Cutting of The Hellebores

Another day that was warm enough for gardening outside, highs in the mid forties. Yippeee!! According to last year’s journal, the hellebore leaves were cut on Janaury 22. Close enough, January 18, you have to work when the weather permits. The buds are already showing their color. Better get to work.

This is the big mama, mother of most of the hellebores, Helleborus orientalis. This plant was mail ordered in 1998 from White Flower Farm while we were living in a suburb of Houston, Texas. It was planted in the garden there and grew for two years. When we moved back to TN in 2000, it was part of the Noah’s ark of plants that were dug up and loaded in the car for the fourteen hour drive to their new home.

It has been written in previous posts that the hellebores produce abundant seedlings. These must be this year’s crop, still only showing their first leaves. The old flowers are never removed from the mothers. They just disappear under the umbrella of large leaves as the season progresses. The exact method of germination is unclear, although more babies come when mulch has been applied during the summer. They probably need darkness to sprout.

The old leaves have been cut from big mama, seen in the upper right corner of this photo. All the rest of the greenery here are baby hellebores of various ages. A wealth of hellebore seedlings.


The reason for the leaf cutting now, even though there are many below freezing days ahead of us before spring , is to keep from damaging the budded stems. If we wait any longer, the buds will be taller, making it very difficult to avoid severing them as the old leathery leaves are pruned away. I know from experience not to wait for warmer temps. Many a flower has been lost accidently, felco sharpness does not differentiate between leaf and flower buds. If the leaves are not cut, the flowers are hidden beneath them. We want to see all those lovely blooms without tattered foliage spoiling the scene. It is a winter chore that is actually happily done. Spring is coming when you see those pudgy buds.

You might think the cold will damage these fresh leaves and buds, but that is not the case. On occasion the leaf tips might get a little frost burn, but the open flowers cover that. The blooms themselves don’t seem to be damaged, even when fully open and late frosts hit the area.

Surrounding big mama are numerous little mamas. Seedlings abound under each flowering size plant, given light as the mature leaves are removed in winter. Yes one has to crawl around to cut each old leaf but it is not an unpleasant task and well worth the effort. Nobody said gardening does not take effort. If they did, they are not being truthful.

Here is sheared big mama with her little ones hovering around. Such a difference in the amount of space taken up by her when the leaves are gone. When in full leaf this plant is easily three feet in diameter. The babies enjoy the protection from that canopy.

March 23, 2007

Big mama in her full glory. Take note of her color, it is a pale greeny pink. The seed order from Chilterns containing the black/purple/slate shades will hopefully produce dark colored hellebores that will really set her off, don’t you think?
Looking for contrast in hellebore land,
Frances

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29 Responses to Cutting of The Hellebores

  1. chickenpoet says:

    Wow, when I read the title my heart stopped a beat; but when you see the last picture I can see why a cutting would be appropriate. Much love.

  2. Frances says:

    chickenpoet…it does seems extreme, but it has been done every year since the beginning with no ill effect and bloom covered plants as a result.

  3. Sherry says:

    What a gorgeous plant!

  4. Frances says:

    sherry…it is that, and especially since it blooms so early, about mid February here in TN. Hoping it is open for that month’s bloom days post.

  5. Layanee says:

    That is one gorgeous hellebore and I really like your ‘Noahs’ Ark’ comment. I have the H. foetidus reseed fairly freely and I am adding more hellebores each year. Their foliage is gratifying even when the flowers are not out!

  6. brokenbeat says:

    alright, i’m getting on my long johns and forest green coveralls. now i’m ready to take out the clippers and do some hellebore slashing. i’ll let you know if there is a flower turnout.

  7. Frances says:

    layanee…You are so right about the foliage. Evergreen perennials are underrated. I would like to try the h. foetidus.

  8. chuck b. says:

    Wow, you could open your own nursery with all those seedlings.

    The website of my favorite gardening publication, Pacific Horticulture, (which ran two big articles on hellebores last year) put up a list of web- and mail-order sources for hellebores here: http://www.pacifichorticulture.org/issue.php?issueId=384&webExtra=14

  9. Frances says:

    chuck b…there really are hundreds or more of those babies. Thanks for the address, I will check it out.

  10. Frances says:

    brokenbeat…you won’t need to cut anything unless you see flower buds down in the center. Do you have plants large enough to flower, it takes about three or four years?

