Lenten rose: varieties, location & care of the early bloomer

Alina
Alina
Alina
Alina

For many years now, I have been growing various vegetables as a hobby in my spare time, which is what ultimately led me to studying horticulture. I find it fascinating to watch as plants grow from seed to fruit and to then finally be able to make use of the literal fruits of my labour.

Favourite fruit: Strawberries and cherries
Favourite vegetable: Potatoes, tomatoes and garlic

Lenten roses are one of those plants that open their beautiful flowers very early in the year, bringing some colour to an otherwise monotonous landscape.

Many flowering lenten roses
Lenten rose hybrids offer a wide range of flower colours [Photo: Natalia Greeske/ Shutterstock.com]

The Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) blooms in a variety of colours as early as February. The species found in gardens are mostly hybrids, that is, crosses of the Lenten rose with other species of the Helleborus genus. The Lenten rose is a very uncomplicated, low-maintenance perennial that looks very similar to the related Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) but they flower at different times.

Lenten rose: flowering time and description

The Lenten rose is also commonly called oriental hellebore and belongs to the Ranunculaceae family. Native to Turkey and the Caucasus, this herbaceous perennial can reach a height of between 30 and 40 cm, growing rather slowly and forming rhizomes that allow it to survive well in the local winter.

CautionHelleborus orientalis are poisonous.

The leaves of the evergreen Lenten rose grow basally. Their surface has a leathery appearance, and the leaf edge is serrated. The colour changes from light green to dark green after budding. The plant’s old foliage only dies when the new leaves begin to sprout. The flowers of the Lenten rose typically have five ordinary petals, but there are also hybrids with double flowers. As for flower colours, oriental hellebore is very diverse due to many years of breeding, so you have a wide range of colours to choose from. When the flower fades, the colour changes to green. This also enables these plant parts to perform photosynthesis. After fertilisation, the fruits of the Lenten rose develop. The perennial is also insect-friendly and especially appealing to wild bees because it blooms when there are few other food sources available. However, this is only partially true for double flowering varieties.

When does the Lenten rose bloom? The flowering period of the Lenten rose usually extends from February to April.

Pink and green lenten rose flowers
The flowers turn green to photosynthesise [Photo: simona pavan/ Shutterstock.com]

What is the difference between the Lenten rose and Christmas rose? The Lenten rose and Christmas rose are two different species of the same genus and look very similar. However, they differ in the time of flowering because, as the name suggests, the Christmas rose blooms at Christmas. In addition, unlike the Lenten rose, the Christmas rose bears pure white flowers, and the requirements for the planting site are also somewhat different.

Lenten rose varieties

The majority of oriental hellebores are hybrids. However, there are a lot of them, so you have a variety of beautiful Lenten roses with different coloured flowers to choose from.

  • Helleborus x hybridus ˈDouble Ellen Whiteˈ: this variety has delicate white double flowers. It blooms from January until April. In a good location, it reaches a height of about 40 cm and a width of 50 cm.
Hellebrous orientalis with full, white double flowers
The full double flowers of this variety make it look quite extravagant despite its delicate colouring [Photo: Nick Pecker/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Helleborus x hybridus ˈBlue Metallic Ladyˈ: the metallic purple-blue shimmer of the flowers makes this variety special. This bee-friendly perennial blooms from February to April and grows 30 to 40 cm tall.
  • Helleborus x hybridus ˈWhite Spotted Ladyˈ: this variety impresses with its exciting flower colouration from February to April. Petals are white with a red pattern. The cultivated Lenten roses from the Lady series have excellent growth characteristics.
White and pink-red lenten rose flower
‘White Spotted Lady’ is a variety with beautiful contrasting colouring [Photo: Scott F Smith/ Shutterstock.com]

How to grow Lenten roses

Lenten roses thrive in sunny to semi-shady locations. It is happy both in flower beds as well as at the edge of wooded habitats, under sparse shrubs and deciduous trees. These perennials prefer fresh, well-drained, humus-rich soil that occasionally dries out a little. Loosen the soil deeply before planting to make it easier for the Lenten roses to spread their roots. Also, work a little lime into the soil to improve it.
Plant the evergreen perennial between autumn and spring as this is the main root-growing period and will allow the oriental hellebore to establish itself well in its new location. Space Lenten roses about 50 cm apart so that they have plenty of room to spread. They prefer to be planted alone or in small groups. When planted in a suitable location, the Lenten rose will thrive and delight with its flowers for years. 

