Lenten Rose and Christmas Rose are both names for a miraculous plant called the Hellebore. This plant has much to offer, asking for very little in return, and its uncommon bloom time during the winter months makes it an indispensable component to a year-round garden. The blooms offer a wide variety of hues, from crisp early white, to yellow and chartreuse, to the deeper tones of red, magenta and black. Deadheading is not necessary with these winter beauties as the flowers persist well into the spring and even summer months. If you’re a fan of dried flowers, let this perennial powerhouse do the work for you as its flowers dry naturally on the plant.
All helleborus enjoy the same conditions, preferring to be out of the hot summer sun when possible. An ideal place would be on an eastern exposure or slightly under deciduous trees so that the foliage provides shelter from the summer sun, but then lets in the winter light when the trees lose their leaves. It is also important to make sure the soil is loose and well-draining and has good organic matter either naturally present, or amended into it during planting. Helleborus are not picky about most things, but boggy feet is not something they normally tolerate.
Helleborus are extremely cold hardy, most varieties able to withstand temperatures down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t be alarmed when you go out on a cold winter day and they look like pancakes, its just a defense mechanism and they will perk right back up when the temperature increases.
Types of Helleborus:
There are approximately 22 species of helleborus and many crosses between them. Most of them can be broken down into two groups: the earlier bloomers, consisting of varieties such as niger, argutifolius, and foetidus, and the later blooming group orientalis. By having a combination of multiple species of helleborus, one can achieve a beautiful bloom arc lasting from early winter well into late spring with almost no maintenance. Many new hybrids boast characteristics from both sides of the family, such as breeds that hold the vibrant colors of the orientalis while having upright facing blooms from their niger heritage.
Helleborus enjoy fertile, well-drained soil so it is important to amend with a good compost when planting. When planting in containers (a great way to add winter color and interest to your pots) make sure to use a good potting soil that drains well and make sure the container is adequately large, as hellebores tend to have a considerable root spread (usually at least twice the size of the current pot is sufficient for at least a season). Helleborus also pair well with other shade plants such as ferns, hostas, hardy cyclamen, primroses, and elephant ear.
Calendar of Care for Helleborus
Early Spring: Apply a light dose of organic, slow-release fertilizer such as EB Stone All Purpose Fertilizer or Rose and Flower Food. A thin layer of compost, such as EB Stone Compost, around the root zone during the spring adds nutrients to the soil as well as improves overall soil conditions and is highly recommended. Prune back any unwanted old foliage to make room for new growth. Transplant now if desired.
Late Spring: Remove old flower stems if you so chose, and deadhead if seedlings are not desired, though most varieties you will find these days will have sterile seeds.
Summer: Groom plants by removing yellow or dead leaves if needed, and make sure to keep the soil evenly moist, preferably watering in the mornings when it is cooler.
Fall: Do not prune back for winter, but a light mulch of compost or shredded leaves may be beneficial. If the soil tends to be very acidic (below a pH of 6) then an application of dolomite lime could help if plants are seeming to struggle.