Dream on; only in the Deep South and
Southern California can you expect real roses to bloom even sporadically at Christmastime.
But the "Christmas Rose," Helleborus niger, will bloom in mid to late winter,
even when peeking through snow and ice. A warm, fall season can bring plants into color as
early as Thanksgiving.
Christmas Roses and Lenten Roses
Considerable confusion exists with home gardeners, between
Christmas roses and Lenten roses, Helleborus orientalis. You might think that
identification would be easy: Christmas roses should bloom at Christmas, and Lenten roses
during Lent. The only problem with this reasoning is that in USDA hardiness zones seven
and south, the seasons of bloom of the two species overlap considerably.
So it comes down to trusting the garden center where you buy your
plants. Enter the species and cultivar names from the plastic label on a durable metal
tag, because plants of the hellebores can be very long-lived. Count on their growing not
much higher than 12 to 16 inches.
Directions for Planting
The hellebores like adequate lime in the soil, and both like
shade--light shade in the North, and moderate afternoon shade in the South and West. Both
like plenty of organic matter worked into the soil before planting. The hellebores display
best if planted in groups of threes or fives. Set plants 1-1/2 to 2 ft. apart and they
will gradually grow together.
Care and Feeding
Hellebores don't like root disturbance, and can react to being
moved by not blooming for a season or two. But if they like their planting sites, the
clumps will thicken to yield dozens of blooms, and scores of seedlings will sprout around
mother plants. After the flowers have faded in the spring, sprinkle a cup of organic
fertilizer around each plant; it will help strengthen the root system necessary to set a
heavy crop of blossoms the following winter.
Be faithful about applying snail and slug bait around hellebores,
as their evergreen foliage will attract such critters when other perennials have gone
A Beloved Perennial
No other showy, garden perennial blooms during very cold weather.
You will be amazed at the punishment the hellebores can take, and keep on blooming.
Perhaps it helps that their flowers are on strong stems, and either face outwards or tip
down, which helps snow to slide off. There is a limit to their endurance, however; winter
lows of below minus 20 degrees farenheit can kill them, unless the crowns are protected by