Helleborus Orientalis-To Cut Or Not To Cut

March 4, 2009

That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler…okay, enough already. But it has been a dilemma here at the Fairegarden each year since the original few Hellebores have become hundreds if not thousands.

February 27, 2009

In the beginning the cutting of the old leathery fronds was a ritual of late January, something anticipated with delightful enthusiasm. Cutting off the ratty tatty would expose fresh new leaves unfolding and the promise of flowers in the swollen buds.

March 18, 2009

Never deadheaded, seed pods would form, scattering their precious innards and two years later the offspring began to appear. Lots of them. The gardener was thrilled to see the little babies, free plants are always cause for joy from those afflicted with tightwaddedness. The babies were planted into other beds over the course of time, growing into flowering sized beings. Those babies begat their own babies and so on and so on. All good, right?

In 2010 the striving towards the lowest level of gardening maintenance hatched the idea to experiment by leaving heretofore performed tasks undone. There were discoveries of what could and what could or should not be on the yearly to do listing. The Hellebores remained uncut. The result was less than satisfactory, it was downright unacceptable.

January 31, 2011

On a recent warm day, well above the normal upper level temperature swings of the roller coaster Southeast Tennessee zone 7a winter, the tools were grabbed and the large receptacle hauled up the slope to begin. There was a window of opportunity of about an hour or so to get the leaves cut off, cleaned up and composted before a horrendous downpour, possible thunderstorm, possible ice storm, possible snow storm was to reach us.

In past years, the tool used to cut was the Felco pruners #8 for small hands. I also have #9 for left hands. Why they do not make a small left handed version is a mystery. I would gladly pay extra for such a tool. It was felt that each leaf needed to be cut individually so as not to cut the precious flower buds off. Of course some buds were always cut accidentally anyway. This year, the cutting was attacked with the Fiskars hedge trimmers. Nice and sharp, a whole plant could be cleaned up at one go, being somewhat careful of the buds. Using the hedge trimmers allowed the entire collection of hellebores on the slopes, the ferngully shade area, the top of the daylily hill and the garage side to be shorn and tidied in less than an hour.

No other tasks were on the list, the energy of the morning coffee still sizzled in our veins and digestive tract. We whizzed through the cutting in record time with no backaches nor wrist throbbings afterwards. So dear and gentle readers, the cutting of the hellebores has been reinstated to the chore list. And a great big happy Check to that!

To read the previous accounts of this gripping saga click on the links below:
2008 Cutting Of The Hellebores
2009 Cutting The Hellebores
2010 Not Cutting The Hellebores


This entry was posted in before and after, Seasonal Chores. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Helleborus Orientalis-To Cut Or Not To Cut

  1. Carol says:

    I cut, too, but about a month later than you do. Mine are still under ice and snow!

    Hi Carol, thanks for stopping by. We decided that to cut was the way to go here, when the weather permits, of course! πŸ™‚

    • Lyn carter says:

      I took to my hellebores with the sit on lawn mower, just when the autumn leaves were falling. So easy! Up and down under the Manchurian pear arbor. More leaves fell covering the carnage and how neat it was. Looked so tidy. In spring looked fantastic with all new growth and so many flowers, never looked better.
      Did the same in the woodlands area.

      That is such a fabulous idea, Lyn, thanks for sharing it! Sadly, my back gardens, where the Hellebores live is such a steep slope that a lawn mower cannot be safely pushed, even if I were strong enough to do so. A riding mower would be disatrous!

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Wow, you have your hellebores cleaned up already. I was thinking I might be able to do this little chore this weekend if it warms up like they said it would. Have a good weekend.

    Hi Lisa, thanks for stopping by. We are so happy to have this job checked off the list now. The warm weather will coax the buds to open soon, I hope. You too have a great weekend, hope you can get out in the garden! πŸ™‚

  3. Randy Emmitt says:


    Guess I’ll cut mine this weekend, should be a small task. Thanks for the heads up on this. We do have some buds just coming up.

