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 and pearly white, to yellow and chartreuse, to the deeper tones of red, magenta and black. Some varieties have freckled faces and still others display double-petaled petticoats. Deadheading is not necessary with these winter beauties as the flower persist well into the spring and even summer months.
All Helleborus enjoy the same conditions, preferring to be partially shaded during hot summer afternoons. An ideal place would be on an eastern exposure or at the base of 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 ad well-draining and has good organic matter either naturally present, or amended into it during planting. Hellebores are not picky about most things, but boggy feet are not something they normally tolerate.
Hellebores are extremely cold hardy and most varieties are able to withstand temperatures down to -20oF. Don’t be alarmed when you go out on a cold winter day and they look like pancakes, it’s just them staying warm nearer the ground and they will perk right back up when the temperature increases.
TYPES OF HELLEBOROUS:
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 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). It is also beneficial to plant Hellebores with other plants if you are using a large pot. This way the excess soil around the edge has something in it and won’t stay as soggy. Helleborus pair well with other shade plants such as ferns, hosta, hardy cyclamen, primroses and elephant ear.
CALENDAR OF CARE FOR HELLEBORES:
Early spring: Apply a light dose of organic, slow-release fertilizer, such as EB Stone All Purpose Fertilizer or Rose and Flower Food. Apply a thin layer of compost, such as EB Stone Compost, around the root zone during the spring. Compost adds nutrients as well as improving overall soil conditions, and is highly recommended. Prune back any unwanted old foliage once you see new growth emerging at the base of the plant. Transplant now if desired.
Late spring: Remove old flower stems if you so choose, and deadhead if seedlings are not desired, though many varieties you will find these days will have sterile seeds and Hellebores in general are not prolific re-seeders.
Summer: Water regularly during the hot months, preferably in the mornings when it is cooler and avoid getting water on the leaves that may sunburn.
Fall: Do not prune back for winter, but do spread a light mulch of compost or shredded leaves around the base of the plant. If the soil tends to be very acidic (below a pH of 6) then an application of dolomite lime could help if plants seem to struggle.
Winter: Enjoy the beautiful flowers!