Hellebores (also known as Lenten Rose, Christmas rose or winter rose) are one of the earliest blooming perennial flowers in the shade garden. They have evergreen foliage, gorgeous flowers and are very low maintenance. Which is why so many gardeners love to plant them in their woodland gardens. With these Hellebore care and planting tips, you’ll be growing Lenten rose in no time!
Lenten Rose is one of my most favorite plants.
But to be honest, this wasn’t always the case.
If you don’t want to hear my story of how I came to love Hellebores, you can skip right to the information you’re looking for:
I think it’s because most of the time when you see the plants in the store, they look kind of scraggly.
They can also be more expensive than other perennials and I couldn’t figure out what all of the hype was about.
Then I picked up a couple of Hellebores that were on the clearance table at one of the big box stores, just because I needed some plants that would grow in the shade and they were on sale.
I planted them in a spot that is definitely full shade. North side of the house under some large Camellias and facing the side of my neighbor’s house (which blocks out any remaining light that might have come through).
I still thought they looked pretty scraggly.
And I wasn’t really sure they would survive in that location.
So I was still asking myself…
Why would anyone want to plant Hellebores?
But then the miracle happened.
They not only grew in that super shady spot, they THRIVED!
My Hellebores started setting flower buds and blooming when everything else in the garden was still looking pretty dead…around the end of January here in South Carolina (it’ll be a little later in colder climates).
And they kept blooming all the way until early summer.
Add on that the leaves are evergreen, the plants require very little maintenance, and they have very few pests (even the deer and rabbits don’t like them!)…and I finally got it.
There’s a lot of reasons why so many people are Hellebore fans!
Where to plant Lenten Rose
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Zones: 3 to 9 (evergreen in zones 6 to 9)
Light: Partial shade to full shade
Bloom Time: Late winter/early spring to early summer
Height: 15″ to 18″
Spread: 18″ to 24″
Characteristics: Low maintenance, deer resistant, rabbit resistant
As I mentioned above, Lenten rose is really easy to grow, an early bloomer, and loves the shade.
Find them a spot under some trees or on the north side of your house where you’ll be able to see the Hellebore flowers in late winter.
They are a little finicky about being moved, so when you are planting them, try to choose a site that will be their “forever home”.
Also, they are poisonous if ingested, so don’t plant them where your pets (or kids) may try to eat them.
As with a lot of shade plants, this perennial grows best in rich, well draining soil that is moist but not soggy and high in organic matter.
Hellebores will suffer from root rot if they are left sitting in wet soil.
And the leaves get brown and tattered if they don’t get enough moisture. Although they are pretty drought-tolerant once established, and will start to grow new foliage after they get some water.
When and how to plant Hellebores
Plant Lenten Rose in the spring or the fall so the crown is just below the top of the soil.
Make sure not to plant them too deep or they won’t produce as many flowers.
Adding some compost around the plant will help it off to a good start.
Hellebores grow in clumps but will spread out a bit once they are established so leave them some room to expand.
Once your Lenten Roses are in the ground, there actually isn’t much else you need to do other than water them.
But in case you want more details, here are a few topics about caring for Hellebore plants people often ask about.
To be honest, I never fertilize my Hellebores.
They get an annual dressing with ground bark mulch and that’s about it.
However, if you like to fertilize your plants, mushroom compost, well-rotted manure or a balanced slow-release fertilizer that isn’t too high in Nitrogen will work.
As with most flowering plants, a fertilizer with too much Nitrogen will produce lots of leaves but limit the number of flowers.
The only pruning I do is to remove damaged leaves when I see them.
Since the Lenten Rose leaves are evergreen, you don’t even have to cut the plants back in the fall.
Some people say that removing the foliage in the spring makes it easier to see the blooms, but I have never done that. My gardening motto is always the less work the better 🙂
As I mentioned above, Hellebores don’t really like to be transplanted. So I try to avoid it.
But if you must move them, do it in the early fall when it isn’t too hot but they still have time to get used to their new spot before winter sets in.
Then be prepared that they may not bloom in their new location for a couple of years.
