Never mind the cold. Despite the recent stretch of cold temperatures in late January, the garden’s hellbores (Helleborus orientalis. H. niger, and hybrids) continue to bloom, and flowers that were opened partially were unscathed by the cold. On the other hand, the flowers of hybrid camellias turned to brown mush on the first night of temperatures in the low teens.
With cold weather the foliage of hellebores has begun to look a bit haggard, and perhaps this will be the motivation I need to cut it back to the ground. In the past this was an annual ritual, but with warm winters the foliage is passable enough to forego this chore. Now, with two (and maybe three) year old foliage, the flowers are barely evident. If the ragged foliage is removed it is best to do it before late February when the new foliage starts to grow and is more easily injured than if the pruning is accomplished in January.
The best time to cut the foliage is a month ago, before the flower buds have swollen, and certainly before the flowers have gotten in the way. But, at the time I had no plans to cut them back, so perhaps this is a good project for tomorrow, when temperatures are above freezing and the leaves can be bunched and cut while avoiding the flowers and new growth (and frostbite).
It seems a shame to cut back perfectly acceptable foliage that hardly shows signs of winter damage, but the leathery leaves are likely to deteriorate further, and the reward is that the flowers stand out to be enjoyed so much more conveniently. The flowers often persist through much of March, and then within several weeks the foliage is back, looking as full as ever, but much fresher than the leaves that were pruned away.