African Garden + [winter]

From the "Do As I Say, Not As I Do" File: Hellebores

I love Hellebores. In addition to their early flowers, they are low maintenance, easy care plants which provide a rare spot of green in the absence of snow cover in the middle of winter. About all they need in the way of care is deadheading and deadleafing at the end of winter. Frances waits longer than I do to cut her Hellebores, but I prefer to cut off those winter-worn leaves just as the new growth begins, to make sure I avoid cutting off any buds. ( Edit. 3/13/09, I was mistaken; Frances usually cuts her Hellebores just as they start making new growth. This year was an anomaly.)

Where I went wrong this year was with the mulch. A little winter mulch of shredded leaves around the Hellebores is a good thing. Shredded hardwood mulch on top of the Hellebores is not. After cutting back the leaves on one plant, this is what I found:

I suspect this bud was severed by pillbugs/sowbugs because of the damage on the other side of the bud.

These bugs usually eat decaying matter. They like moist, dark conditions, such as those that occur on days in the 60s under a layer of mulch. (In my defense, I have to say that I didn't put the hardwood mulch on top of this Hellebore. I blame the squirrels, who are always digging in the beds and kicking the mulch around.) A thick accumulation of unshredded, sodden leaves on top of the Hellebores is also not a good thing.

After dragging this mess off the poor plant, I discovered that some stems had started to rot.

Fortunately, it was only the old leaves, and I caught it in time before the new growth got damaged. This one is entirely my fault. Last fall, I cleaned all the leaves away from the north side of the house. But the wind blew more in, then it snowed on December 1, and didn't stop snowing for a month. The snow remained there for a very long time. When it finally melted, I should have immediately pulled all the leaves out of there. Lesson learned.