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Hellebores brighten a winter garden

ONE OF MY FAVORITE wintertime treats is watching my hellebores bloom in my garden. Yes, they actually bloom in the winter. In our area, it can be anytime from January to May depending on the weather, but most often, they bloom beginning in late February.

They also are called the Lenten rose because they bloom during the Christian season of Lent. The flowers can be single or double and come in all shades of white, pink, red, purple and yellow; some are even spotted. Flowers can last six to eight weeks or more. 

Hellebores are not considered to be good cut flowers because the blooms nod downward, but you can cut individual flowers and float them in a bowl of water as a beautiful centerpiece.

Deer- and rabbit-resistant hellebores are evergreen and prefer to grow in part to full shade in rich, well-drained soil. They are considered extremely low maintenance once established. Hellebores are the quintessential woodland garden plants, looking right at home among ferns and hostas. 

New or recently divided plantings can take up to a year to establish and begin to bloom. Plants grow 12 to 15 inches tall and 2 feet wide. They rarely require dividing, although you may find a few seedlings that you can dig up and transplant. 

Though not necessary, cutting back older foliage just as flowers emerge in mid-winter can enhance the flower display. One caution: The leaves and stems are considered poisonous to humans if ingested.

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