Learn to Grow Beautiful Lenten Roses (Helleborus orientalis)

The Early-Blooming Hellebores

Close-up image of the beautiful spring flowering Helleborus 'Tutu' Maroon Hellebore flower also known as the Lenten Rose or Christmas rose
Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images

Lenten rose flowers are valued for their early-blooms that inject color into the early spring landscape after the wintertime's long reign of browns, grays, and whites. In addition to the blooms, the plant has leathery evergreen foliage that contributes good color throughout the growing season.

Description

These hellebores come in a variety of colors, including purple, red, yellow, green, blue, lavender, and pink. The flowers are large ( 3 to 4 inches in diameter) and hang downward in clusters from thick stems that rise above the foliage. The color is most vibrant when the flowers first emerge in spring, then fades somewhat. A purple flower, for example, will be quite vivid in early spring then fade to a light mauve. In addition to the color variations, there may be variations in markings, such as margins of a different color, showy freckling, or cool veining.

What is called the flower on a Lenten rose is actually the sepals. A flower sepal is similar to a petal but longer-lasting. The actual flower on the Lenten rose is not all that impressive, but they are surrounded by sepals that are quite colorful, especially when they first appear. The sepals first emerge in early spring and last right through the summer. Flowering initially occurs near ground level, below last year's leaves.

Some cultivars offer double flowers, such as H. x ‘Windcliff Double Pink.' Lenten rose's foliage matures to a shiny, dark green with fine serrations along the edges.  These perennials reach 18 to 24 inches in height, with a similar spread. 

Be warned that all parts of Lenten rose are toxic. Susceptible people may even develop a mild skin irritation after handling them without garden gloves. Still, this is one of the best perennials for shade.

Botanical Information

Lenten rose is a perennial belonging to the buttercup family. Other types of hellebores exist, as well, including H. niger, the Christmas rose which may bloom in winter. The plant known as white hellebore (or false hellbore) is actually Veratrum viride, a wildflower native to the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada and classified by scientists as Veratrum viride

The leaves of Lenten rose are evergreen in warm climates. Further north, H. orientalis leaves may still remain green for much of the winter, but they tend to look ratty by the time spring arrives. By this time, though new leaves are well on their way.

The two-part common name derives the plant's bloom season and the shape of the flower buds. The plant typically blooms in early spring around the Christian season of Lent, and the shape of the flower buds resembles that of the rose. Lenten rose is not a rose, however, and does not belong to the Rosa genus. 

Landscape Uses

Said to be a deer-resistant plant, Lenten rose a logical garden choice where deer are a problem. When they reseed and spread to fill in an area, their attractive foliage makes them a gorgeous ground cover. In Lenten rose will naturalize under the right conditions.

Alternatively, if you wish to keep your Lenten roses as single specimens, well-established seedlings can be transplanted to another part of your garden. As with hosta plants, their shade tolerance makes Lenten rose plant perfect for woodland gardens. Even though their color becomes less vibrant as summer approaches and is entirely faded by fall, one can still value the persistence of Lenten rose's sepals. They are a constant in the garden for about six months.

Take full advantage of this perennial's early-blooming quality by locating it in a spot where it is easily viewed, such as in a planting bed near a porch or shady patio. The unusual and attractive foliage stays dark green long enough that it will remain attractive through the summer. 

Growing Lenten Rose

Native to southern Europe, H. orientalis is suitable to grow in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9. Grow Lenten rose flowers in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9, a spot that receives partial or full shade. Shade helps preserve the vibrant color of both the sepals and the foliage. This spring flower prefers an evenly moist, well-drained, fertile soil. It is best planted in an area that will be sheltered from cold winter winds. 

Lenten rose is one of the easiest plants to grow, requiring little care. Watering the plant during dry periods in the spring and summer will be your most time-consuming task. The new foliage emerges just in time in early spring to take over for the old leaves, which may be tattered by this time. Trim off the old leaves when these new leaves arrive.

Amend the soil with compost to improve the vigor of the plants, or fertilize with manure tea. You can divide the clumps in spring to gain additional plants, or propagate from seedlings that have sprouted up. 

Problems

There are very few problems with Lenten rose. Leaf spot and crown rot are occasional problems, but the plants are immune to most pests, including deer and rabbits.