Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus) is not a rose; it's a perennial hybrid hellebore belonging to the buttercup family. It is bred from crossing Helleborus orientalis with other closely related species. The two-part common name of Lenten rose refers to the plant's bloom season, which is around the Christian season of Lent that falls in late winter, and its rose-like flower buds.
Lenten rose is valued for its early-season blooms of traditional colors white to pink to light rose-purple and its leathery evergreen foliage. Many cultivars come in a wide variety of other colors such as dark purple, maroon, cream, and yellow. The blooms on some of the older heirloom varieties are downward facing, but the newer hybrids have upward- and outward-facing blooms.
The blooms—which are actually sepals similar to petals but longer-lasting—are usually two to three inches in diameter appearing on thick stems that rise above the foliage. The flowers can have variations in markings, such as margins of a different color, showy freckling, or veining. The flowers can be smooth or ruffled, depending on the cultivar.
Flowering initially occurs near ground level, below last year's leaves. It's a slow grower from seeds; it can take two to three years to mature into a flowering plant. Hellebores can be planted in early fall or late spring and have a long eight- to ten-week bloom period. Lenten rose is toxic to humans, dogs, cats, and horses. Deer bypass rarely damage this plant, so it is highly valued because of its deer resistance.
|Common Name||Lenten rose|
|Botanical Name||Helleborus x hybridus|
|Plant Type||Evergreen, perennial|
|Mature Size||12 to 18 inches tall and wide|
|Soil Type||Moist, well-drained, loamy|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic to alkaline (6.5–8)|
|Bloom Time||Late winter to early spring|
|Flower Color||White to pink to light rose-purple|
|Hardiness Zones||4–9 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans and animals|
Lenten Rose Care
Lenten rose is one of the easiest plants to grow. Keeping the soil moist and mulching in early winter will encourage the plants to thrive, but they can tolerate drier conditions once established. Plant them in early fall or late spring in a partial to full shade location and keep them sheltered from harsh winter winds.
This plant's shade tolerance makes it perfect for woodland gardens. Flower color becomes less vibrant as summer approaches and entirely fades by fall, but you can look forward to the persistence of the Lenten rose's sepals for about six months.
One of the best perennials for shade, hellebores will retain their vibrant sepals and foliage in shady locations. An ideal location for Lenten rose is under the canopy of a deciduous tree, which provides shade in the summer but allows plants to receive sunlight in winter when the trees drop their leaves. They do best when they receive some sun in winter but full to partial shade in summer.
This early spring bloomer prefers evenly moist, well-draining, fertile soil. Enrich the soil with compost to improve the vigor of the plants or fertilize them with manure tea.
Hellebores prefer evenly moist but not constantly wet soil; soggy soil can invite disease. Provide enough water to keep the soil moist during prolonged periods of hot and dry weather but once established, Lenten rose can tolerate dry conditions. You can expect that new plants will need about an inch of water per week if no rain is in the forecast.
Temperature and Humidity
Although its foliage is evergreen, the foliage can become scorched and tattered in extremely harsh winters. The plants will need winter protection to keep them safe during deep freezes. Lenten rose requires shade if you live in a zone with intensely hot, sunny summers. It likes constant moisture and grows well in humid climes.
Regularly amending your soil with organic matter is enough for a single specimen hellebore, but for larger plants or a cluster of multiple plants, lightly fertilize with a slow-release, balanced fertilizer in late winter as new foliage is beginning to emerge. If using liquid fertilizer, make sure it doesn't splash on the foliage because it can burn the leaves. If you accidentally splash some on the plant, use a steady stream of water to wash it off.
Types of Lenten Rose
Lenten rose cultivars produce blooms in a wide array of colors, but the basic plant form is identical. Other hellebore species are similar to the Lenten rose.
- 'Red Lady': Upward-facing, single petal flowers with a deep red hue or white with a pink blush
- 'Mrs. Betty Ranicar': Abundant snow-white double-petal blooms
- 'Windcliff Double Pink': Stunning double pink flowers and mounded foliage
- Helleborus niger : Commonly known as Christmas rose, this species produces white flowers sometimes flushed with pink that appear at Christmas time in warmer regions or in mid-winter in colder climates
- Helleborus argutifolius: Commonly known as the Corsican hellebore, it is seen growing along roadsides in Corsica and Sardinia and is known for its coarse but bold evergreen foliage and pale green blooms
Remove old, scorched, damaged, or dead leaves from the plant before the plant is in bloom (usually late winter to early spring). After blooming has finished, cut back flowering stems to their base to encourage new foliage growth.
Allow the healthy evergreen foliage to remain on the plant throughout winter. During the growing season, remove any browned and ragged foliage at its base. When the flowers have started to brown at their tips, cut them back to the bottom of the plant; the time of year depends on your zone and the growing season conditions.
Propagating Lenten Rose
Lenten rose is among the easiest plants to propagate. You can cultivate more plants through division or by sowing seeds. The best time to divide mature plants is in spring. A mature plant is about three years old and has flowered in the past. Division can make flowering more vigorous for the upcoming blooming season. Transplanted sections can develop into blooming plants in the first season, but some might not and might need the span of a growing season to recover from the shock of the division. Also, divided plants are likely to bloom at least one year sooner than plants grown from seed.
