The third week of February is when everyone goes hellebore crazy. These winter-blooming perennials are popping up all over. If you don’t have a hellebore blooming on your porch or flowering in the shade of your trees, than this is the week to get thee to a nursery and say hello to spring.
Here are the most asked questions about these heavenly plants:
Q. The leaves on my hellebore plant have black edges and are turning yellow and dying. Some of the flowers are now turning rotten and black as well. Help!
A. There is a fungus that infects hellebores when it is too wet or when there is poor air circulation.
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Cutting off the old leaves every January before the hellebores bloom is the best way to keep your plants disease-free. You should remove all leaves, stems and flowers of infected plants immediately. Cutting off everything ugly gives the hellebore the best chance of outgrowing the disease. Do not mulch right up to the neck of your hellebore plants and give them plenty of room to insure good air circulation. Some varieties are more susceptible to these leaf blights than others, so don’t give up if you lose a plant to blight. Loosen the soil and try again.
Q. I heard you speak, and you said hellebores need wide, deep holes for their thick and fleshy roots. My soil is very rocky, and I cannot dig big holes. Can I grow hellebores in containers?
A. Yes — even in a pot the growing enthusiasm of hellebores cannot be contained.
Just make sure the container is large and deep — at least 18 inches deep if you want the deep-rooted hellebores to prosper for more than a year or two. You also can purchase hellebores in plastic pots at the nursery and keep them in those pots for the season while you enjoy their winter blooms on a porch or patio. Then give them away or transplant them into a larger container, so the roots can spread out during the summer growth season.
Q. Once my hellebores are done blooming, do I need to cut off the faded flowers? What about that thick stem that holds the blooms?
A. No, it is not a law or even a demand of the hellebore that the faded flowers be removed.
Unlike some plants, removing the blooms will not encourage more flowers to form, and the dried petals are rather attractive. The other advantage of leaving the flowers to ripen is that they will drop seeds, and you can start your own hellebore varieties that may look different from the mother plant. Once the heat of summer arrives you will want to clip off the thick stem and faded blooms just to keep the plants tidy and to discourage any summer fungal infections.
▪ Feb. 15, 7-8:30 p.m. “The Unthirsty Garden and Landscape,” Blakely Hall, 2550 N.E. Par Dr., Issaquah. Free. Register at CascadeWater.org or just show up.