African Garden + [tutorials]

How to Clean Up Hellebores

I don't often write how-to posts, but I decided to step into the void left by Frances of Fairegarden, who usually writes a Hellebore cleanup post. (For health reasons As an experiment, she has decided to leave her Hellebores au naturale this year.) Normally, by the time it is time for me to do Hellebore cleanup, it's too late for those in more southerly States. This wacky year, however, such a post may still be timely. Robin, of Bumblebee Blog in Maryland, has yet to cut back her Hellebores, as the snow has just finally melted from on top of them.
Which brings me to the first important point about cleaning up Hellebores: do it as soon as the snow melts from them. If you wait, it is much more difficult to remove the faded leaves without cutting off buds or flowers.
Another good reason to clean up the Hellebores as early as possible is to prevent slug and sowbug damage. Inevitably, over the winter, crud ends up on the crown of the Hellebore.

This one isn't as bad as some, with matted leaves on them that blew in from someplace. During the cutting back, I pull all those wood chips, leaves and sundry crud away from the buds, thereby depriving the wee nasties of a place to hide.
The easiest way to start cutting back is with the top most stems. This is the most perilous part of the procedure for the plants. Many an experienced gardener (including yours truly) has inadvertently cut off a bud along with a stem. Here is an image of the wrong way to cut a stem.

Note how the blade could cut into the bud. Below is a better way to hold the pruners.

(I apologize for the poor image quality. It's hard for me to shoot a photo with only my left hand). As you can see, the cutting surface is away from that bud. However, there is still a danger to the bud above and to the right of it. I urge you not rush the cutting; take time to make careful cuts. While it might be tempting to leave some unmarred foliage, it is better to remove it all at this time. The plant might look a little bare at first,

but when it starts blooming, you won't miss it.

Helleborus x hybridus 'Red Mountain' from last April
Edited 3/12/10