The same goes for dividing. Hellebores don’t usually need to be divided.
But if you want to split up a plant so you can spread it around your garden, I get it!
Do it in the fall and don’t be surprised if the plants don’t produce any flowers for 2 or 3 years.
Lenten Rose Frequently Asked Questions
There are a couple of other questions that I get asked often about Hellebores.
Do Hellebores spread?
The first question is if Hellebores spread or are invasive.
To answer that: Yes they do spread by rhizomes under the soil. But it’s slow and I have never found them to be invasive.
They do also self-seed (although not in an aggressive manner).
The new plants may not be true to their parents in flower color and take 3 to 5 years to start blooming (I guess that’s why they’re so expensive!).
If that concerns you, pull out the seedlings when you see them start to grow. (I don’t bother unless they are getting too crowded).
What do you do with the leaves in the summer?
The second question is…what do you do with the leaves in the summer?
This gets back to the reason I didn’t used to like Hellebores. The plants don’t always look so great when they’re not blooming.
My answer? You hide them.
I have two ways of doing this.
- Plant a bunch of Hellebores together. When there’s a mass of them, the leaves form a pretty thick ground cover and you don’t notice the shape of the plants so much.
- Plant them with other shade-loving perennials (like ferns and Hostas) that will help to hide the leaves later in the season.
Do Lenten roses like sun or shade?
Lenten roses do best in the shade.
But if you keep them well-watered, they can take more sun.
Are Hellebores toxic?
Yes, all parts of the Hellebore plant are toxic to humans and pets.
However, you would have to ingest a lot of them for it to be fatal.
The sap from the plants can cause minor skin irritation, so it’s a good idea to wear gloves when handling them.
Lenten Rose varieties
Once I was converted into a Lenten Rose fan and actually started looking for them, I realized another reason why so many people like them.
There is a wide range of Hellebore hybrids to choose from.
When I first started buying them, most of them didn’t have specific names, but were sold with the generic Helleborus x hybridus name and the type of flower.
There are single flowers.
And picotee double flowers.
You’ll still find a lot of them sold this way.
However since Hellebores have become more popular, there are a lot more named varieties available now.
These are a few of my favorites.
Purple Hellebore (Helleborus purpurascens)
Purple Hellebores are unique because of their color, which is a deep, dark purple.
It’s not a color that you find in very many flowers, and it definitely stands out in the garden. Especially when planted next to white-flowered Hellebores like the next one on my list.
Helleborus Winter Jewels “Rose Quartz”
Helleborus “Rose Quartz” is one of many varieties in the Winter Jewels series.
It has pure white petals with magenta edges that create a beautiful contrast against the dark green leaves.
Helleborus Winter Jewels “Peppermint Ice”
“Peppermint Ice” is another of my favorites from the Winter Jewels collection.
It also has white flowers with various degrees of pink to purple picotee edging.
The blooms tend to droop downwards even more than most Hellebores.
But the color extends onto the backs of the flowers so they still look beautiful!
Helleborus Wedding Party “Blushing Bridesmaid”
Helleborus “Blushing Bridesmaid” is part of the Wedding Party series of double Hellebores created by Walters Gardens hybridizer Hans Hansen.
He breeds them to have the best flowers and colors…as you can tell from the picture.
Where can you buy Hellebores?
Since Lenten Rose has become very popular, they are a lot easier to find than they used to be.
You can even buy them on Amazon* these days, although be careful that you are getting a potted plant rather than seeds, unless you want to wait 3 to 5 years for them to bloom 🙂
To be sure that you are getting good quality plants that are true to color, order from one of my favorite online nurseries:
- Etsy* – wide variety of nurseries to choose from (but you do need to watch for the seed sellers again)
- Wayside Gardens – pretty good selection of new varieties (this is where I got most of mine)
- Nature Hill Nurseries* – good selection of many different Hellebores
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Have comments or questions on how to plant and grow Hellebores? Tell us in the section below.
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This post was originally published on August 14, 2017 but was updated with new content on September 12, 2023.