Ciscoe Morris suggests sprucing up your old Helleborus orientalis (Lenten rose) by cutting the old foliage back to the new stems emerging at the base. Treat Botrytis on helleborus before it ruins the plant. It is not too late to shape up a hedge.

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It wasn’t that long ago when Helleborus orientalis (Lenten rose) was available only with single nodding flowers in limited colors. Now, thanks to an amazing hybrid program, nurseries are able to offer varieties with spectacular multi-petaled, upward-facing blooms that come in practically any color imaginable, even black!

If you buy a new one, you won’t need to cut the foliage back until next year.

If, on the other hand, you have an established Lenten rose growing in your garden, it’s time to cut the old foliage back to the new stems emerging from the base. The new foliage will grow up fresh and attractive, but if you leave the old growth it will soon turn ratty and detract from the appearance of the plant. The old leaves also often harbor botrytis, a fungus disease that causes brown spots on foliage and the flowers, and are best removed to help prevent spread of the disease.

Best of all, once the old foliage is out of the way, the soon-to-form blooms will show up better and you’ll get to enjoy the long-lasting flowers from winter into spring.

Prevent disease

on hellebores

Botrytis is a fungus disease that attacks a wide variety of plants, and as mentioned above it often shows up on Lenten rose, as well as other varieties of Helleborus.

Favored by cool, wet weather, botrytis first appears as water-soaked spots on leaves and stems but soon enlarges to form dry, brown blotches. In severe cases, the disease can attack the flowers, making them unsightly and short-lived. Fortunately there’s an easy way to prevent botrytis from ruining the appearance of your hellebore.

Pick up some ½-inch lime chips and simply spread them about a half-inch thick under the entire plant. The chips prevent disease spores from splashing up on the foliage and they sweeten the soil by raising pH, which is beneficial for hellebores. Manufacturers Mineral, 1215 Monster Road S.W. in Renton, is the only place in Western Washington I know of that has lime chips. The chips are inexpensive (less than $5 per bag) which is lucky, because you’ll need the money you save to pay for a chiropractor. The smallest size is a 50-pound bag!

Neaten up

your hedge

If you didn’t neaten up your hedge in the fall, there’s no reason to leave it ragged and uneven-looking. This is the perfect time to don the hedge shears and neaten it up. When shearing the hedge, remember to trim so that the bottom is slightly wider than the top, or the lower section will become bare for lack of sun. If your hedge has grown bigger or wider than desired, wait until spring to do major renovation by cutting back drastically to bare wood. Hard pruning at this time of year won’t do serious harm to your hedge, but new growth won’t grow back to cover the bare wood until spring, leaving your handiwork there for your neighbors to appreciate all winter long.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com. “Gardening with Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.