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Helleborus niger – How to grow the Christmas Rose

Helleborus niger – the Christmas Rose – is a hardy evergreen perennial; winter flowering; white blooms; height to 12in with a slow spread; clump forming; dappled shade or woodland.

It is with good reason that the Christmas Rose Hellebore plant was awarded the AGM, for it is a superb winter flowering, low growing garden perennial. It has been given its common name because of its ability to flower in early winter – sometimes in time for Christmas – and lasting well into late winter or spring even.

Helleborus niger flowers are generally white, though they have tendencies to turn pink in part as the flowers age. It also has an attractive though somewhat insignificant light green centre to the blooms. This is normally hidden from view by the central rosette of anthers – which are an added attraction.

At most it will grow to 12in (30cm) tall – often less. The spread over the years is slow – forming a dense clump.
Photo by Carol Corney from my Facebook page. :-)

Christmas Rose flower groupThe flower buds emerge from the dark green glossy palmate evergreen leaves allowing the blooms to appear on short stems in winter and early spring. The leaves are evergreen and are quite attractive in appearance before – and after - the flowers. They are similar to widely-stretched open hands.

Unlike Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose) the Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) is happy to show off its white flowers face up forming a stunning clump in winter up to 12in (30) height and spread. It continues to spread with age – but slowly.

How to Grow and Care for Christmas Rose Plants

Helleborus niger – as with its cousin H. orientalis, is happiest when planted in a heavy soil – either neutral or alkaline but preferably not acid. It will withstand direct sunshine but is far better growing in dappled or light shade. Sandy and other light soils may be suitable if replenished annually with organic matter.

Christmas Rose is suitable for growing at the front of a herbaceous border – or further back midst the other plants.  In the middle of a border it will be shaded from direct sunlight by other plants throughout the summer, but will be very visible with its evergreen foliage and white flowers during the winter, once the herbaceous plants have died down.

Likewise, it can be planted amongst shrubs – preferable deciduous – again so that it will be seen in the winter and early spring. It is also a very suitable addition to woodland or other informal garden areas.

It will rarely need watering in the summer – even to the extent of the foliage almost collapsing in drought conditions. Organic matter as a mulch is normally all that is required by way of feeding and general care. Be careful not to cover the crown of the plant when applying mulch.

Hellebores – such as this one – are generally quite hardy, and are tolerant of temperatures that plunge below freezing. However, in coldest of areas, a build up of mulch surrounding the plant is a good idea.

Container Growing Helleborus niger.

They make admirable long term container plants – being moved into vision and even full light during the winter, then returning to a shaded during the hot summer months. Be careful not to over-water and take care with feeding. Regular feeding as is the norm with most container plants will lead to a glut of foliage at the expense of flower. Long term, slow release feeds such as bonemeal or Osmocote is preferred rather than regular liquid feeds.

Problems with Helleborus niger.

Snails enjoy the young foliage and have a good hiding place under the low evergreen foliage.

Aphids can be a problem but rarely severe. Be aware at flower bud time and especially in the early spring.

Propagation of Christmas Rose Plants.

Can be divided after flowering – every 2 or 3 years is about right – though not absolutely essential other than to obtain extra plants.

Grow easily from seed sown immediately it is ripe. Place in a cool greenhouse or cold frame.

It readily seeds itself, so young seedling plants can often be found in the vicinity.

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