Lenten roses certainly rank among the most popular of perennials for Piedmont landscapes. Practically trouble-free, long-blooming and amenable to shade, this undemanding perennial gives a lot more than it takes to keep it lovely.
But at this time of year, it enjoys a bit of attention to set it up for a great season.
It’s simply a matter of tidying up the foliage and removing any lingering, spent blooms. This is not hard work and can be enjoyed on a mild winter afternoon. But since Lenten roses tend to be ground-huggers, it is a down-on-the-knees job. I find a lightweight, low, plastic kitchen stool just the thing to make this task easier.
When you get close, you will see that some of the foliage looks so tatty it must be removed. This is likely to be the oldest leaves and stems that have been around a couple of years. Newer foliage that looks clean and undamaged can be left to grow another year.
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The oldest foliage that looks poorly should be removed one stem at a time and cut right back to the base of the plant before discarding.
As you do this, you are likely to see in coming weeks new shoots and even buds of this year’s flowers. It is always a bit of a surprise to see these brave new things appear when the weather is still dim and often gloomy. But there they are, bold, brave and hardy. People have told me now much better they think this new growth looks after the older, less pretty foliage is taken away. The impression is of a fresh, new plant, a real delight. Take care not to hurt the new growth as you take out the old.
At the same time you are looking for old foliage, look for seedlings that sprouted around the older plants. This is a real treat to discover and one you should take advantage of. These seedlings are the makings of great, new plants. Leave tiny ones with only a few leaves to grow another year, but dig up the bigger ones and replant elsewhere in a shady spot, They tend to take about three years from seedling to bloom, so have patience.
Whether you are transplanting elsewhere in your landscape or giving plants to someone else, remember that Lenten roses benefit from compost worked into the soil at planting time and watering in the hottest, driest stretches of summer. They make good companions for other shade-loving plants such as hardy ferns, bedding begonias and impatiens.
Working compost into the soil at planting time and watering in the hottest, driest stretches of summer are what they need. I have never seen a pest on them. Grouping them with other shade-loving plants such as hardy ferns is lovely, particularly for the contrast in the color and texture of foliage. It makes a lovely sight through the year.
Q. What should I do with the paper-white narcissus bulbs I got in December now that they have bloomed out?
A. If the bulbs are growing in soil, continue to water them so that the foliage stays green and healthy as long as possible and add some water-soluble fertilizer to the mix. Plant outdoors once the foliage withers and the weather is fine. If the bulbs are growing in water anchored by rocks or marbles with no nutrients, plant the bulbs outdoors as soon as weather permits and keep the bulbs watered and fertilized so that the foliage stays nice and green. It may take a year or two to see new blooms.