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Mailbag: Caring for hellebores -- winter's flowers

Hellebores actually bloom during winter.

Hellebores actually bloom during winter. Photo Credit: Perennials.com

Hi Jessica:

We have two hellebores in our yard. They are in full bloom and doing beautifully. In Sunday's LI Life section on your monthly calendar, you said that old hellebore foliage should be trimmed back now. My question to you is this: Since our hellebores are doing so nicely and have no dead leaves, etc., do we still need to trim our plants back? My feeling is that since they are blooming so nicely and look just fine we should leave them alone. Correct or no?

I was looking at them this morning as I left for work -- they look amazing and it is such fun to see them blooming so beautifully in the middle of the winter. They do not bloom again though, right? Only in the winter. -- Pam Schleifman, Selden

Correct on both counts. Leave them alone. They're a little ahead of schedule this year because of the weather. Cutting away dead brown leaves is more for appearance and insect management than the health of the plant. If you have no dead leaves, there's nothing to cut.

There are two types of hellebores: those commonly called Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) and those called Christmas rose (Helleborus niger). They both look very similar but one blooms earlier, as its name would imply (though not always as early as Christmas). The foliage is mostly evergreen, and the flowers typically last a very long time -- often straight through the end of spring -- but they don't rebloom.

Both types prefer slightly acidic soil and respond well to an application of slow-release fertilizer in early spring.

Enjoy them -- I'm enjoying mine! -- Jessica

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