Transplanting A Hellebore – When Can You Divide Lenten Rose Plants

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Hellebores belong to a genus of over 20 plants. The most commonly grown are Lenten rose and Christmas rose. The plants primarily bloom in late winter to early spring and are excellent specimens for a shady location in the garden. Dividing hellebore plants is not necessary, but it can enhance flowering in older plants. Division is not only a great way to propagate hellebores that have become old, but you can also easily repot the numerous babies the plant readily produces each year.

Can You Divide Lenten Rose?

Hellebores form dusky bronze to creamy white blooms. They are native to central and south Europe where they grow in poor soils in mountain regions. These plants are very tough and need little care. They are hardy to zone 4, and deer and rabbits ignore them in favor of tastier treats. The plants can be a bit on the costly side, so knowing how to propagate hellebores can increase your stock without breaking the bank. Seed is one option, but so is division.

Starting hellebores by seed can be difficult, but out in nature these plant seeds grow prolifically. In most cases, though, it can take 3 to 5 years to get a blooming specimen from seed, which is why most gardeners purchase a mature plant that is already blooming. Or, as with most perennials, you can divide hellebores.

You need to make sure the plant is healthy and well established because the process will leave the pieces in a weakened state. Fall is the best time to attempt dividing hellebore plants. A new Lenten rose transplant from dividing needs to be monitored carefully and given some extra attention until the root mass adjusts.

Transplanting a Hellebore

The best time for division is when you are already transplanting a hellebore. These plants are fussy about being moved and it is best to do it only when necessary. Dig up the whole plant, wash off the soil and use a clean, sterile, sharp knife to cut the root mass into 2 or 3 sections.

Each little transplant should then be installed in well worked soil with plenty of organic matter in a partially shaded location. Provide supplemental water as the plant adjusts. Once each section is adjusted and fully back to health, you should have blooms the following season, which is far more quickly than propagation by seed.

How to Propagate Hellebores

The other way to get more hellebores is to simply harvest the babies from under the plant leaves. These will rarely get very large under the parent, as they are missing out on a lot of light and have competition for water and nutrients.

Repot the small plants in 4-inch (10 cm.) pots in well-draining potting soil. Keep them mildly moist in partial shade for a year and then transplant them to larger containers the following fall. Containers can be kept outdoors year round unless a sustained freezing event is expected. In such cases, move the young plants to an unheated area, like the garage.

After another year, install the babies in the ground. Space young plants 15 inches (38 cm.) apart to allow them room to grow. Wait patiently and around year 3 to 5, you should have a mature, fully blooming plant.

This article was last updated on

Read more about Hellebore

Lenten Rose Transplant: How To Propagate Hellebores Through Division - garden

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

This perennial often is just called “hellebore” from its genus name (Helleborus), and is not a rose at all. It gets this name from the fact the flowers somewhat resemble a small single rose, and it blooms in the north in early spring—the Lent religious season. There have been many improved selections introduced in recent years, and it was named the Perennial Plant of the Year for 2005 by the Perennial Plant Association.

There are about 15 species of hellebores, with four more commonly found, the most common being the Lenten Rose (orientalis) and the Christmas Rose (niger). The Christmas rose blooms much earlier in mild climates such as in Britain, hence its name. One of the legends about it concerns a country girl, Madelon, who visits the Christ child in Bethlehem. Seeing her sadness for not having a gift to bring him, an angel brings her outside and touches the ground. There arise blooms of the Christmas Rose that she can then present as a gift to the baby Jesus.

It is odd to have such a plant celebrate Christ’s birth, as this species and the other members of this genus are highly toxic. It is one of the four classic poisons, together with nightshade, hemlock, and aconite. In fact, the name hellebore comes from the Greek “elein” meaning to injure, and “bora” meaning food.

Use of hellebore dates back to 1400 BCE, when it was used as a purgative to “cleanse the mind of all perverse habits”. It is found in writings through the ages, from the ancient Greeks through the Middle Ages, when it was used by herbalists. It has been used for animal ailments, to bless animals and keep them from evil spirits, to repel flies, to “purge the veins of melancholy, and cheer the heart”, or even in one superstition to make oneself invisible if scattered in the air!

Hellebores are native to southern and central Europe, and from Slovenia to Macedonia. They are often found in mountains, and on stony clay soils. Although the Lenten rose is listed as hardy to zone 4 (-30 degrees F), and the Christmas rose to zone 3 (even colder), both are usually battered by or under the snow in these areas. Mine, in a cold zone 4, often start the spring in a sad state, with unattractive or few flowers, but rebound with nice leaves in the summer. Cutting back damaged spring foliage can result in new growth more quickly.

Most species are not as hardy, and most hybrids that one finds include these less hardy species as parents. These hellebores, often hybrids (x hybridus) with the Lenten rose prefer and grow best in mild climates, such as in Britain, our mid-Atlantic states, the Pacific Northwest, and even the upper Southern states. If you have a mild climate (USDA zones 5 to 6 or 0 to -20 degrees minimum), or a protected location, you may wish to try some of the newer hybrids. When buying from catalogs, look for hardiness zone designations.

Hellebores grow best in part shade, with moist but well-drained soils. They will, however, tolerate most soils as long as not waterlogged. In the north, if hardy, they can be grown in full sun if sufficient moisture. They need little fertilizer, just an application in spring of compost and perhaps a light sprinkling of a slow-release organic fertilizer (such as a 5-3-4 analysis).

Plants are slow to get established, but once they are growing they seldom need division, unlike many perennials. If you do want to divide, or need to transplant, September or October is best. Dig the whole plant, wash off soil, then divide with a sharp knife between growth buds. Leave at least 3 buds on each division.

When planting divisions, or even new plants in pots, keep the “crowns” (where stems join the roots) at soil level and no more than one inch deep. Prepare the soil well prior to planting, and deeply, as many have deep roots and they’ll likely be in the same spot for many years. Make sure not to mulch excessively (this can lead to rots) or cover with compost too deeply.

They grow well on hillsides and slopes. Since they are low (12 to 18 inches high), and flowers are at or below the leaves, they are better appreciated if placed in raised beds, along walks, or on slopes. Much breeding has focused on not only new and better flower colors, and larger flowers, but upward-facing flowers. To better appreciate the flowers you can cut them, and place in a vase with floral preservative.

Leaves are divided into leathery leaflets with coarsely cut, or spiny, margins. The nodding flowers, up to two inches across, are generally in shades of white, rose, green or purple. Some new hybrids have spotted flowers, others are quite double or bicolors or streaked. What we call the flowers are actually the sepals, the flower petals being inconspicuous. Flowers and leaves of some species, such as the Lenten and Christmas roses, are stemless-- they arise directly from the roots. Other species may have stems.

Plants are generally purchased, already started. As with other members of the Ranunculaceae or Buttercup family, growing from seeds can be difficult. The Christmas rose may be difficult to establish, not tolerate climate and cultural extremes, and may grow well in one area and not one adjacent. The Lenten rose is much easier to grow if you are just trying these plants for the first time. Check with local perennial nurseries to learn which of the many selections might grow best in your area.

Watch the video: All about Hellebore Lenten Rose! Spring Pruning, Planting, Transplanting, and Care!

Previous Article


Next Article