The last week of February is a good time to cut back your ornamental grasses if you have not yet done so.
Remove the dead, brown foliage from Japanese forest grass, pennisetum and other spiky grasses that turn brown in the winter.
Do not cut back grasses, such as lirope, blue fescue and carex, that are still colorful and not dormant in the winter.
If you have many large clumps of grasses to tend, use electric hedge trimmers to cut back the stems close to ground level. That way the new growth won’t compete with the dead fronds from last summer. Some grasses, old hosta leaves and other perennials will be easy to clean up just by tugging on the brown leaves. Kitchen scissors make a good tool for removing the foliage and cutting back many perennials.
Early spring is also the best time of year to shop for new hellebores and to remove the old foliage from the hellebore plants already growing in your garden. Hellebores are newly improved perennials that thrive in Western Washington gardens because they love our wet winters, are slug and deer resistant, and will bloom under the shade of trees — even during the dark days of winter.
Here are 6 facts about hellebores that may persuade you to invest in these heavenly plants:
1. Hellebores are long lived perennials, but they don’t like to be divided or moved. Plant it and leave it alone. If you must transplant an established hellebore you can expect it to take a year off from flowering while it sulks a bit and regrows roots.
2. Hellebores can be used as groundcovers under trees or in shaded areas — and new plants can be dirt cheap. Just encourage the seedlings that are dropped by the mother plant. Thin the hellebore babies so that they are 6 to 12 inches to apart. Keeping the soil loose around the mother plant will encourage more seedlings to sprout. A collection of hellebores, especially in a shaded site or on the east side of a house, will grow thick summer foliage that will block out weeds and shade the soil to conserve moisture. A large display of hellebores in bloom during the winter and early spring is breath taking.
3. Hellebores love a wide and deep hole prepared at planting time. They have thick and fleshy roots, and if the soil is soft and amended with compost when you first plant you’ll reap the reward of deep roots. Hellebores with deep roots will not demand extra water and nutrients from the gardener. Make your hellebore happy when you bring it home and dig deep to at least 12 inches and loosen the surrounding soil one foot all around the plant.
4. Hellebores now come in a rainbow of colors and many even have double blooms that resemble roses. The best hellebores are grown right here in Western Washington by local growers such as Skagit Gardens that supply our local retail nurseries. The Gold Collection features plants that bloom for months with large flowers that are outward facing and do well in patio tubs or planters. You’ll find new varieties with silver flecked foliage, dark burgundy or creamy pink blooms, and the pure white flowers of Jacob that can be enjoyed as a gift plant indoors before setting it out into the garden.
5. Offspring of parent plants may not always resemble the mother, so when your hellebores reseed you’ll have the surprise of different colors of flower. But unlike roses, these new volunteers will all be garden worthy plants with good vigor.
6. Hellebores are resistant to rodents as well as deer, slugs and snails. Their thick root system means they seldom wilt when moles, voles and mice tunnel under their feet.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.
10 a.m. Saturday, Windmill Gardens “Hellebores and Early Bloomers.” Preregister at windmillgardens.com or by calling 253-563-5843.