By MARILYN BELTZ

For me, Findlay winters seem to last way too long, especially on gloomy days. I can hardly contain myself looking in my garden for the first glimpse of flowers peeking through the snow.

Every year, the enduring and delicate-looking hellebore (pronounced heh-luh-bor) is one of the first to greet me. If you don’t have hellebores in your garden, you should add them this growing season.

Hellebores, which love the shade, will initiate new growth late winter and even emerge through snow. They are hardy in zones 4-9 and are mostly disease and pest resistant, making them a perfect addition for northwest Ohio gardens.

If deer and rabbits roam your yard, hungry for anything green this time of year, don’t worry, they find hellebores distasteful. However, hellebores are poisonous, so you’ll need to watch your pets around them.

Commonly referred to as Christmas roses or Lenten roses, hellebores are part of the buttercup family and belong to the Ranunculus genus, which contains a large number of flowering plants. Most are clumping perennials with handsome basal evergreen or semi-evergreen foliage.

Hellebores come in a variety of colors and patterns with single and double blooms. Traditional hellebores have bowl-shaped or saucer-like blooms that nod downward, but recent breeding has focused on producing upward or outward-facing flowers.

Try Lenten rose hybrid strains such as Brandywine and Royal Heritage, and the Winter Thriller and double Wedding Party series, which partner well with the bobbing heads of daffodils, tulips, snowdrops and grape hyacinths. Another bonus feature of hellebores is that after blooms are gone, new leaves emerge, creating a four-season groundcover.

Growing 18 to 24 inches tall, hellebores prefer well-drained and neutral to acid soils. Adding compost or other organic matter at planting time helps to maintain fertility. They don’t tolerate wet conditions and may get crown rot if too wet. Plant them in a shady spot with morning sun and afternoon shade.

Mulch in the spring and summer to help retain summer moisture. Remove damaged leaves before blooms appear. Mature clumps can be divided into several plants, but it may be several seasons before the smaller divisions bloom.

Slugs and snails can be a problem, especially in damp soil where they hide under the foliage. In sunny, windy places, the leaves could show winter burn along leaf edges. Remove the unsightly ones as new growth appears.

If you want to bring the first signs of spring indoors, hellebores look stunning in arrangements. But cut blossoms will only last a week.

Are you convinced that hellebores are a terrific late-winter perennial? If so, you can find these beauties at garden centers or order them online.

I have hellebores in my garden and truly enjoy them, especially because the blooms last a long time when they are not picked. So, make yourself smile during a gloomy time of year. Plant hellebores and enjoy them for seasons to come.

Marilyn Beltz is an Ohio State University Extension Hancock County Master Gardener Volunteer and a retired nurse. Find us on Facebook at “Hancock County Master Gardener Volunteers.”

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