Cutting back the hellebores


Predictably, I failed to remove the foliage from hellebores before the flower buds swelled in late December, and now they are covered by many inches of wet snow. By mid January the buds were prominent, and there have been times when the hellebores flowered from late December until March. But, temperatures have been far too cold this winter, and even before fourteen inches of snow fell a few days ago I was not expecting any flowers until late in February, at the earliest.Hellebore in mid February

Once the flower buds are prominent, the foliage is removed with more difficulty. In recent mild winters there was little reason to remove the hellebores’ foliage, other than that the blooms become much easier to see without the large leaves in the way. But this year, after weeks of prolonged cold, much of the leathery foliage is brown, and the leaves must be removed before new growth emerges.Hellebore in mid February

With a thick cover of snow, the hellebores will not see sunlight again for another week, and even with much warmer temperatures this shaded side of the garden might take a few days longer than that to melt. If past experience counts for anything, I expect that the hellebores will flower soon after the snow is gone. The lack of sun while covered by snow does not seem to delay the flowering much, or at all, and of course the plants are insulated from cold temperatures while the snow remains.Double flowered hellebore

None of this is unusual for me. Cutting the leaves as the flowers emerge in mid to late February has become my routine, and the exception is when I perform this relatively simple task two months earlier, when temperatures are more suitable for outdoor chores. The end result is the same, but in February the task requires a bit more attention to avoid unintentionally cutting flower buds while grabbing a handful of leaves.Hellebore

To add to the labor, there are now a few dozen additional hellebores that were planted in the past year. Certainly, this is not a complaint, and I very much look forward to their blooms in a few weeks. I have plans to add to the collection this year. Some will be transplants, dividing thick clumps that are partially original plantings combined with seedlings, and others will be new varieties that catch my eye.A late flowering hellebore in mid March

Unfortunately, I’ve been horrible at maintaining records of what I’ve planted, which is commonplace for me, and only a problem when I have difficulty recommending one superb plant over another. But, I haven’t run into a hellebore that is less than exceptional, so you should be encouraged to purchase as many of any variety that your budget can afford.Hellebore

8 Comments Add yours

  1. I never bother mine. The leaves fall away on their own and reseed Prolifically!

    1. Dave says:

      On many of the old varieties the nodding flowers are partially hidden by foliage, so most years I cut them back. This year the leaves are notably brown, so there’s a bit more incentive. At this point, I’ve lost track of which hellebores are ones I planted and which are seedlings. I’ve moved dozens of seedlings, and there are probably several hundred more, though I usually hold off until the second year so there’s a little better root system.

  2. Don Peters says:

    “Unfortunately, I’ve been horrible at maintaining records of what I’ve planted”
    Ah, yes, a problem I’ve faced for years, and has always bugged me. So, last summer, combining my computer and gardening skills, I decided to research and fully document all the plantings on our tiny quarter-acre of property. I then put it on my website so I could review my garden even in the dead of winter. It was a big job, but I enjoyed doing it. You can check out my efforts at


    1. Dave says:

      Don, you are far more organized than I’ll ever be. I have piles of plant tags stashed in multiple locations, most of which will never be seen again. I’m fortunate to be able to distinguish most plants, but one hellebore rather than another, no way.

  3. Is this what your hellebores look like right now? I checked mine today and there are no flowers at all, just ragged foliage. I’m in northern VA, too.

    1. Dave says:

      Some of the hellebores have fat buds while many others do not. I assume the these will develop quickly with warmer temperatures. Almost all foliage on the hellebores is brown.

  4. Good to read this. I planted my first Hellebores last year, not really sure what to do with them. I hadn’t thought about cutting the foliage back at all, and having been out in the garden I’ve only got one plant which is flowering and the foliage is indeed browning. I’ll know now to take a bit more care of them and cut them back. Makes sense that the other winter flowering ones haven’t done anything due to the cold and snow and as they’re all in the shadier part of the garden it took a lot longer for that area to thaw than the rest of the garden. Thanks for the tips!

    1. Dave says:

      After a very mild winter cutting leaves might not be necessary, but most years I remove leaves. With a warm afternoon I did half yesterday, the rest today.

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