off the plant, germinate especially well. Still,- it is my impression that not every plant produces seed that germinates well. It is the second year that I seem to be unsuccessful to get a good amount of seed from selfing my 'signature hybrid hellebore' (I have to figure out how to add this picture again here at the new forum), and the second year that the seed I did get refuses to germinate.
        Likewise I seem to get less germination with seeds from picotées than from other colors.
        Still lots more to observe and to learn...

        So good to see the first flowers on this forum already. Mine, as usual, are buried under a couple of feet of snow and will bloom when most of yours are long gone.
        Greetings from Québec,



        • #5
          Originally posted by gabycher View Post
          So I took one of these clear rectangular containers that you buy spring mix salad in (the big 1 pound / 16 oz. packages) and sowed my seeds in nice rows.

          Hi Gaby,

          That's an interesting. I have used large plastic cups which I made drainage holes but they did not fit into the tray well and were always toppling over. I put one seedling into each cup. You found that the salad mix containers (even though large) were deep enough for the roots? About how many seedlings per container did you sow?


          • #6
            We have tried many ways from just letting nature take her course then move the seedlings after they are a year old to just putting them into soil on the north side of the house. I didn't have any luck on starting them inside or the greenhouse. It's my understanding that one needs fresh seeds and that could be why the first few attempts didn't work. I just sewed them in a flat with dirt.
            Last edited by karma; 01-30-2009, 10:10 AM.


            • #7

              the containers are 11.5" long, 7.5" wide and 5" deep. Like you I do make drainage holes and I use the covers as trays for the containers to sit on.
              I seed about 20 - 25 seeds per container.
              Of course the seedlings need transplanting into bigger pots at one point, if you want to pamper them along during summer. I have planted mine out directly though and as I had mentioned they were bigger and stronger than the ones that had been growing in the single pots (the root system was bigger as well).
              I will see how this year's seedlings will do. We always experiment...



              • #8
                I use the 'Winter Sowing' milk bottle method to start my seeds, especially special ones that I don't want the local 'critters'carrying away.
                I have a power point that I made about starting hellebore seeds and use when I do my Master Gardener talks about hellebores.
                I would be happy to send it to anyone that is interested. I get great results when I start with fresh seeds.

                Mary/Gainesville, GA
                Attached Files


                • #9
                  I tried sprouting some seeds in the refrigerator and growing them indoors but most of them didn't grow. I heat with wood and it can get very hot and dry so maybe that is the problem. Outside the ground is frozen, but I have hellebores coming up in a coldframe. I planted seeds in a large windowbox and kept it in a coldframe all winter, and that is what is working for me.


                  • #10
                    Thank you very much for the information I really appreciate it!! I found this useful site for Gardening Seeds

                    Gardening seeds and Planting design. Grass, orchids, bonsais and tulips


                    • #11
                      Gabycher: "over the last few years I have even found quite a lot of seedlings under some of my plants, which is quite surprising given my zone." If the plants are hardy, their seedlings are hardy too.. (I'm used to no one ever believing me on this, but it is true, LOL!.)

                      Goswimmin, your point about fresh seeds probably explains most unsuccessful attempts. Deno, in his seed germination work, found that, for the 5 or 6 hellebore species studied, dry storage of seeds was fatal.


                      • #12
                        Hi everyone! I'm new to this site and was out collecting some of my hellebore seeds today. I've had hellebores for about 5-6 yrs and this was the first year I had babies sprout. I just transplanted them to different parts of the garden where they won't be in the way for a while.

                        How many years does it take a seedling to Flower?

                        When you say 'fresh seeds' do you mean ones that were just taken from the seed pod? Can I just plant these seeds in pots now or should I wait a certain amount of time?

                        Any advice would be appreciated.


                        • #13
                          Hi Vicky, welcome to the forum.
                          I find that hellebore seeds to be useful they need to be ripe, almost black. I try to get them into the ground right away. I have found that letting them sit around for over 3 months seems to cut back on the germination rate.
                          I am sure that others on the forum have different opinions on this and I hope that they will add to this string.
                          I started with 3 plants from a friend and now have hundreds around the yard by doing just what you are doing.back groups 3.JPG


                          • #14
                            Vicky, we have seen them bloom in the first year but I think that one is unusual. We have many that bloomed in the second year and find that a third year plant will obtain seedpods. Just from what we are noting here. The more sun the more blooms from what we note here also.

                            Matter of fact we harvested 1/3 cups of seeds last night when we noted that they are all browning and popping open from just one plant! We missed some and will have plenty of babies. We also found seeds that were missed placed a few years prior and listened to folks stating fresh seeds so we tossed them by the back door. Next time they will go into the recycle yard bin as we have lots of babies now to transplant else where!


                            • #15
                              Received Pine Knots Farms Southern Belles double/semi seed. What would be best to use for germinating, vermiculite? Also can the seeds just be laying on the surface of the vermiculite or do they need to be covered? Plan on putting them in cups once they germinate. These will be grown indoors through the winter.

                              How many weeks warm/moist before putting them into the fridge?