Visiting a garden center at this time of year may reveal pots of white-blooming hellebores among the poinsettia, Christmas cactus and other holiday favorites. These hellebores are usually selections and hybrids of Helleborus niger, also known as the Christmas rose. It’s a perennial that typically blooms in December where winters are mild. In colder-climate gardens, the Christmas rose may bloom in late fall or in earliest spring. Helleborus niger and its cultivars are generally winter hardy in USDA Zones 4 through 9.
The Christmas rose’s natural bloom time, its large, clean white flowers and its deep green foliage has made it an easy plant to mix in among holiday decorations. (Note: They are poisonous if ingested.) Unfortunately, hellebores are not particularly suited to the conditions found inside most homes in winter. One problem is the air temperature. Hellebores prefer cool winter temps. Another problem is low light.
In any locale:
- Keep your potted Christmas rose in as cool a spot as possible when you aren’t enjoying it, preferably one with bright light. (That is, feel free to set it on the coffee table during your holiday gathering, but keep it on an enclosed porch, drafty entryway or other chilly area at other times.)
- Water sparingly, but do not let the plant get so dry that it wilts. Allow the soil to dry just somewhat between waterings, and avoid wetting the leaves. Wet soil and wet foliage can lead to disease on Christmas rose.
Where winters are mild and the ground does not freeze:
- Gradually move the plant outdoors, leaving it out longer each day in a sheltered area (such as right next to the house). This will prevent any shock.
- Once it is acclimated to staying out day and night, plant the hellebore in your garden. Hellebores prefer part shade and protection from afternoon sun. They need great drainage.
Where winters are cold and the ground freezes:
- Keep the hellebore in as cool an indoor spot as you can offer. Bright light is preferable, too.
- If the foliage begins to yellow, find a colder spot to keep the hellebore, such as a garage or a sheltered spot outside.
- Continue to water sparingly and carefully.
- As spring approaches, begin transitioning the hellebore outside, treating it as you would seedlings that you’re hardening off.
- Once it is acclimated to staying out day and night and the danger of a freeze has passed (danger of frost is okay, though), plant the hellebore in your garden. Choos a spot with part shade and protection from afternoon sun. Excellent drainage is key.
- If despite your efforts your hellebore “houseplant” doesn’t survive its winter indoors, use it as inspiration to purchase and plant new hellebores in spring—for the garden only.
Image by Ghita Katz Olsen via Flickr — License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0