Should I cut my hellebores back?

Now is the time of year when this question always comes up.  In milder climates where the winter foliage on hellebores stays halfway decent year-round it’s more of a question, but here it’s a no-brainer.  As soon as the weather eases up and I can work outside without being miserable, all the hellebore foliage comes off, brown or not.  This winter especially, the normally attractive leaves are a disaster and won’t be missed at all by the plants.removing hellebore foliage

They look this way all over the garden and now that the snow is in retreat (hopefully) I can’t wait to clear this mess out.  Even in years when the leaves are looking ok I still get rid of them and the plants don’t miss a beat.  I think the blooms show off much better against a clean background and fresh leaves will be coming up soon enough 🙂

Just for the record, when I first started with hellebores I used to treasure each and every green leaf that made it through winter, and carefully left them in place while removing only the damaged ones.  My thinking of course was that every green bit helped the plant produce food.  While that’s true, the few weeks of photosynthesis lost doesn’t seem to make a difference, and I’ve learned the plants are much tougher than I give them credit for.  The only exception to this rule would be if you’re growing any of the taller stemmed (caulescent type) hellebores.  Don’t cut them to the ground, the tall stem will be sprouting blooms at this time of year, and you’ll only want to remove damaged leaves.

Hopefully my “little Gem” southern magnolia will be as resilient as the hellebores.  cold damaged southern magnoliaIt’s also sporting brown and damaged leaves, but I suspect it will also pull through.  My scenario for this plant will be a complete loss of leaves once the weather warms, and then new growth in May…. it will look worse for a while, but my fingers are crossed and even with temps back down in the single digits tonight I’m trying for optimism 🙂

18 comments on “Should I cut my hellebores back?

  1. Yes, it’s not really should, but can I yet? I have a friend in Tennessee who also treasures this chore.

    • bittster says:

      I do like clearing out the old to make way for the new! I have fairegardener on my blog roll, but just noticed now when I followed your link she hasn’t posted since the new year. Am I missing something?

  2. Christina says:

    I just wish it was choice I had to make, it’s too hot and dry for Hellebores to survive summer here, sigh!

  3. Cathy says:

    Assessing winter damage can be so depressing, and yet so many plants have surprised me in the past and bounced back. I thought I’d lost most of my lavender a few years ago, but after a drastic haircut all but one or two came back well. Take heart, and be brutal with the cutting back! My hellebores have had leaves for the first winter ever, but I usually have to cut them all off too as they go black and ugly.

    • bittster says:

      So far so good here, we had so much snow cover it’s only a few things that look really bad from the cold, and out of those I bet half will recover. I’ll take a cold winter any day over a late frost!
      I can only remember one year where the hellebores came through looking halfway decent… and then I cut them back anyway, foolishly waiting until the buds were up and in the way 😉

  4. Pauline says:

    I always cut my hellebore leaves off in Nov/Dec as they don’t look very good by then. New leaves soon pop up and the flowers look so much better without the old ones.

    • bittster says:

      I just read Jon’s comment to the same effect, he does it even earlier and in our climate it makes total sense, and makes fall leaf cleanup so much easier!
      …. this year maybe by May we’ll see new foliage 😉

  5. I cut the leaves off all the hellebores in mid-November to allow me to blow all the fallen tree leaves through them and get them shredded. I think you can see at http://tinyurl.com/n7yempx that they do just fine. Leaving it until now makes it much more tedious because the new flowers are pushing strongly. Best, J..

    • bittster says:

      Wow. That’s pretty smart. That opens up a whole world of early bulb/hellebore mixed plantings where the bulbs can come up clean, bloom in the open, and then the hellebores fill in for the summer and fall.
      I could picture a whole woodland of this….. hmmm land is cheap around here. Dear don’t touch hellebores….. I could just run the whole area over with a mulching mower in October….

  6. I cut them too in late fall. If they look like what you have, I snip carefully then just let them leaf out new again through summer. Right now, I have no idea what is under the snow. Hopefully, next week I will see how plants are doing.

    • bittster says:

      I hope yours re-appear this weekend. Getting rid of all the tired old dirty snow is a huge step towards making it feel like spring! The plants jump into action overnight and your first blooms will be there before you know it.

  7. This will be my first spring with Hellebores. If I were you, I would cut back the foliage, but carefully so that I didn’t cut any buds. The snow just melted over my hellebores, but they are still small and don’t have much foliage now, damaged or otherwise.

    • bittster says:

      I always cut the foliage, the sooner the better, although one year I did have to work around the sprouting flower stalks. I think you’ll like your new addition.

  8. pbmgarden says:

    I cut my hellebore leaves about a month ago and they’re fine. Guess I will take advice from the other readers who recommend Nov-Dec. Hope your Little Gem makes it!

  9. Annette says:

    The hellebores seem to have got lots of hard frost before the snow, didn’t they? I grew them successfully in my mountain garden at 1400m. You definitely have to cut the foliage. Fingers crossed for the Magnolia which obviously didn’t appreciate the frost either.

    • bittster says:

      I don’t think the hellebores enjoyed being under snow and ice for so long, I thought the snow would act as protection but they really look much worse this year, but I see buds coming 🙂
      The magnolia did not like the cold sunny days. Warm sun on frozen leaves just dehydrated them into brown crispy shells. We’ll see what May brings!

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