By late winter, the foliage of Lenten roses tends to look rather weather-beaten, even tired. For a plant that gives so much, I’ll forgive it for that.
This popular perennial does such good work through the year that spending time this month tidying up the foliage doesn’t seem like a burden. And the rewards are great.
Not all of the foliage will be so tatty that it must be removed, but the older foliage is likely to need this attention. It is a down-on-the-knees job that requires hand pruners or heavy shears to cut the chosen stems and leaves back to the base of the plant. Do this one stem at a time. You will likely notice new stems and even buds of this year’s flowers at the base. Some may already be rising, so take care not to cut or bruise them.
While you are down at ground level, notice whether any seedlings have emerged. One of the assets of Lenten roses is their capacity to set and drop seeds that rapidly produce new plants. These can be transplanted at any time except in the heat of summer. Many gardeners have expanded their collections and given away plants that emerged from seedlings dropped by established plants.
This is a remarkably undemanding plant that prospers in such difficult conditions as dry shade under the canopy of large trees with shallow roots. They seem to carry on without complaint, though gardeners often give them a shallow topping of compost in late winter or early spring.
Working compost into the soil at planting time and watering in the hottest, driest stretches of summer are what they need. I have never seen a pest on them. Grouping them with other shade-loving plants such as hardy ferns is lovely, particularly for the contrast in the color and texture of foliage. Saving room for such shade-loving summer flowers as bedding begonias or impatiens will add colorful seasonal interest.
The botanical name of Lenten rose is Helleborus orientalis and its greenish-white and pinkish-purple flowers distinguish it. However, in recent years, much hybridization has been done to breed new, vivid and different colors. These show up as named varieties of Helleborus x hybridus, which was the Perennial Plant Association’s Plant of the Year in 2005. They are beautiful plants with flowers that may be red, dark purple, pink, yellow and cream. Someone who enjoys Lenten roses will likely be attracted to these modern hybrids for their collection.
Q. My edging of monkey grass looks terrible. Is it too early to cut it back?
A. This work should be done in February so the shearing is finished before new foliage begins to rise. You can do it now or wait a few weeks, but you must be content with the sheared look in the meantime. The fresh leaves will look very good and you will be glad you did this work.