    Hi Randy, thanks for visiting. This is forecast to be a good weather weekend, so would be a great chance to spend some quality time outdoors and finish an easy and satisfying task. Blooming Hellebores surrounded by ratty leaves leaves much to be desired, I learned the hard way! πŸ™‚

  4. sequoiagardens says:

    So how have you dealt with the precious buds? By lopping off a little higher and leaving them to grow past the stumps? Makes sense to me – for surely the remaining stems will decay rather than form a ‘crust’ of dead stalks over time the way some grasses do…

    Hi Jack, thanks for visiting, so nice to see you here. Yes, we left the stems when the buds were sticking up. I am wondering if doing this task in December, well ahead of the buds might make for a flatter clump with no stems, but know that the flowers will rise well above those stems. Perhaps a bud or two was also cut… πŸ™‚

  5. Eileen says:

    Hi Frances,

    My problem right now is putting hellebores back in my shade garden again. I left beautiful ones at my last home, and they are so expensive to replace. I put one in last fall (couldn’t find anymore at the nursery) so we’ll see if I can add a couple more this spring.

    Yours are lovely.


    Hi Eileen, thanks for adding to the conversation. It is true that the hellebores do no move well when large. I hope you can find a couple more and that they then do the tango and produce hundreds of babies! πŸ™‚

  6. Every year, I’ve seen hellebores on blogs and admired them. This year, at last, I have one. Only one. Don’t know what it is called – except it will have a white flower. Hadn’t realised I’d end up being challenged with questions like to cut or not to. First hurdle – will it flower or will it die?


    Hi Esther, congratulations on your Hellebore! May it flower profusely for you. And live to tell the tale. With only one, the gentle cutting of each ratty browning leaf should be a joyful experience, to be savoured. πŸ™‚

  7. Valerie says:

    Hi Frances: The hellebores in my garden are the Niger variety and do not have long stems like the orientalis. I don’t cut my leaves off as is suggested by some. If they were dead leaves yes I would but I have not found mine to be so. V

    Hi Valerie, thanks for weighing in. You are exactly right, Niger is a different animal, sadly one that does not care for my acid soil. These suggestions are for H. orientalis. πŸ™‚

  8. My nursery specializes in hellebores and I grow them in the ground instead of pots so I do have hundreds. Although I am usually a let-the-leaves-die-back-gracefully-and-untouched person, hellebore leaves don’t die back gracefully. Because they are wintergreen, they persist and look ugly. I use felcos. I am not sure how you used the hedge trimmers unless the buds hadn’t emerged at all. I like the idea though and will try it. Hard packed snow/ice here so no trimming yet.

    Hi Carolyn, what a lovely show that must be, but also a daunting task to trim the leaves, ouch, my back hurts just thinking about it. I hope you can get them up to waist level to do the work, rather than crawl around on the ground like I have to. I did the best I could to not cut the flower buds off with the hedge trimmers but might have sacrificed a few. These are large plants now and there are many buds so the loss won’t diminish the show. It was soooo much easier to do each plant in one whack, I would not have been able to do one leaf at a time. My back simply would not put up with that angle for long. I am thinking cutting the leaves in December, before the buds are showing would allow the whole plant to be cut to ground level with no losses. Next year. πŸ™‚

  9. Gail says:

    Dear Frances, I didn’t have hellebores in my garden until 2008~I owe them all to you. After reading your posts and seeing them across the blogasphere, I bought 10 plants in bloom from the grocery store! They now play a wonderful late winter role my garden. Thank you! xxoogail ps I cut the leaves back.

    Dear Gail, I am so glad you have them, too! What a fine plant to add to any garden. Anything that blooms in winter is welcome here. πŸ™‚

  10. Steve says:

    Ha ha. Frances discovers electricity! OK, just kidding…….;-) As an aficionado of destruction in general, let me offer my hearty congratulations on your use of hedge trimmers on your misbehaving Hellebores. It’s funny, I remember following as you decided to let them run for that year. As I recall there were all sorts of interesting developments as well.

    Hi Steve, HA, thanks for visiting. We did not use the electric hedge trimmers for this task, although we do now own a brand new very heavy Stihl machine for trimming the boxwood. The difference in ease and speed from the Fiskars was so great from the one leaf at a time with the felcos it might as well have been electric! πŸ™‚

  11. Rose says:

    I’ve never cut back my hellebores, but then this will be only the second year for them, so we’ll see if they need it. Right now they’re buried under so much snow, I have no idea what they even look like. But the fact yours have produced so many offspring has me really excited–I hope mine are just as prolific!

