by Marge Talt ( mtalt(at)clark.net
Before I get too carried away with flowers, let me show you what the difference between the two structures are - something you really need to know because they need to be handled differently.
Caulescent species and hybrids don't divide well, if at all. Propagation is basically by seed because of this, since no hellebores are successfully rooted from cuttings and, so far, tissue culture hasn't been particularly auspicious. These species, at least H. foetidus and H. argutifolius, are also the tallest, capable of reaching four feet (1.21 m) when happy. Flowering stems need to be cut back after flowering (or seed ripening, if you want seed), but it's better to wait until you see signs of the new stem shoots before you do it.
H. niger, the Lenten Rose, doesn't quite fit in either category, nor does H. vesicarius or the interspecific hybrids of the caulescent species.
Totally different in growth habit, with deeply penetrating roots, acaulescent species and hybrids can be divided, although they don't like it much and take some time to recover. But, if you want to share or increase a special plant, division is the best way to do it. Don't think you're sparing your plant by separating bits from the outside without digging it up. On the contrary, you'd be stealing away the best parts, since newer growth is on the outside. Best to do it properly; dig the plant, wash off the roots and cut the woody rhizome so that the bits have roots and growing points. Be careful not to damage roots, especially new ones, in the process.
Pick a cloudy or drizzly day, get all your tools, (digging fork, sharp heavy knife, buckets, mix, pots, etc.) together before hand and take your time doing it. Have a bucket of water and one of damp potting mix next to you; dip or spray the roots frequently during surgery and put the divisions in the damp mix immediately so the roots don't dry off. Best time for this operation is just as major root growth is beginning, which, for x-hybridus cultivars is in August or September in the northern hemisphere. Deciduous species and cultivars are best done in early spring.
Evergreen species and hybrids should have their old leaves removed by the time flowering is underway. Not only does this tidy up the plant and make it ready for new foliage, but it helps reduce chances for black-spot, the only wide-spread disease these plants are subject to. Flower stems should be cut off after flowering, either before seeds form or after, depending on whether you want seedlings. All hellebores flower in winter or early spring from buds formed during the previous summer.
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