Cutting off last year's foliage

Fleur(z5)January 18, 2010

The snow is currently off my hellebores, though perhaps not for long. The old leaves are all flattened and discolored and there is no new growth coming up yet. Would it be OK to cut off the old foliage? It would be much easier to do now with no new leaves or flower stalks coming up yet. Thanks.

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The flower stalks will appear before any new foliage. I generally wait to cut back old foliage until the flower buds are visible pushing through the soil surface but you could do so earlier.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2010 at 10:27AM
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ladywindsurfer(Z7 SE)

Upon the advise of a friend, who is a botanist (PhD) and has 40+years experience, growing and hybridizing Hellebores, I never remove green foliage from a plant. As long as the foliage is green, whether upright or lying on the ground, it is providing energy to the plant.

Gardeners in some areas experience Black Spot disease (Coniothyrium hellebori) on the foliage. I have never found that in my garden, but if it occurred, I would immediately remove that foliage, seal it in a plastic bag and send it to a landfill. The spores from infected plants overwinter in the soil and can re-infect new foliage by water splashing them onto the leaves or by windborne method. I have not heard of a chemical control being available for this disease.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2010 at 12:00PM
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I've been growing the plants about as long as that noted in the previous post and have routinely removed the foliage each season without encountering any problems. 'Evergreen' perennials are not exactly the same as a broadleaf evergreen shrub -- by the end of a full growing year, the foliage is inevitably tattered, shopworn and often distressed by various leaf spots or fungal lesions. The vitality and energy of the plant is stored in the root system - what photosynthesis taking place in midwinter is minimal. Removing the old foliage in late winter that has paid its dues and before any harboring pathogens can take hold of the new growth is a relatively common occurrence with a variety of plants, including acaulescent hellebores, epimediums, various evergreen ferns and evergreen grasses or grass-like plants.

Every grower and hybridizer of hellebores I know follows a similar procedure. It is a widely accepted and harmless practice.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2010 at 8:44PM
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Thank you all. I trimmed back the ugly stuff yesterday.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2010 at 2:39PM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

fleur, this was included in Tony Avents (Plant Delights, NC, Z7) monthly newsletter this morning - I thought you might find it interesting.

"One of the winter chores many gardeners engage in is cutting back old
hellebore foliage. While we endorse the practice, I'd caution you about
doing it too early. I like to wait until the first flowers are just ready to
open before removing the old foliage because despite being often tattered,
the foliage serves to keep the plant cool and slow down the development of
the flower buds. If the foliage is cut too early, the plant develops faster
and the buds and flowers reach a size that can become damaged if the
temperatures drop into the low- to mid-teens F. If you're a neat freak and
have already trimmed your hellebores, a light layer of evergreen branches or
pine straw will really help to protect and slow them down in the case of
upcoming cold temperatures. The great thing about hellebores is even if the
earliest buds are damaged, new buds will still be produced as long as the
plant isn't too far along."

    Bookmark   February 2, 2010 at 12:53PM
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Here in the SE, we enjoy an extra hour of sunlight during the winter versus northern latitudes. The sun also appears at a higher elevation. Helleborus foliage remains green and virtually unblemished all winter, so there is no need to remove it.
This year, for the first time in memory, unseasonably cold temperatures(read;Dee-ep Freeze!) during the first week of January, prevented the flower buds from opening.
So, instead of a showcase of color throughout the garden, that I usually enjoy during the winter, there is nothing except a few scattered blooms.
Hopefully, the best is yet to come!

    Bookmark   February 2, 2010 at 11:57PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

gardengal - it's nice to know that on the other side of the Atlantic gardeners are doing exactly what I was doing today. Cutting off the hellebore and epimedium foliage and tidying up the evergreen ferns. I also gave the Liriope a crew cut. Your gardening climate sounds so much like mine.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 11:10AM
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Hi flora :-) Where I live is as close to a UK climate as it gets in the US. Except for the predominance of large, native conifers, you'd probably find the gardens very similar.

I have a very new (to me) garden and most of my plants are still in the containers I moved them in last fall so I haven't done as much winter grooming as I normally would. My garden is quite shady and has been a bit neglected so I am working on the inground plantings first - LOTS of native ferns that need to be cleaned up and native groundcovers that need to be removed before I can seriously plant. Luckily, we have had an extremely mild winter on the whole so I am out there working like made to get things in order and in the ground before I go back to work at the nursery next month. I haven't cut back my epis yet but I've been checking them regularly and will as soon as I see signs of new growth emerging.

All my hellebores are blooming like mad! This is a perfect garden for them :-)

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 11:32AM
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I'm in Zone 8 as well, and the foliage never really dies back so it is basically an evergreen. I have a 20 by 30 foot area where they have just naturalized over the years. If I didn't cut off the foliage, I wouldn't really see the flowers. Also, in the south we have a fungus (Southern Blight) that is a big fat pain the neck, and one of the best ways to keep it under control and keep it from spreading is to do a really good clean-up prior to hot weather.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2010 at 1:44PM
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claysoil(z6 PA)

I'm dying to cut the ugly foliage off of my hellebores. Some have started blooming and would look better with out the ratty snow-battered mass of greens around them, but I hesitate to remove anything that would protect emerging buds from a late ice storm. Ice destroyed most of my buds the first year I had ET seedlings ready to bloom. I had to wait another year to see what most looked like.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2010 at 10:44AM
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imagooch Z6a SW ON(zone 6a Chatham ON)

Well, I am in a 6a zone here at 42 degrees N And I thought I would go out tomorrow and cut off the old leaves - on reading this I might just leave them beside the plants so I can cover them if we get a freezing cold snap.
Today was just so nice outside 15'C (that's about 60'F) - I got the leaves out of the corner where they collect and added them to the compost pile. More tomorrow.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2010 at 4:47PM
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In retrospect, I cut mine off way too early. The flowers are only about half as tall as they usually are and are blooming much later. After I trimmed the leaves, we had several weeks in March with night temps in the 20's with no snow cover or mulch. I'll be more cautious next year.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2010 at 1:18AM
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