    Hi Rose, thanks for stopping by. It may be that your Hellebores are another species instead of orientalis like mine, which do need to be cut. Good luck with yours whatever they may be, and may the babies be many! πŸ™‚

  12. alistair says:

    To cut or not to cut, well thats another story. As for Hellebores I have in the past just left them, what a helluva mess, definately cut them back now, dont have that many though.

    Hi Alistair, thanks for joining in here. It is sort of a job to cut, but not cutting is a mess, as you say. Next year they might get cut even earlier, to avoid losing any buds.

  13. The do look so tidy when they’re trimmed. I like the idea of doing it with a hedge trimmer, but it will be awhile before mine are showing their faces. I’m much later than you.~~Dee

    Hi Dee. thanks. It is immediate gratification, having those brown, sad leaves begone with a chop chop. Stay warm, my friend, they say better weather is just over the horizon for you. πŸ™‚

  14. Catherine says:

    They sure do multiply over time. I had dug and divided some last year and have found hundreds of seedlings coming up. None of mine are big enough for a hedge trimmer, so for now I grab handfuls of leaves and just chop through.

    Hi Catherine, thanks for visiting. Seeing so many babies is a bit unnerving, the sheer numbers of them! In the beginning here, it was only one or two babies noticed. We can’t complain though, free plants! πŸ™‚

  15. Marguerite says:

    You know my first thought was oh no, don’t cut those, how unnecessary. But then I saw the photo of the cut and uncut plants and I have to say, so glad you cut them. They look beautiful all shaped up for spring.

    Hi Marguerite, thanks for weighing in here. I would so love to not cut them, not doing stuff is very high on my to do list! HA But the leaves just got worse and worse as spring moved ahead, an eyesore. I vowed that from 2011 forward they would be cut. πŸ™‚

  16. Ann says:

    I always cut off the leaves in the fall when I put the garden to bed for the winter. When the blooms pop up, they look really dramatic. My neighbors gets really excited for that event so I have them planted near the sidewalk for everyone to enjoy.

    Hi Ann, thanks for joining in here. What lucky neighbors you have, to be able to enjoy your hellebores near the sidewalk. Thanks for the fall cutting tip. It would be much easier for me to do so when the weather is warmer in the fall. πŸ™‚

  17. Cindy, MCOK says:

    I’m impressed that you were able to wield the hedge trimmers with such delicacy. My poor eye/hand coordination would result in serious bud loss!

    Hi Cindy, thanks. Eye hand coordination is certainly not one of my strong points. Good thing there were so many buds that losing a few was not a problem. πŸ™‚

  18. Hedge shears-now why didn’t I think of that? I’m glad you discovered a way to cut down on the maintenance time. Hellebores do need to have those leaves tidied away. But on balance, they are low maintenance plants, as this is all you have to do them for the whole year.

    Hi MMD, thanks for visiting. Yes, the hedge trimmers was CASH in this instance. I use them for nearly all the cut downs in late winter here. They make short shrift of the many grasses, asters, mums and others still standing after the holidays. Chop chop! πŸ™‚

  19. patientgardener says:

    I always cut back the leaves on mine and it was interesting to see that you couldnt stand leaving them!!

    Hi Helen, thanks for joining in here. It was an experiment that proved the point well, I could not stand those brown horrible looking leaves. It was torturous when the blooms were so pretty to have the dreadful foliage right there. Lesson learned. πŸ™‚

  20. Les says:

    Put me in the “cut” column. The front yard is done, and the back should be tomorrow when temps are supposed to be in the 50’s!

    Hi Les, thanks for joining in here. Hooray for your cutting! We are to get some warmth too, it is so exciting! πŸ™‚

  21. Lola says:

    I love those little Hellebores, but sadly they don’t make it in my small garden. I have tried twice now with no luck. What is your secret? I sure would like to get them started for the winter color. I had gotten the ones for my zone.

