Christmas roses (Helleborus niger) is a winter flowering perennial. It is native to central and southern Europe (USDA hardiness zones 4-8) and is not as winter hardy as lenten rose (Helleborus x orientalis). Christmas rose tends to flower 1 to 4 weeks earlier, around the Christmas holidays in southern climes (zones 7-8). New selections of H. niger are better garden performers than previous selections.
Large cup-shaped white or soft-pink flowers gradually age to a pale green color, but some individual blooms may take on a pinkish tint in cool weather. Colder than normal fall-winter temperatures frequently delays flower development.
Somewhat slow to establish, Christmas rose grows to 12 to 18 inches high and about as wide. Leathery dark green summer foliage loses much of its attractiveness through the winter months. Prune off basal (lower) leaves which age first. One-gallon size plants purchased in the spring and sited correctly start blooming within two winters.
Christmas rose performs best in partial sun to partial shade and in compost-rich, moist, low acid to mildly alkaline pH soils. Morning light exposure is best; avoid direct afternoon sunlight in southerly climes (zones 7-9). Keep plant(s) watered during long dry spells. Overwatering leads to plant decline and death.
This long-lived perennial rarely need to be divided. Christmas rose may prolifically self-sow nearby the “mother plant” and most seedlings should be grubbed out. Insects and diseases rarely trouble hellebores. Slugs and aphids are occasional pests.
Fertilize plants in early spring to stimulate new growth. Feed with a slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote™ or Nutricote™. An alternative is to feed bi-monthly (until mid-August) with water soluble products such as Miracle-Gro™, Nature’s Choice™, or Schultz™.
Their leathery leaves are utilized for winter holiday decorations. Caution: when handling plants, protect exposed arms and hands with a long sleeved shirt and gloves as foliage and sap are serious skin irritants.