Do You Know the Secret to Lenten Rose?

March 9, 2010 | By | Comments (70)

 

Lenten rose 002

It’s no secret that the Grump loves Lenten rose, one of the two best perennials for shade (I’ll let you argue about the other one). It combines handsome, evergreen foliage with beautiful winter blossoms of pink, burgundy, red, purple, white, and green that last for weeks. But until he came to work for Southern Living more than two decades ago, Grumpy never knew the secret to growing them.

Fortunately, our former editor, John Floyd, did. And he shared it generously and often. Every time somebody proposed a story about Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis), he would say, “You know what the secret to growing hellebores is?” After a moment of confused silence, he would answer with great satisfaction, “Lime.” This happened over and over again, until the last time we were looking at photos of Lenten rose in a room filled with SL staffers.

“You know what the secret to growing hellebores is?” he asked.

The whole room responded, “LIME?”

Having grown Lenten rose over the years, I’ve come to doubt that lime’s so vital. Mine grow at the edge of the woods in soil made from decades of decomposed oak leaves. I’ve never limed them and I’ll bet the pH there is about 5.5. At Elizabeth Lawrence’s famous garden in Charlotte, Lenten roses she planted many decades ago have seeded themselves all over the place to the point of being almost weedy. No one limes them. At Sunshine Farm and Gardens in West Virginia, Barry Yinger grows thousands of hellebores in all different colors on hills blanketed by fallen leaves from tall hardwoods. Something tells me Barry doesn’t lime them thar hills.

People often make the mistake of thinking the conditions where a plant is native are the only ones under which it will grow. A good example is the shrubby herb, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), native to arid and limy soils around the Mediterranean. If you looked at it growing in Italy or Corsica, you might conclude that it requires dry, rocky, alkaline soil and full sun. However, in my garden, in grows like gangbusters in moist, acid soil with morning shade and afternoon sun. And we had 70 inches of rain last year. So what is the secret to rosemary? I’d say good drainage, temps that don’t drop below 15 degrees, and at least a half-day of good sun.

Gonzo plantsman Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC likes to turn conventional wisdom on its head too. Known for his incredible selection of hard-to-find plants, Tony puts each to the test. For example, if he hears a plants needs sun and dry soil, he plants it in shade and wet soil. Sure, he kills lots of plants, but he also finds lots that will grow where they’re not supposed to.

So here’s what the Grump thinks is the secret to growing Lenten rose.

1. Light shade

2. Fertile, well-drained soil containing lots of organic matter

3. Lime (not!)

In addition to mail-order nurseries like Sunshine Farm, many local garden centers now carry Lenten roses. Buying now while they’re blooming is the best way to assure you get the color you want. A single plant in a quart pot from the nursery may cost you 5-6 bucks, but don’t be put off. If you let the plant go to seed after it blooms, it will reward you with dozens of seedlings the next spring. After the seedlings develop several sets of leaves, they’re ready to transplant and your price per plant just fell through the roof.

Come See Grumpy!
Marriott Grumpy will be making a rare public appearance on Friday, March 19, at to address the Alabama Master Gardenersat their annual conference at the palatial Renaissance Hotel and Spa in Montgomery. He will be speaking at the Friday awards banquet about “Public Spaces & Beautiful Places,” and promises to enlighten and amuse. The conference is open to all interested gardeners. It runs from Thursday, March 18 through Saturday, March 20 and features many interesting speakers.For more info, goto www.alabamamg.org.

See you in the spa! I’m getting a seaweed body wrap.

COMMENTS

  1. Steve Bender

    Jade,

    Yes, I am on Twitter @grumpy_gardener.

    September 30, 2014 at 10:26 am
  2. Jade

    Hello there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay.
    I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

    September 27, 2014 at 11:08 pm
  3. Steve Bender

    Tom,

    Yes, you can divide them. They might suffer transplanting shock if you do it now, though, so you might want to wait until fall. You can also give away seedlings that come up around your plants.

    May 10, 2013 at 7:02 am
  4. Tom Shafer

    I’m new at Lenten Roses but I have two outside that have gotten quite big. Family members want some – can they be divided like you do Peonies? If so, what is the best time of year to do this.

    May 8, 2013 at 5:30 pm
  5. Steve Bender

    Kathy,
    I would fertilize them in spring using a slow-release, natural fertilizer like Espoma Garden-tone. You can find this at most garden centers.

    March 3, 2013 at 1:19 pm
  6. KATHY JOHNSON

    do you fertilize lenten roses? if so when?

    February 26, 2013 at 12:38 pm
  7. Steve Bender

    Kris,
    I would probably do this right after they finish blooming in late winter or wait until the fall.

    February 25, 2013 at 11:19 am
  8. Kris Askew

    Steve Bender-When is the best time of year to divide and move larger Lenten Rose plants?

    February 23, 2013 at 12:30 pm
  9. Steve Bender

    Vi,

    Yes. Remove all the ragged foliage to make way for new growth.

    February 20, 2013 at 3:46 pm
  10. Vi

    So do I cut back the brownish leaves in the spring when there is new growth in the center?

    February 16, 2013 at 1:59 pm
  11. Steve Bender

    Anna,

    The seedpods usually ripen and turn brown in summer. Then they’ll split open and drop seeds.

    January 22, 2013 at 1:25 pm
  12. Anna

    What time of the year do you find Lenten roses that have dropped their seeds & then plant those seeds elsewhere?

    January 21, 2013 at 3:31 pm
  13. Steve Bender

    Joan,
    Lenten rose is not an indoor plant. It needs some winter chill in order to bloom. Yellow leaves could be caused by poor drainage, too little light, or maybe spider mites. However, older leaves do die from time to time and are replaced. Still, I think you should move your plant outside for the winter.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:55 am
  14. Joan Russell

    I have a potted inside lenten rose, and the leaves are turning yellow. Any ideas?

    November 4, 2012 at 10:14 pm
  15. Steve Bender

    Sorry I’ve taken so long to answer, but I’ve been on vacation. Grumpy likes pine straw. It looks very natural, is plentiful in the South, keeps down weeds, and adds organic matter to the soil as it decomposes.

    October 29, 2012 at 4:53 am
  16. Marian Head

    Here in Shreveport I have gotten mixed advice as to muching with pine straw. What is your opinion or better still your very expdert advice.

    October 14, 2012 at 2:22 pm
  17. Steve Bender

    Brenda,
    Plant in fall or spring.

    October 8, 2012 at 10:51 am
  18. Brenda

    What time of year is good to plant these in the ground?

    October 6, 2012 at 11:20 am
  19. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Judy,
    If it just died down now, the prospects are not good.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:27 pm
  20. Judy Raby

    If a Lenten Rose dies down in a pot, will it come back?

    July 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm

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