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Hellebores: get ready for the flowers!

  • Hellebores: get ready for the flowers!
  • Hellebores: get ready for the flowers!
  • Hellebores: get ready for the flowers!

Have you tidied up your Hellebores yet? It's been such a mild winter so far that most of them still have nice-looking green leaves, so it's been tempting to leave the old leaves in place.

But now the new shoots are starting to appear, and the new shoots are the flower buds, so it's time to take action and get rid of the old leaves.

Why?

Firstly, because then you can see the new flowers in all their glory: from the early buds, through the bent-over-protectively phase, to the wonderful open blooms themselves.

Secondly because if you don't do it now, you will find that it's really difficult to get the old leaves out without damaging the new flowers. If you do it now, while the buds are still quite small, it's quick and easy.

And finally, the main reason for getting rid of the leaves is due to the prevalence of Hellebore Black Spot, a disease which discolours the leaves, as the name suggests, and which can ruin the plant, as it will spread from the leaves to the flower shoots, spoiling the flowers before they even open. By removing the leaves before the flowers appear, you can prevent this happening.

Even better, if you remove the leaves in Autumn as soon as they show the slightest sign of blackening (as I do), and if you do it every year, you can eradicate the disease from your plants altogether, so it's a good thing to do.

People often cry out in horror at the thought of baring the tender flower buds to the mercies of snow, frost etc, but they don't mind cold weather at all: I've been maintaining Hellebores this way for well over a decade, and I have never noticed a single example of frost damage. Winter flowering plants are designed to take it!

I never compost Hellebore leaves, by the way - because of the risk of this Black Spot disease. I always burn them or put them in the council green waste bin, where they will get composted at a much higher temperature than we can achieve in our garden compost pens. I also, privately, think that they don't rot very well, so I wouldn't really want them on my compost heaps anyway!

The photos above show a large clump of Hellebore which I was asked to prune last week: as you can see, the leaves are showing black spots, so I advised the owner about the disease, and they have promised to cut back the leaves in autumn next year. Then we have the flowers - already quite tall, as you can see - standing clear, and a closer view so we can appreciate how much nicer they look without the tatty old leaves covering them up.

Comments (7)

  1. Grower

    Angie's Garden

    As usual great advice Rachel :) I start to do mine (up here in Scotland) around the end of November all depending on how far on the flower buds are. Although it's been mild in many places in the UK, we've had a good many days of frosts so far this winter and as you say the Hellebores (oriental hybrids) don't flinch!

  2. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Hi Angie (waves), I had to laugh at your comment, as FOR ONCE it doesn't matter than I forgot to say "different parts of the country may experience these conditions/this phenomenon/the need to do this task earlier/later than me" !

    Good old Hellebores, you can chop those tired leaves as early as November or as late as February!

    Down here in sunny (?) Oxfordshire, we've had a mostly mild and wet autumn/early winter, but like you, we've had a good many days of frost as well. Hey ho, don't you just love living in England?

  3. Grower

    Amanda

    Yep cut all mine off when i was off over xmas it also stops voles from chewing off the sweet buds when they are hidden by the old leaves i have a problem with voles here in suffolk even had a go at my potted hellebores. Been breeding different orientalis for nearly 20 years now one of my favourites

  4. Grower

    Hawthornes Clematis

    A few flowers up here in Lancashire today..

    • Hellebores: get ready for the flowers!
    • Hellebores: get ready for the flowers!
  5. Grower

    Amanda

    Wow lovely pictures, far more advanced than down here in suffolk mine are only just rising up still tight in bud.

  6. Grower

    Angie's Garden

    Nice. Only 2 in bloom here in my garden at the moment but the others won't be long in coming to the party.

  7. Grower

    Angela

    We have experienced several heavy frosts, so not a mild winter here,!! we moved south to get away from the cold, at one stage I thought I was in a time warp, was I still in the Midlands? did we really move to the South!! the log burner has been going flat out!! getting through a small forest!
    Hawthornes Clematis, your Hellebores are way ahead of ours, a beautiful show btw, we had buds showing six weeks ago, but so slow to open.......
    We cut the leaves off in December, mainly because of the disease, and it seems to be working......


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