In the Garden:
Lenten roses light up early spring and hold their nodding flowers for up to three months.
If your yard includes a large shade tree, it should have some hellebores growing under it. These hardy perennials thrive in moist shade, bloom in late winter when flowers are most appreciated, and form an evergreen ground cover that goes perfectly with ferns. The most colorful species, Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis), is also incredibly easy to grow.
Hellebore blossoms naturally nod downward, so they're easiest to admire when grown on a slope or in a slightly raised bed. Otherwise, you may have to get down on your hands and knees to get a close look at their intricately freckled petals. If you cut hellebore stems to display in a vase, sear the stem ends with a flame to seal in the sap and help the flowers last longer.
Hellebores thrive on two things: water and shade. Planting under trees usually provides plenty of shade, but plants tend to dry out in summer. To make sure they get plenty of water, dig compost into the soil before planting and install a soaker hose in the bed.
You will probably need to mix lime into the soil, too, because hellebores prefer soil with a neutral pH. Soil beneath trees in our area is typically acidic, though it's wise to do a quick pH test to make sure before you break out the lime. Don't worry - the lime won't harm the trees.
Leave Them Be
Once planted, hellebores like to be left alone. Maintenance is limited to trimming off tattered leaves in late winter. The plants never need to be dug and divided. It's also smart to let the flowers remain on the plants until they develop mature seeds. When allowed to reseed, hellebores grow into lush colonies that become stars of the woodland garden. To ensure strong growth, fertilize established plants lightly in spring and surround them with a 2-inch-deep organic mulch to help retain soil moisture.
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