- Find a container or shady spot in your landscape or garden, a sterilized knife, and moistened, enriched, well-draining potting soil.
- Dig up a plant clump and divide it by cutting off a piece of the plant with a healthy root section and vigorous above-ground stems.
- Replant the division or place the container in a shady location.
- Water lightly a day or two after planting and keep moist.
How to Grow Lenten Rose From Seed
Lenten rose produces its seeds in the late spring. You can save seeds collected from faded flower heads for planting in summer or the following spring. If you don't deadhead its faded flowers, Lenten rose can reseed itself and spread to fill in an area; their attractive foliage makes them a gorgeous ground cover. Lenten rose will also naturalize under the right conditions.
If not sown immediately after collecting, Lenten rose seeds require a stratification period of at least three weeks of cold in order for the seeds to germinate. To artificially re-create these conditions, place the seeds in a clear bag, and store the bag in a refrigerator for three weeks.
To sow seeds, you can either prepare an area in a shady garden bed or prepare a container with moistened, enriched potting soil. Scatter seeds on the soil surface and gently press them into the soil. Seeds must be in complete contact with the soil, but do not bury them. These seeds need sunlight to germinate. Moisten the seed and soil surface. Keep the soil evenly moist and do not let it dry out. Seeds will germinate over the winter.
Potting and Repotting Lenten Rose
Lenten rose can be container grown, but they need pots that are least 12 inches wide and deep; the deeper, the better to accommodate the root system. Lenten rose gets stressed when it is transplanted into a container and might not produce flowers in that first growing season. The pots should have ample drainage holes, and if that means you need to put the pot on a footed pedestal to give it better drainage; it's worth the extra effort.
Although it's cold tolerant, this plant needs protection from harsh, cold winds. If the plant is exposed with no windbreak, protect the plants from cold winds with a light fabric covering or cold frame. Otherwise, it can tolerate cold temperatures. Usually, plants that are grown in containers need more protection than in-ground Lenten rose. Also, in the colder regions, provide a few inches of winter mulch, which you should remove before they start to bloom.
Common Plant Diseases
Lenten roses are a deer-resistant plant, but they are occasionally susceptible to leaf spot and crown rot. Use preventative fungicides early in the growing season to reduce fungal infections. Proper spacing will also help prevent fungal diseases from spreading among plants. This plant is relatively pest-free; its most significant threats are the occasional slugs or snails.
How to Get Lenten Rose to Bloom
Lenten rose can be planted in early fall or late spring and have a long eight- to ten-week bloom period. When growing a plant from seed, do not expect plants to produce blooms in the first year. It can take two or more growing seasons before flowers appear. Also, if you transplanted or divided your Lenten rose, it might not bloom for a year or two after that division.
To encourage blooming, spread a bit of compost around the plant or a light dose of fertilizer in the early spring. Also, if the plant is being grown in a container, make sure the plant is not rootbound.
Common Problems With Lenten Rose
Lenten rose is one of those plants that you can plant and forget about. If you situate it in the right spot, this plant can do the rest—and last for years. However, fungus can be a problem.
Black Marks on Foliage and Stunted Growth
If you notice black patches on the foliage or flowers, this sign points to the black death virus. This disease makes plants look stunted or deformed; plants will develop black streaks and netting patterns. As the name implies, this disease is deadly. Destroy this plant; it's not salvageable and can spread to other nearby plants. Aphids or whiteflies can spread it. Apply horticultural oil to any plant that has those insects to keep the virus away from any of your other plants.
Dry, Brown Blotches on Foliage
Botrytis is a fungus that favors the cooler, wet weather. It's also called gray mold. It starts as water-soaked spots on leaves and stems and evolves to form dry, brown blotches. In severe cases, the disease can attack the flowers, making them unsightly and short-lived. To prevent the fungus from affecting your plant, make sure the spacing between plants is adequate; crowding breeds fungal issues, as does soil that is too soggy or impaired by poor drainage. To treat the condition, spread 1/2-inches of lime chips around the base of the entire plant.
During hot summers or harsh winters, your evergreen plant might develop yellowed leaves. The Lenten rose can tolerate temperature extremes but might not rebound right away and will reflect its stress by the yellowing of its leaves or refusing to bloom. To encourage regrowth, trim off dead or dying leaves.
How long can Lenten rose live?
These plants mature slowly and are long-lived plants once established. They can live for more than 20 years.
What's the difference between Lenten rose and Christmas rose?
These two hellebores often get confused. Christmas rose is white-flowered (Helleborus niger) and blooms in December in warmer climates. Lenten Rose (H. orientalis hybrid) flower color is variable, ranging from white to pink to light rose-purple, frequently with interior spotting and blooms from late February into early March.
Where should I put Lenten rose in my house?
The plant needs sunlight but should stay out of the midday sun. You can situate the plant near a northern- or eastern-facing window.
Resources U of CA and N. Toxic plants (By common name).
Lenten rose. ASPCA.
“Helleborus Orientalis - Plant Finder.” Missouribotanicalgarden.Org, https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=d100