Can you grow Lenten roses in pots? Yes, oriental hellebores grow well in containers. Here, you must consider how much the perennial will develop over time. Choose a pot that is at least 25 to 30 cm in diameter and if possible, divide the plant every two to three years to give it fresh life. Use a high-quality flower compost as a substrate. Our Plantura Organic Flower Compost already contains the optimum mix of compost, coconut and wood fibres, expanded clay, and specific, primarily organic, vegan fertiliser.

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How to care for Lenten roses

The Lenten rose is particularly at risk of suffering from drought in sunny locations. It can survive shorter periods of drought but also indicates when it is too dry by producing fewer flowers. Therefore, during these phases, water regularly to keep the soil moist. However, it is beneficial if the substrate can occasionally dry out because constant moisture can cause root rot.

Remove any wilted, brown or black leaves before flowering to prevent hellebore leaf spot disease from developing or spreading. Furthermore, remove the fruiting stalks after fading to avoid seeding and to channel the plant’s energy into the leaves and root ball. The Lenten rose can also be used as a cut flower. Cut it when the flower is slightly open, and it will last about a week in a cool place. To extend the shelf life, change the water daily and trim the stems. Lenten roses look great in vases next to other spring bloomers such as daffodils (narcissus) or hyacinths (hyacinthus).

Colour bouquet of lenten roses
Lenten rose flowers look great made into a flower arrangement [Photo: Dora Zett/ Shutterstock.com]

For an optimal supply of nutrients, feed the Lenten rose in spring before flowering by applying compost or using a high-quality slow-release fertiliser such as our Plantura Flower Food. This strengthens your plants with a balanced nutrient composition and provides soil care due to the high organic content, which is very beneficial to the health of the Lenten rose in the long term. For soils lacking in lime, work in some lime in autumn

Plantura Flower Food
Plantura Flower Food

With a long-lasting effect, for healthy soil, child & pet friendly

Lenton rose winter care

Lenten roses are very hardy, as they are classified in winter hardiness zone H6 and can withstand temperatures down to about – 23 °C. However, it does not hurt to protect younger plants with a layer of leaves or brushwood. Wrap Lenten roses growing in pots with fleece or film and place the pot on a polystyrene plate. Do not forget to give your Lenten roses some water on frost-free days during the winter too.

Purple lenten rose under snow
Helleborus orientalis copes well with winter temperatures [Photo: Andriy Kananovych/ Shutterstock.com]

How to propagate Lenten roses

Lenten rose can be propagated well by dividing and sowing.

Lenten rose propagation 

The plant can be divided in autumn or spring after flowering. To do this, dig up the rhizomes of the perennial and cut into several pieces with a sharp knife or spade. Young plants can often be easily divided without tools. When doing this, make sure that there are enough leaves, buds and roots on each part. Plant the sections in a new home and water thoroughly. If you divide the hellebores in autumn, protect the plants from the winter using leaves or fir branches. Well-rooted cuttings usually bloom the following year.

Lenten rose seeds

You can leave the Lenten rose to reproduce itself or take matters into your own hands. However, the first flower will first appear after two to three years. For propagation, take the ripe seeds from the withered fruit clusters. Either sow the oriental hellebore seeds directly outdoors or in pots and cover lightly with soil. It can take a lot of time before the first sprouts appear. Keep the soil moist but not wet. Keep seedlings in pots outside in winter in a sheltered and covered place. Exposure to cold is necessary for germination.

Close-up of helleborus flower
The seeds in the fruit clusters should have matured by June [Photo: Kuki Waterstone/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: Lenten roses tend to cross species, so if you have different Helleborus species planted in your garden, you can look forward to the results when propagating via seed.

Are Lenten roses poisonous?

All parts of the Lenten rose are classified as highly toxic for humans and animals due to the saponins they contain and the glycosides helleborein and hellebrin. Helleborein belongs to the group of cardioactive glycosides, which can lead to an increase in heart rate and a decrease in heart rate. Most of the substances are contained in the root ball. After consuming part of the plant, symptoms of poisoning may occur, such as nausea, dizziness, diarrhoea, and even cardiac arrhythmia. In the worst-case scenario, this can be fatal. The sap of the plant can also cause skin irritation and the scent of the perennial triggers sneezing in some people.

According to their site preferences, oriental hellebore fits perfectly into a woodland garden. Discover what makes a good forest garden and which plants thrive in them in our dedicated article.

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