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Hellbores will bring early color to your yard

Master gardener Ciscoe Morris says hellebores are drought tolerant and pest free — even the deer snub them. #newdaynw

SEATTLE — Hybrids of Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus) are the ideal perennials to add lively color in a late winter, early spring garden. These carefree plants are drought tolerant and pest free (even deer, slugs, and snails tend to leave them alone), and produce multitudes of flowers that come in a wide variety of colors and typically last for around four months.

These days you'll find an amazing selection of Lenten rose, including quite a number featuring double flowers at your local nursery, but it wasn't that long ago when single flowering varieties were quite expensive, and multipetaled cultivars were unheard of. When the very first double flowering Lenten rose became available, it was in so much demand you had to sign up on a waiting list. I had to wait a year to buy one, and it came in a one gallon pot and cost $200! Fortunately, over the last few years, intense breeding work has developed incredible new cultivars and quite a few spectacular double flowering varieties are now available at much more affordable prices.

Visit your local nursery and you'll find incredible varieties of Lenten rose in what is referred to as the Helleborus Winter Jewels/Pinted Doubles Collection® including a number of brand new ones for this year's multipelteled ones. ‘Painted Doubles’ blooms in late winter, revealing elegant burgundy speckles on bright-white petals. The large double flowers beautify shady borders or mingle harmoniously with other perennials in containers. Plants grow to a 14” tall and 24” wide clump of glossy, blue-tinted evergreen foliage. The 12" tall stems make for gorgeous cut flowers. Hellebores naturalize quickly and spread out in moist, woodland areas to create gentle bursts of needed color in the shade of early spring.

They may look somewhat delicate, but the double flowering hellebores are proving to be every bit as vigorous and durable as their single flowering brethren. Give them well-drained soil and partial shade and they will perform admirably for years. As is true of all Lenten roses, the only maintenance required is to remove the old leaves as soon as new stems begin to grow (usually around Christmas) by cutting the old ones right to the ground. Removing the old foliage will help prevent the fungus disease called botrytis, which can cause crispy brown spots on the leaves. It will also allow the beauty of the flowers to show up much better.

By the way, a great way to display the blossoms is to float them in a bowl of water. Wait to cut them until the stamens (the thread like male flower parts in the center of the flower) fall off and they'll often last for up to two weeks. Mix and match double and single flowers to make gorgeous combinations.

Finally, be aware that all hellebores are quite poisonous, so don't plant them where toddlers or pets can get at them. Evidently, back in ancient times the herbalists didn't know about the plant's toxic qualities. Due to an ancient Greek myth claiming that the daughters of King Midus were saved from insanity by taking a potion made up of hellebore; all through the middle ages, anyone suffering from mental anxiety was treated with a concoction made up of the most toxic species. Aren't you glad you didn't live in the middle ages?

Segment Producer Suzie Wiley. Watch New Day Northwest at 11 a.m. weekdays on KING 5 and streaming live on KING5.com. Contact New Day.

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