Just when you’re at your lowest ebb in the depths of winter, the Lenten rose blooms to lift your spirits and remind you that spring is right around the corner. Float the cup-like blossoms in water inside, or leave them to decorate strong evergreen foliage that is happy in both sun or in shade. It’s a timeless, beautiful plant with many great advantages for the gardener – not least of all its high resistance to deer.
Lenten Rose are very often referred to by their other name, hellebore, and these days there are so many wonderful hybrids to choose from, the gardener will have a hard time figuring out which one to buy. Single or double blooms? Deepest black or sweetest pink? Spotted or un-spotted? Nodding or upright? We recommend one of each!
When & Where to Plant Lenten Rose
Choose a well-drained site in sun or part-shade and plant your hellebore in early fall or spring. Plants will be shipped according to your growing zone for correct planting times. Hellebores are very hardy, but if planting in early spring and temperatures are unseasonably cold, it’s a good idea to acclimatize nursery specimens to outside temperatures with a light fabric covering or in a cold frame for 1-2 weeks.
Light: Though they are known as plants for shady conditions, they do fine in sunny spots.
Soil: Hellebores prefer a rich, humusy, well-drained soil, however they are well known for being able to tolerate the difficulties of dry shade once established. They will not tolerate boggy or wet soils and it is important to make sure that drainage is good.
Spacing: Space 18” apart. Clumps slowly get larger, but spread through numerous seedlings, not rhizomes.
Planting: Plant in early fall or late spring. Early fall will give hellebores the ability to create a strong root system in still-warm soil without the stress of high temperatures on foliage.
How to Grow Lenten Rose Throughout the Season
Growth Habit: Hellebores spread in a soft mound of evergreen, palmate foliage approximately 18” wide and 12” high. In late winter, flower buds begin to extend above the foliage and the flowers unfold into 1-2” nodding cups that either face downwards or are held upright. New foliage begins to emerge after flowers have begun to fade weeks later.
Staking: No staking required.
Watering: Evenly-moist soil is best to produce thriving plants, but once established, hellebores can tolerate dry conditions.
Fertilizing: Regularly amending your soil with organic matter is enough for the hellebore, but for larger plants, you can fertilize with a balanced fertilizer in early spring as new foliage is beginning to emerge.
Mulching: Mulching is a great idea for hellebores as they thrive in evenly-moist soil. If done in early winter, it can draw attention to the new blooms when the garden is looking a little shabby.
Lenten Rose: End of Season Care
The hellebore is very hardy, and excessive measures do not need to be taken for winter survival within its growing zone. It should not be cut back in autumn. When flowers start to rise above foliage in mid-winter, cutting and removing browned foliage is a great way to clean up the plants and frame the flowers. New foliage will soon follow.
Trimming & Pruning: The flowers have a very long season, as they are actually sepals, but once they have started to brown at the tips, they should be cut back to the base of the plant. The evergreen foliage should be allowed to continue throughout winter until the blossoms begin to expand, at which time browned and ragged foliage should be removed at the base.
Dividing & Transplanting: Hellebores do not require regular division and are fairly slow growers; but after time they will become larger and congested and gardeners may wish to make more plants out of their stock. Dig as much of the root as possible (it’s extensive) and divide using a sharp knife – replanting larger divisions in the soil and smaller ones in pots for growing on.
Pests & Disease: Aphids can be known to infest the new foliage, so it’s important to monitor plants in early spring and act if it starts to become an issue.
Additional Concerns: Hellebores are notorious self-seeders, though they don’t come true from seed. The good news is, most of your gardener friends will be delighted to receive a few of these wonderful seedlings, no matter what color their flowers turn out to be. Dig them in the early spring and pot them up in 3 inch containers.
Lenten Rose: Extra Info
Companion Plants & Design Advice: A favorite place to site a few hellebores is along the front walkway where their bright winter blooms can be enjoyed several times a day. You can choose to pair them with other winter bloomers (such as beneath an edgeworthia, or with brilliantly colored crocus) or allow them to become evergreen backdrops to spring and summer bloomers. Some hellebore hybrids have beautiful silver veining in their leaves, and add an extra touch to foliage combinations. Pair them with the vibrant, variegated leaves of ‘Autumn Glow’ toad lily (Tricyrtis formosana) which quickly grows up and out of the mounds of hellebore foliage at its feet.
Additional Uses: Hellebores are highly toxic, and apart from being used as a purgative in ancient medicine, are not widely used today in alternative medicines.
When there is very little forage for bees, but we have unseasonably warm winters, hellebores can provide both pollen and nectar for hungry scout bees. It’s one of the joys of early spring to see a honey bee on a hellebore blossom.