This Rose Is Perfect to Grow Just in Time for Christmas

<p>Mantonature / Getty Images</p>

Mantonature / Getty Images

Helleborus niger, also known as Christmas rose, is a perennial in the Ranunculaceae family. The flower is neither a rose nor a flower that blooms at Christmastime in many regions, but it does bloom around Christmas in warmer areas, especially where the plant is native.

It gets its name firstly from its season of blooming, but also from old folklore that it suddenly appeared in the snow, growing from the tears of a young girl who lacked a gift to offer Christ in Bethlehem.

  • Blooming: The Christmas rose blooms in late winter or early spring in the more northerly parts of its range.

  • Flowers: Flowers are a beautiful pale white. Helleborus niger is grown as much for its foliage as for its flowers. The nodding flowers of the Christmas rose are also attractive, looking like rose buds before fully unfurling. They persist for a long time even after their color fades.

  • Foliage: The foliage is evergreen and affords multi-season interest. This attractive foliage is waxy, dark green, palmately divided into multiple leaflets, and forms a low-lying clump. Because of the beauty of the leaves, the Christmas rose makes a great ground cover when planted in mass.

Common Name

Christmas rose, black hellebore

Botanical Name

Helleborus niger



Plant Type


Mature Size

1 to 2 feet tall and wide

Sun Exposure

Full to partial shade in summer, full sun in winter

Soil Type

Moist but well-drained

Soil pH

Neutral, alkaline

Bloom Time 

Winter or early spring

Flower Color 

White, aging to a light pink, with prominent yellow stamens

Hardiness Zones

3 to 9

Native Areas 



Toxic to dogs and cats

Christmas Rose Care

Here are the main care requirements for growing Christmas rose:

  • Plant Christmas rose either in spring or fall. It is relatively easy to care for and will even become a naturalized plant under the right conditions in USDA zones 3 to 9.

  • Provide it with shelter from winter winds to keep the foliage from drying out. If the leaves do dry and turn brown, remove them as new growth begins to emerge.

  • Grow Christmas rose where it will receive full to partial shade in summer and full sun in winter.

  • Give this perennial good drainage and keep its soil evenly moist.

Photos from Japan, Asia and othe of the world / Getty Images
Photos from Japan, Asia and othe of the world / Getty Images


Proper site selection is important to keep its evergreen leaves healthy and avoid crown rot disease. Select a site with good drainage, a neutral or alkaline soil pH, full sun in winter, and full or partial shade in summer. Once planted in the right spot, ensure the Christmas rose's soil never completely dries out.


If Christmas rose gets too much sun in summer, its leaves will turn brown. But this plant likes full sun during its blooming period: in winter. If you grow it under a deciduous tree, you will get the best of both worlds (summer shade and winter sun), since deciduous trees shed their leaves in fall.


Give the plant a well-drained soil. Ground without good drainage can be made more porous by applying compost.


Keep the soil consistently moist but do not over-water. Newly planted Christmas roses are the most susceptible to drying out.

Temperature and Humidity

Christmas rose is a hardy plant. However, at the northern end of its range, Christmas rose can profit from mulching for the winter to protect it from drying winds. It tolerates a range of humidity levels.


Christmas rose prefers an organically rich soil. Dig compost into the ground around it annually in spring.

Types of Hellebores

The world of hellebores can be confusing to beginners seeking to purchase one at the local garden center. For example, another popular hellebore is the Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis), so called because, in some regions, it will bloom around the period of Catholic Lent. But since Christmas rose also blooms at this time in some locales, the use of these common names can be confusing.

To make an informed decision when buying, be sure to look for the botanical name and know for certain what features you're looking for. If you want very dark green foliage and an earlier blooming period, buy Helleborus niger.


The older leaves on Christmas rose will eventually become tattered. The best time to remove them is when new growth begins to emerge. These fresh leaves will come up between the older leaves. Cut the stems of the tattered foliage close to the base of the clump.

Propagating Christmas Rose

There are two ways to propagate Christmas rose: by division and by seed. It does not require division to keep it vigorous, but you can divide this perennial in late winter or early spring to propagate it.

  1. Using a spade, dig your Christmas rose out of the ground.

  2. Pour water over the rootball to wash off the soil, so you can see what you're working with. What you're looking for are buds on the crown.

  3. Before dividing, be sure that each division will bear at least two buds.

  4. Once you have determined where to make your cut, do so with a sharp knife.

How to Grow Christmas Rose From Seed

You can also grow Christmas rose from seed. The easiest way to do so is to collect the seeds produced by your plant as soon as you see them. Plant them in outdoor containers right away and keep their soil moist. Germination can occur as early as that fall. After germination, you can either leave them in the container or transplant them into the garden.

Potting and Repotting Christmas Rose

Since Christmas rose requires good drainage, begin by placing a layer of coarse gravel (small stones) in the bottom of your container.

  • On top of this, apply potting mix.

  • Fill the pot with the potting mix to within one inch of the top.

  • Dig a hole for your plant. When you plant the Christmas rose, make sure the crown is not buried (to avoid crown rot).

  • Tamp down the soil lightly around the crown and water well.

  • Keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged.

Overwintering Christmas Rose

Cold-hardy to zone 3, it is still best, at the northern end of its range, to mulch Christmas rose for winter protection for the roots. The drying winds of winter will not kill the plant, but they may turn the leaves brown, spoiling the plant's appearance temporarily.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

The main pests that eat Christmas rose are aphids and slugs. Inspect the undersides of the leaves for aphids; if you find any, spray with Neem oil. Slugs are easier to detect but also do more damage. There are methods for slug control that rely only on products found around the home, thereby keeping pest-control costs down. Luckily, the plant is resistant to deer damage.

The main diseases that infest Christmas rose are crown rot and leaf spot. Avoid crown rot by making sure, at planting time, that the crown of Christmas rose rests at or slightly above ground level.

Leaf spot is the less serious of the two diseases. Avoid:

  • Overhead watering

  • Watering in the evening

Common Problems With Christmas Rose

For the most part, Christmas rose's problems are related to moisture. Since you will be growing Christmas rose in the shade, there will not be enough sun to dry out the soil readily. This is why moisture-loving slugs can be a problem.

Moisture is also a contributing factor to crown rot and leaf spot. But these common problems with Christmas rose are easily addressed through proper cultural practices.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it called a Christmas rose?

As it is originally native to mountainous central Europe, Helleborus niger is often called the "Christmas rose" as it blooms during the winter around Christmastime in mild climates. There is also old folklore that it appeared in the snow, growing from the tears of a young girl who lacked a gift to offer Christ in Bethlehem.

Is the Christmas rose a perennial or annual?

The Christmas rose is a perennial and will come back every year after dormancy.

Where do Christmas roses grow best?

Christmas rose grows best underneath a deciduous tree. This way, it will have the shade it wants in summer and the full sun it wants in winter.

Read the original article on The Spruce.