    Hi Lola, I am sorry you have had trouble with the Hellebores. All I can suggest is that they need excellent drainage and shade where it is hot, although some of mine are in very sunny spots. I only can grow the Orientalis, so don’t really know what type is best for your area. They might be worth another try. πŸ™‚

  22. Anna says:

    I belong to the cutting school too Frances – usually after Christmas. Worth experimenting though as it is a time consuming task but this is one that merits the time spent. Here they are just coming into flower πŸ™‚

    Hi Anna, thanks for joining in, we are putting you down on the side of cutting. Sad to say, there seems to be no one on the don’t cut side! I am thinking of cutting before Christmas next year, when there is a free day above freezing, and if there is such a day. We are seeing the color on the buds now here, flowers will be seen this month. πŸ™‚

  23. I’m so happy to hear this Frances. I worried all year about you not cutting back those ratty leaves. It is an annual ritual here in Helen’s Havenβ„’ . However, I wait to the last possible moment keeping as much ground cover for the wildlife available. I also cut the seed heads right before the POP! At the JC Raulston Arboretum, where I am curator of the Winter Garden, we care for a boat load there. Since our annual tour is in February, we wait until after then to cut back the leaves. And we ALWAYS cut the seed heads, b/c we want to restricted their sexual forays as much as possible, if you know what I mean. What’s the point of breeding unknown varieties when we have such a wonderful collection named beauties in the garden. Oh and as can you imagine on seed pod cutting day, we have no shortage of volunteers…I plan to be in line first for the really rare black variety from Pine Knot Farms in VA. H.

    Hi Helen, thanks for all of this wonderful information! Worry no longer, for we will be cutting every year from now on. The hedge trimmers made it a much easier task. Maybe someday in the future I can get the offspring, or even offspring of offspring to help with the seed pods. I would imagine there would be volunteers for that here as well. Good luck with the black variety. I bought seeds but had no luck with germination. I do know it takes two cold seasons for them to break dormancy. Lady In Black has never produced a seed, yet.

  24. debsgarden says:

    I trimmed my hellebores this week, snip, snip each individual leaf carefully by hand. Looking at all my sprouting babies, I realized this could become a real chore! Next time: hedge trimmers! Thanks for the idea!

    Hi Deb, thanks for joining in here. It is fun to cut the leaves carefully when there are only a few plants. When there are multitudes of those babies that have grown to blooming size, use the hedge trimmers! πŸ™‚

  25. Oh, Frances…my hellebores are all buried under between 3-5 FEET of pure snow…protected of course with evergreen boughs, but I surely wonder when I’ll see them again…and how the new children will have fared. I hope it isn’t too much of a culture shock moving from the Faire Garden to the not-so-fair wilderness of Nova Scotia. They were fine going into winter so…I hope to have good reports in a few months. Honestly, it’ll take that long for it all to melt!

    Hi dear Jodi, thanks for adding the northerner view here. I do hope your well protected Tennessee Hellebores come out of their winter igloo unscathed and will bloom well for you. They should, with all that protection. I look forward to seeing their pretty faces. And good luck with your new book!!! πŸ™‚

  26. Melissa says:

    I too cut my hellebore foliage but it’s too soon here. (Not to mention we are still under snow cover on my north-facing front slope where most of them are). I think you can’t leave them alone, they just look too ratty. And I had quite a surprise last spring when I decided to divide one – just one – of my mature ones to have some to put in a bare spot in the back yard. It took me forever! And a hand saw, and lots of elbow grease. They are flourishing in the new spot but I probably won’t try that again any time soon.

    Hi Melissa, thanks for visiting, nice to see you here. I have never tried to divide them, but patience will reward if you wait for the babies. It took a few years, and the babies are very easy to move when small. They are tough little things. More difficult to get the whole root once larger, but possible. Good luck with yours! πŸ™‚

  27. Nutty Gnome says:

    If it ever stops raining here and I can make it across the sodden wasteland that was once my lawn, then I’ll trim my hellebores – but until then they’re on their own! πŸ™‚

    Hi Liz, maybe boat over to them? HA Just kidding. I hope you are able to trod the sodden wasteland before the buds get too high and the task becomes more difficult. We are going to try doing it in December next year, on a warmer day before the holidays get us so busy.

  28. Pingback: How To Prune Hellebores | North Coast Gardening

  29. Pingback: Hellebores On Parade « Fairegarden

  30. Pingback: Walking « Fairegarden

  31. Pingback: Where To Start? « Fairegarden

  32. Pingback: Epimediums « Fairegarden

Comments are closed.