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February 2014
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Snow-smothered and light-deprived perennials

Cinnamon Snow hellebore. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Granted, snow is nature’s best insulator, but some gardeners are wondering about the perennials that retain their leaves through winter.

Coral bells (Heuchera), hellebores (Helleborus), thyme (Thymus) and some of the ground cover sedums, such as ‘Angelina’ (S. rupestre), have spent weeks under several inches of snow, deprived of light.

Gardeners are nothing if not optimistic. Once the snow melts and spring rains subside, snip off any brown or damaged leaves, or in the case of sedums, the stems.

Hellebore flowers are a lot showier when winter-damaged leaves are cut off. Coral bells tend to be heaved from the ground in winter, so gently push the plants back into the soil. Avoid walking on wet soil, though. Doing so compacts the soil, making it harder for roots to thrive.

Don’t be alarmed if the tips of some of the emerged leaves of tulips, daffodils and other spring bulbs are a bit yellow after the snow melts. They will likely green up once exposed to light.

Finding Plants

L.F. of Indianapolis emailed me in search of a tall, blue, late-blooming campanula named ‘Border Blues’ (C. lactiflora). She was looking for the perennial plant or seeds and wanted a local source, but we could not find any. Even online, this plant, a Darwin Perennials introduction from Ball Horticulture, could not be found from a retailer who would ship to Indiana.

“I know it seems silly to try to get a specific plant when so many others are available, but, well, you know gardeners!” she wrote.

So, what’s a gardener to do? First, check with your independent garden center, where staffers will try and locate a plant. If it can’t be found this year, ask the garden center to find it for next year or to order it specifically grown.

Many garden center employees attend a couple of trade shows each summer: OFA in Columbus, Ohio, in July, and Independent Garden Center Show in Chicago in August. These huge shows have dozens of new plant introductions amid thousands of products and services on display. Try to reach out to garden centers about the plant(s) you can’t find before the shows, so employees can be on the lookout.

Sometimes, the plants will not be available locally, so look online. There are many reputable online plant retailers. Usually you can search a site or peruse a catalog online for specific plants or seeds.