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Lentan rose loves place in the shade

Hellebore is a great water-wise choice for hard-to-plant spot: dry shade

Hellebores offer long-lasting blooms in dry shade. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)

This “rose” blooms where (and when) others won’t. It flowers in dry shade – in late winter.

On March 2, the first day of Lent, my Lenten roses were in full flower. In shades from near black to creamy pale green, those interesting blooms actually arrived way early; they’ve been opening for most of February. But they’re so long lasting, they’ll still be around for Easter.

“Lenten rose” is the nickname for hellebore, a wonderful shade-loving perennial. Despite the nickname, they’re only a distant relative of roses. They’re actually close cousins to ranunculus.

Native to Southeastern Europe, hellebores are well adapted to our Mediterranean climate. Once established, they can get by with only twice-monthly irrigation, which makes them a great pick for water-wise landscapes.

Naturally compact, they love dry filtered shade, such as under trees. Hellebores can tolerate some sun, too; just not full Sacramento summer sun.

Their large, leathery leaves stay close to the ground, usually under 1 foot tall. In winter, they send up flower stalks with large bell-like blooms.

These plants are extremely low maintenance. Unlike roses, Lenten roses need no pruning. Just snip off any unattractive leaves in summer.

Another plus for hellebores: Deer don’t like them. Hellebores also can tolerate colder temperatures, making them ideal for foothill gardens.

New hybrids have expanded the range of hellebore colors and petal patterns, from pure white to darkest purple black. Most varieties fade to shades of pink or purple.

Two hybrid hellebores have been featured by the UC Davis Arboretum as part of its water-wise plant collections: Pink Frost ( Helleborus X ballardiae ‘Coseh 710’ ) and Mahogany Snow ( Helleborus X ballardiae ‘Coseh 930’ ).

Pink Frost has striking cream-colored flowers with pretty pink edges that last for weeks in the garden. Mahogany Snow is similar with creamy petals reversed with dark pink. Those varieties and others can be seen in the arboretum’s Terrace Garden and Ruth Risdon Storer Garden.

Corsican hellebores, which have bright green flowers, are featured in the Arboretum’s White Flower Garden near the gazebo.

See them in bloom now. For more information, visit the arboretum’s website: .


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Nov. 26:

Concentrate on helping your garden stay comfortable during these frosty nights – and clean up all those leaves!

* Irrigate frost-tender plants such as citrus in the late afternoon. That extra soil moisture increases temperatures around the plant a few degrees, just enough to prevent frost damage. The exception are succulents; too much water before frost can cause them to freeze.

* Cover sensitive plants before the sun goes down. Use cloth sheets or frost cloths, not plastic sheeting, to hold in warmth. Make sure to remove covers in the morning.

* Use fall leaves as mulch around shrubs and vegetables. Mulch acts as a blanket and keeps roots warmer.

* Stop dead-heading; let rose hips form on bushes to prompt dormancy.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location – and definitely indoors overnight. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they’ll bloom again next December.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Plant spring bulbs. Don’t forget the tulips chilling in the refrigerator. Daffodils can be planted without pre-chilling.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers and plant such spring bloomers as sweet peas, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Plant trees and shrubs. They’ll benefit from fall and winter rains while establishing their roots.

* Set out cool-weather annuals such as pansies and snapdragons.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins now. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb.

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