Lenten rose is one of the first perennials to flower each new gardening year. The plant’s name comes from its typical spring bloom time in northern climates that coincides with the religious season of Lent. However, in South Carolina, Lenten rose may bloom earlier, often starting in late January. Lenten rose is the common name for hundreds of hybrid crosses of Helleborus species and their cultivars. The flowers of these species start pink, magenta, or white, and then gradually fade to light green. The flowers remain on the plant for several months.
For gardeners who need a plant to use under large deciduous trees, Lenten rose is an excellent choice. These tough perennials thrive in part to full shade and well-drained to dry soils. Lenten roses are mostly deer-resistant and provide a good option for gardeners with dense deer populations.
In the Lowcountry of South Carolina, plant heat-tolerant hybrids of H. orientalis. This species has medium green, sharply pointed leaves, while hybrids like Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ or Helleborus x ericsmithii often have thick, bluish-green leaves with rounded lobes. In the Midlands and Upstate, Christmas rose (H. niger) is another good option. This white-flowered species blooms from late fall to spring.
Lenten rose is relatively pest-free except for the leaf disease black spot. The hybrid hellebores, especially Helleborus x ericsmithii, tend to be more tolerant of black spot than H. orientalis. Remove old, diseased leaves in the spring when new growth or flower buds appear. Spray the fungicide Thiomyl once or twice a year to manage black spot during rainy weather.
For more information on growing Lenten roses, see HGIC 1185, Lenten Rose.