Flowering from late-November through March and requiring little maintenance, the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) is a popular winter bloom.
By C.L. Fornari
Dec 20 2016
The Christmas Rose | In Praise of HelleboresPhoto Credit : Pixabay
We may not have flowering rose bushes in New England gardens in December, but we can have perennials that are in bloom all winter. If you haven’t yet discovered hellebores, you’re missing out on one of the cold-season’s best plants.
There are several species of plants in the genus Helleborus, but the two most commonly planted in the Northeast are Helleborus niger and Helleborus orientalis. Hellebores are not related to roses, but are in the buttercup family. Because of when they flower, however, H. niger is commonly called Christmas rose and H. orientalis is referred to as a Lenten rose.
Hellebores grow well in part-shade and their foliage is evergreen. This makes them especially valuable plants for foundation plantings as well as shade gardens. In fact, since the Christmas rose can be in flower from late-November through March, try to plant these near entryways you use all winter. When you see round, cheerful flowers blooming every time you go out to fill your birdfeeder, you’ve got a plant that will cause smiles all winter long.
The Christmas rose has flowers that are typically white, pink or purple. Many varieties have flowers that start out white and then age to pink, lavender or green. Some are speckled or edged with darker colors and the flowers are quite long lasting. Interestingly, what we think of as the petals on a hellebore flower are actually the sepals that surround the actual bloom.
In addition to part-shade, the Christmas rose likes soil that is high in organic matter, so dig a good amount of compost or composted manure into the area before you place them in the ground. If your soil is very acidic work in some wood ashes or lime will help bring the pH up closer to the neutral range that Helleborus niger prefers.
Hellebores are very low-maintenance plants. Because these plants are evergreen they are seldom cut to the ground like other perennials. At most, any winter-damaged leaves can be removed in early spring. Fertilize hellebores with a general organic fertilizer in April and water deeply once a week in the summer.
The Christmas rose has become a popular holiday plant at garden centers and other retail stores. Although it can be kept in the house for awhile, they are perfectly hardy outdoors in all of New England, so don’t hesitate to plant them in the garden. If the plants you’ve purchased have been inside a store you will want to put your hellebore in a cold garage for a couple of days before planting so that the change in temperatures isn’t too abrupt.
And don’t worry about hellebores when they are covered with snow. They cope with the white covering and will even continue to bloom underneath the snow cover. Once the temperatures are warm enough those charming flowers will appear out of the melting snow.
Are you a fan of the Chirstmas rose, aka Helleborus niger?