Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
March, 2012
Regional Report

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Lenten roses send up flowering stalks in the cool of winter and the deer won't bother them.

Lenten Rose -- A Winter Blooming Winner

The weather has been unkind to man and beast, with snowstorms twice a week followed by bone chilling winds. Despite the snow and cold, it is no match for my winter-blooming Lenten roses or hellebores. Add to that, they're deer-proof!

Lenten roses like it cool when they bloom and this makes the flowers last for several weeks. Even as seed pods start to develop, the flower petals will hang on well into spring. I've had Helleborus orientalis varieties growing in my garden for years and the evergreen foliage adds interest even in the driest of winters. The leaves do get tattered with winter winds if there is no snow cover, but that won't deter the flower stalks from emerging when their internal clock sends out the signal.

This underused perennial makes a great plant under large shrubs including roses, low-spreading trees such as river birch, or in perennial beds tucked near large stones to accent the winter landscape. It's best to plant them where they can bask in morning sun and relax in afternoon shade. That's what makes them good choices for a woodland garden where small to medium-sized trees will cast some shade in the heat of the afternoon. They prefer afternoon shade to keep the foliage from withering.

Combine Lenten roses with early spring bulbs including snowdrops, crocuses, grape hyacinths, and winter aconites. They are well suited to a low maintenance shade garden as they are tolerant of some neglect.

There are many Lenten roses to choose from blooming in shades of burgundy to pink. Some blossoms have speckles while others are plain. My first planting was of Helleborus niger, whose white blossoms develop a tinge of pink as they mature. Then, at a Garden Writers symposium, I was introduced to some named hybrids including 'Pink Frost', the Winter Thrillers series, 'White Lady' and 'Red Lady'. Now, I'm hooked on trying new introductions and increasing their numbers in my garden.

I lift and divide Lenten roses in September as the temperatures cool down. The flower buds are already formed for next year and most of my new transplants bloom the following spring. Don't be surprised if the smaller divisions take a rest from blooming for a year after transplanting. Once acclimated, they'll be back to blooming each year.

Seedlings are prolific in my garden and start blooming with a few years. However, if you want to maintain special hybrids and colors, take time to remove seedlings or they can take over the garden quickly, as they once did in one of my garden beds.

Lenten roses do best in compost-enriched soils that are well drained. Trying to grow them in heavy clay or soils that stay too wet will mean certain death for these winter beauties.

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