Do You Know the Secret to Lenten Rose?

March 9, 2010 | By | Comments (86)


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

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


  1. Steve Bender


    Are you leaving the old flowers on long enough for the seed pods inside to turn brown and drop seeds? My Lenten roses seed like crazy.

    April 11, 2017 at 4:54 am
  2. Lillie Zimmerman

    I have had a lenten rose for about 10 years now and have never seen any “baby” plants around it. It blooms each year and the leaves stay pretty and green all summer. Do I have a hybrid plant that will not reproduce?

    April 8, 2017 at 2:10 pm
  3. Steve Bender

    It’s hosta.

    March 2, 2017 at 10:16 am
  4. Sally Jones

    what’s your other favorite shade-loving perennial?

    February 25, 2017 at 11:36 am
  5. Grumpy Gardener


    I’m not sure what a portable plant bed is, but in Zone 7, Lenten rose needs to be outdoors year-round.

    July 12, 2016 at 3:33 pm
  6. Arun

    I just received Lenten rose seeds which I bought online. It is July and I am in Zone 7 (hot and muggy) I was thinking about planting them in a portable plant bed and leaving them outside where we I get filtered sunlight for about 1-2 hour. Will that be suffice for me to get seedling. Thankyou for your input.

    July 9, 2016 at 8:32 pm
  7. Betty Myers

    For the last 3 or 4 years I had planted Lenten Rose. N I was very surprise that they spreads out n end up looking like a bush. They R Beautiful n come back every year . I have different colors n have many asking me if they R hard to grown. I just let them go do nothing but water if they need it. Not very often due to March weather. They come around the same time of my Spring flowers but as these plant die out my Helleborus R still going strong. Here is April n still blooming. They R so easy to grown.i had panted more n will come up next March.i live in WV in Harper Ferry on the mountain.

    April 14, 2016 at 9:25 pm
  8. Grumpy Gardener


    Seedlings usually bloom in 2-3 years.

    April 1, 2016 at 10:33 am
  9. Cricket

    Someone ask the question I am interested in but it was never answered (Ifg seeds are planted what is the time frame for age when they will bloom?

    March 30, 2016 at 12:13 am
  10. Bobbie Thompson

    I bought a plant in 1988, I now have beds around the yard (that nature planted) and a few that I started. Last year I moved a few to big containers since deer eat everything I plant in them .The plants are getting full sun and are huge. My yard is about 96 % shade and I have found that they do better with a little sun. FYI the f!owners make beautiful arrangements floating in shallow bowls or in glass containers. They also make great gifts (my version of thinning the plants).

    January 27, 2016 at 2:05 am
  11. Steve Bender


    This is natural. The flowers fade as trey begin to form seed.

    August 6, 2015 at 2:31 pm
  12. Debi

    I love the lenten rose. But why do my light pink flowers turn to green after a month or so.

    August 2, 2015 at 5:36 pm
  13. Steve Bender

    The easiest way to get more Lenten roses for free is to leave the seed pods on until they turn brown and drop their seeds to the soil. You’ll get dozens of seedlings sprouting around them the the next spring that are easy to transplant. Wait until the seedling has two sets of leaves to move it.

    January 25, 2015 at 8:46 am
  14. Connie

    I have some very very large lenten rose plants. I am making a new garden bed and would like to split some of them. Can I split them now? The plants they are selling in my local garden shop are $19.99 per quart!

    January 20, 2015 at 8:42 am
  15. Steve Bender

    Go ahead and plant them now. After they bloom in late winter, they’ll form seed pods full of seeds. Seedlings will then sprout all around the mother plants. When the seedlings have at least two sets of leaves, you can transplant them.

    October 28, 2014 at 2:29 pm
  16. Deb

    At what year do Lenten Roses produce flowers? I just purchased 2 “babies”.
    I live in Texas Zone 7… When should I transplant into the ground from pots?
    Thank you. 🙂

    October 18, 2014 at 2:11 pm
  17. Steve Bender


    Yes, I am on Twitter @grumpy_gardener.

    September 30, 2014 at 10:26 am
  18. 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
  19. Steve Bender


    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
  20. 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
  21. Steve Bender

    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

    do you fertilize lenten roses? if so when?

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

    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
  24. 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
  25. Steve Bender


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

    February 20, 2013 at 3:46 pm
  26. 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
  27. Steve Bender


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

    January 22, 2013 at 1:25 pm
  28. 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
  29. Steve Bender

    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
  30. Joan Russell

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

    November 4, 2012 at 10:14 pm
  31. 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
  32. 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
  33. Steve Bender

    Plant in fall or spring.

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

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

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

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

    July 10, 2012 at 1:27 pm
  36. 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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