Cut, or not

Most years, there is no question that leaves of hellebores, damaged and browned after typical January temperatures that occasionally drop to near zero (Fahrenheit), must be removed to be rid of the weathered leaves and so that flowers are more visible. Even in a mild winter, the foliage of several vigorous hellebores obscures flowers that are nestled beneath, so the best practice is to remove leaves in mid December, before flowers are prominent. This task is rarely accomplished so early in this garden, and on occasion leaves are left without cutting at all.

This winter has been quite mild, I say so far, but there’s nothing colder in the forecast. With mild temperatures, snowdrops, witch hazels, and hellebores are advancing into bloom weeks ahead of schedule. Foliage is mostly green, though always leathery and weathered by the year’s end. Color is showing on many hellebores, so the question is, must leaves be cut?

Most of the hellebores showing color in late January have flowering stalks that rise above the leaves, and others have leaves that have flattened to the soil, with emerging flowers fully visible. There is no urgency to remove leaves immediately, if it is to be done at all. Frequently, I hold off until the last minute, which causes no harm, but cutting leaves so late must be done more carefully to avoid chopping flowers. A few hellebores with a full dome of leaves will probably be cut, but I think this is the year I’ll skip the rest.