  11. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    It is too cold here to be snipping at my hellebores. When I do some snipping it is usually just to cut off the dead or dieing leaves. Is this what you mean you do or do you do a more over-all cut back? How do you decide what to cut back?

    The “Mother” plant sure is gorgeous in her spring finery.

  12. brokenbeat says:

    i guess not, but i didn’t cut much. it looks better in my mind.

  13. Frances says:

    lisa…every leaf that is longer than the flowers buds is cut, no exceptions, ratty or new. It is harsh treatment but makes for the sea of blooms that start mid February here. Colder climates might not be able to do this in January, but maybe later.

  14. Mr. McGregor's Daughter says:

    I usually trim my Hellebore leaves no earlier than February. I also have a ton of baby Hellebores that I think I’ll have to weed out or give away. Not that I’m complaining, but it is difficult to keep up with deadheading when a plant has as many blooms as your mother plant does.

  15. Frances says:

    MMD…The date of the trim probably depends on your location and zone. I don’t deadhead once the blooming has begun, just the trimming of the leaves prior to bloom. The babies are given away or moved to empty spots in the garden but will surely crowd each other out, there are just too many. Not complaining here either.

  16. heirloomgardener says:

    I planted hellebores last year and didn’t know that I needed to cut the leaves now–thank you for your advice!

  17. Frances says:

    heirloomgardener…In your climate of New Jersey it may not yet be time to cut the leaves. If your plant is large enough to see the swollen buds near the center of the plant it can probably be cut next month. We are in zone 7 TN, a crazy zone really with the extreme temperature swings this time of year. Yesterday it was 12 degrees! I

  18. Kylee says:

    I had no idea that I was supposed to cut the leaves. Proof that it’s a good thing is in your photo of the mother plant. WOW WOW WOW! Just fabulous!

  19. Frances says:

    Kylee…thanks. when to cut the leaves depends on your climate but doing so lets the flowers take center stage.

  20. thebench says:

    Your “Big Mamma” picture looks gorgeous. You should take a look at Heronswood Nursery, the have a huge selection of Hellebores.

  21. Melanie says:

    I live in Charlotte, NC and recently moved into a house w/ hellebores. Never had them before. They haven’t had care for years. They are in bloom now. My question: should I wait until next Jan to cut back the old foliage? Or can I go to town now?

  22. Frances, says:

    Melanie, welcome and thanks for visiting. You should wait until late winter, before the new foliage and buds start growing, for us in zone 7a, that usually happens in January. If you wait too long, it is much harder to not cut the good new growth as you are cutting the old leathery leaves. Leave the flowers so they can produce seeds to make babies and mulch them in the fall after you have chopped any fallen leaves in their area. Hope this helps.

  23. grace says:

    you only cut the leaves, not the stem of the old ratty leaves, is this corrct?
    i’m a new, sure would like my plant to look like big mama!!

    Hi Grace, cut the leaves and stem all the way to the ground. There will be new leaves unfurling from the ground to tell you when it is time in your area to do this. For me it is late winter, but the timing is not that crucial. I like to get it done before the new leaves have unfurled though, it is much easier to just give the whole thing a hatchet job. 🙂
    Frances

  24. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I am here to tell you to heed Frances’s directions about pruning the hellebores. Mine have performed so much better since I have been doing this. Thank you Frances. I can’t wait to see what colors you end up with.

    Hi Lisa, you are so funny! Thanks for the back up! As for the seeds from Chilterns, none germinated so I bought the very dark Blue Lady and was given Red Lady. Don’t know if they will ever make babies though, so far no seeds have formed on them. Funny too, this year I did not cut the leaves, as an experiment. 🙂
    Frances

  25. Sweet Bay says:

    The Hellebore is so covered in flowers, it’s beautiful!

    Thanks Sweet Bay, big mama had a good year then, 2007 I believe. 🙂
    Frances

  26. Here I can see the photos just fine. Big mama totally rules! I had only one bud when i cut back my hellebores but have since seen a second smaller one. W00t!

    Thanks Monica. This is an old blogger post, with much smaller pictures although they can be clicked upon to enlarge. Hooray for all buds on the hellebores, large and small. 🙂
    Frances

  27. They are always so stunning, and such a great feeling to clean them up for the new year.

    Jen

    Thanks Jen. We in fact did not clean our hellebores this year, 2010. A new post will be published about that tomorrow. 🙂
    Frances

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