Christmas Rose – Helleborus niger

Christmas Rose is an evergreen perennial usually grown in the garden border for winter colour. It makes a good show grown in patio tubs or window-boxes and can be brought indoors for short periods if kept in a cool position.

Christmas Rose grows wild in Central and Southern Europe and is hardy in this country, although the flowers may need protecting from wind and rain as they begin to open. It likes a semi-shaded position and can be increased by division or from seed.

Christmas Rose blooms from December to March with saucer-shaped white flowers 5cm (2in) across which may have a pink or green tinge. The plant grows up to 30cm (12in) high with leathery, dark green leaves divided into seven or nine leaflets. Cut flowers are long-lasting.

Two forms of Helleborus niger are available with larger flowers than the type species. ‘Potter’s Wheel’ has glossy leaves and white flowers up to 13cm (5 in) across, and blooms from January onwards. ‘Maximus’ is 38cm (15in) high, blooming from December to March.

Through The YearChristmas Rose - Helleborus niger

April—June

After flowering, repot mature plants when they begin to look crowded. Divide the roots of large clumps with a sharp knife and pot up into separate containers. Use a soil-based compost and add sand for drainage.

July—November

Water generously in summer and don’t let the compost dry out. Keep the plants in partial shade as direct sunlight will scorch the leaves. As soon as temperatures drop in autumn, reduce watering and keep the compost barely moist.

December to March Buds should begin to show during December. Shelter the buds from rain and wind as they open by covering pots with a bucket or polythene cloche. See that the protection doesn’t touch the foliage. Remove the covering daily for ventilation.

Pests And Diseases

Aphids can attack young shoots and buds. Treatment: Spray with strong jets of cold water to dislodge the aphids. Use a suitable insecticide for severe attacks.

Holes in the leaves and damage to stems is caused by slugs and snails. Treatment: Remove slugs and snails by hand as pellets can kill cats, dogs and wildlife.

White deposits on the leaves are caused by powdery mildew.

Treatment: Water outdoor plants generously during hot, dry weather. Spray plants with a systemic fungicide such as benomyl or triforine at regular fortnightly intervals.

PLANT CARE

Keep indoors in a cool spot for short periods only. Grow in a shady position in a patio tub or window-box and protect from direct sun which will scorch the leaves.

  • Potting: Use a soil-based compost with added sand for drainage. Repot mature plants after flowering if they begin to look cramped in their present container.
  • Water generously during the growing period of spring and summer. Reduce watering in winter, giving just enough to prevent the compost from drying out.
  • Feeding: Feed tub and window-box plants with a liquid fertilizer every 14 days during the growing period.

BEST GROWTH ENVIRONMENT

  • Light: Christmas Rose likes a semi-shaded position. Indoors, keep potted specimens in a bright place, preferably in an unheated room or conservatory. Move plants outdoors again as soon as the flowers begin to fade.
  • Temperature: Christmas Rose is frost-hardy.

Buying Tips

  • Buy plants during October and November from garden centres and specialist nurseries. Seeds are available but may take many months to germinate.
  • Choose a named variety like ‘Potter’s Wheel’ if you can, buying sturdy, compact plants with undamaged foliage.
  • Christmas Rose is a perennial and will live for many years.

The traditional white flowers of Christmas Rose appear in late December. Grow the plant outdoors on the balcony or patio and bring a pot indoors for the Christmas festivities.

Although usually known as the Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger does not belong to the Rose family but is, in fact, related botanically to the buttercup. However, the name Christmas Rose sounds attractive and is undoubtedly one of the reasons why the flower is so popular.

There is no difficulty in securing from established plants really pleasing pure white flowers, and if they can be covered with cloches or hand-lights from the time the buds begin to develop the pure whiteness of the blooms is preserved. With this protection there is no difficulty in obtaining blooms at Christmas.

The plant should be given a fairly rich, deep loam with a good leaf-mould content. If grown in a partially shaded site and under the shelter of trees, shrubs or a wall, they will thrive and luxuriate without difficulty. They do however like moisture when in growth, so that it is useless planting them where they will have to put up with drought.

The dividing of plants can be done in the spring when they are in full growth, each division replanted having a good root-stock with two or three buds. Where beds are being planted up, anything from 18 to 24 in. should be allowed between plants and rows. Propagation can also be effected by seed which should be sown in pans or boxes under glass as soon as ripe. When big enough to handle, the resultant seedlings should be pricked out on to a shady border.

Where the blooms are required for indoor decoration, the stems should be placed in water immediately after cutting, and if this is done they will usually last in good condition for 14 days or more.

Apart from Helleborus niger, varieties which demand attention include altifblius or maximus, of which the large white flowers appearing from December until March are more or less tinted rose on the exteriors of the petals. This is less easy to obtain than H. niger itself, but well worth hunting for, since it is particularly good when seen in bowls and vases.

The other form of Helleborus niger is the ‘Bath’ variety, which many years ago was actually grown at Bath especially for market work. It is a robust-growing plant with handsome foliage and really large pure-white flowers appearing during January and February.

Helleborus orientalis is the Lenten Rose, which flowers from February to May, according to variety. The stems are anything from 6 to 12 in. high. The colour range, while not bright, takes in white, purple, pink and green; there are also spotted varieties. Not suitable for every purpose, green or purple blooms are of great value in certain arrangements. Sometimes the blooms of Helleborus orientalis droop quickly; the answer is to plunge the stems into water immediately they are cut. If they are severed while actually being held under water, so much the better. It is also possible to use just the flower-heads themselves in floating bowls. The time to move the plants is after flowering or in September.

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