We probably all love hellebores, but some people seem to like them leafy and some people like them naked. And sometimes the plants themselves seem to come kind of in-between.
So why de-leaf?
The biggest reason may be Leaf Spot. I really know nothing about this – we may have it, or we may just have nasty leaves sometimes. But I think cutting leaves off is supposed to help stop it spreading. If you want to know more try this link.
And sometimes the leaves have probably just gone manky. I have some like that:
I understand that in some parts of the world, such as bits of America, by the time the flowers appear ALL the leaves are like that. So, yuk, yes, take them off. But my leaves often still look full of life as the flowers come, and the thing is, I like the flowers with their leaves. This is not a good photograph, (it’s not in my garden either) but for me it’s also not a good look:
I am also inclined generally to believe that if there are healthy leaves then they are doing something some good, so I do prefer to leave them. A friend of mine says “I only remove them from H. X hybridus. I don’t find the newer hybrids such as Penny’s Pink and the like are quite as strong- after a while, or for that matter quite as as leafy.”
But some people are quite sure about this issue and take the leaves off the plants even if the leaves are immaculate. They say the leaves squash other things like snowdrops nearby and that nasty creatures (mice, voles) hide under the leaves and chomp the flowers. Well, I do get chomped flowers, rather randomly, but I find it hard to believe the leaves offer much of a hiding place. And my snowdrops and little flowers are elsewhere.
I am not really sure that I like the bare, sticky up look of a shorn hellebore. But I realise as I search for a photograph of some that there are differences amongst them that must make a difference to how they appear with no leaves. For example:
That is a rather stalky one, with most leaves at the bottom of the stem. But some hellebores have leaves all the way up the stem and shorter stems too:
so not so easy to go chopping the leaves off that one?
Some years ago we were lucky enough to go on a visit to a nursery (in the UK) which specialises in hellebores, Ashwood Nursery.
And their hellebores were glorious and inconclusive as far as leaves is concerned. I begin to think that there are many things to consider. Like the variety – they kept the leaves on these:
and – this is just pretty and definitely no leaves!
And I do know, perhaps most of all, that people will do what they feel like, whatever I or anyone else says.
So I may be the only still ambivalent hellebore person. I have cut everything down in one bed.
I will remove those manky leaves which no doubt horrified you. And I’ll leave other leaves to set my flowers off and save them from nakedness. And go on looking and pondering what is best. Sometimes maybe, there is no universally right answer?
And after all that I bet you’re thinking you’ve had a lot of words but you haven’t seen many great pictures of these wonderful flowers. (Sorry I don’t have names) So:
And I bet you have even better ones, if you have the right home for hellebores.
Gorgeous photos of gorgeous flowers! I garden in the US, and I take off only the leaves that are badly discolored or that are concealing several flowers. I always leave most of the foliage, so it can keep nourishing the plant.
I’m not alone then……thank you for letting me know!
Bought first hellebore in early ’80s. Unlabeled end of season for a buck. Was not a thing then, only figured out what it was from old garden book. Just the basic dirty pink flower. Comes up in random spots, but not annoyingly so. I cut off the dead leaves only. Haven’t tried the fancy ones. Figure it will be like herucha, only the basic old fashioned coral bells last over the years.
Ah, well, I don’t know where you live but mine have thrived and delighted for many many years now. But if you didn’t fall for any of the pictures of them, then I guess they are not for you.
Never a fan of hellebore flowers–they remind me of dusty, artificial flowers that you see forgotten in the corners of old shops. That being said, I saw these great leaves in my sister’s garden one summer–“OMG–what are THOSE?” Yeah, so maybe I’m the only person who bought a hellebore for the leaves.
Yes, I think you could buy them for their leaves and you are the first person I’ve heard of doing that.
I’m with Old Herbaceous — and you. Some of my ballardiae hybrids have such beautiful foliage it would be a travesty to remove it — new or old.
I really do not like the look of bare stemmed flowers springing up from bare earth. But where the winter winds are crueler to foliage I suppose this makes sense if you want to get the most out of those flowers.
Maybe we just need to sympathise with the poor souls who have to defoliate?
My philosophy is that if a leaf (or leaf stalk) still has enough healthy green (70% or more) to allow it to photosynthesize, it stays on the plant. Why should I reduce the energy-producing capacity of a plant, even by a small percentage, merely for cosmetic purposes? Seems counterproductive, to me. As for the photo of the lower-foliage-stripped clump, UGH. Looks totally unnatural, and a bit sadistic too, lol. A Hellebore is not a Lycoris! 😀
I think my aversion was what prompted me to take that photo. It wasn’t admiration.
You are right that the lovely foliage compliments the flowers. I do remove some spotted or tattered leaves at bloom time to avoid disease, but wait until there is lots of fresh foliage before later removing tired-looking old leaves, including some that may stretch too far into other plants. The hellebore community stays leafy, full, and youthful-looking all year.
I am full of envy. After trying several times, I concluded, quite reluctantly, that hellebores do not like me. Or like my climate. I can’t grow them so I’ve never had to answer the question of leaves on or off. Lucky you who grow them!
There is no doubt that we are the lucky ones. They are glorious things. You must move. Monmouthshire. Always thought that would be a great idea!
The groundcover In the Monk’s Garden the I.S. Gardner museum in Boston has lots of hellebore in it. Mixed very successfully with native ginger (Asarum canadense) et al. Lots of foliage present!
Hellebores as ground cover – there’s luxury! Great.
Writing to you from Wareham, Massachusetts…I too only cut off the bad looking leaves. Just flowers, no leaves? That looks terrible! I usually cut off the bad looking leaves when the buds appear. This year the company that cleans up the fall leaves in my yard cut all, and I do mean all, my perennials to the ground, so I have no leaves at all. I’m hoping everything is okay in the spring!
Warehams get everywhere, it seems. Good luck this spring – I hope the clean up company left you all that leafy goodness but I bet they didn’t……
David Culp, a hellebore breeder and passionate gardener, says in his second book (A Year at Brandywine Cottage), “Please, for the love of all things holy, remove the dead leaves from your hellebores so they won’t detract from new buds and flowers.” I do remove the obviously dead and truly tatty ones, but I can’t say I’m compulsive about it. And, depending on the winter (Zone 6b here), some years almost all the leaves look just fine.
Well, David Culp does only say dead ones. Sounds as if he knows a terribly sloppy gardener who has upset him!
The leaves help protect the flowers from the frost that occurs during their bloomtime. I leave the attractive ones, not the battered leaves.
That’s a good point, about the frost.
Did you know than an early example of chemical warfare was done against Athens. A stream came down surrounding hills and eventually passed within the walls, providing water for citizens.
While sieging Athens, the enemy found many hellebores growing wild. They chopped up the plants, dammed up the stream to make a pond in the sunlight and threw in the plants. 3 days later they broke the damn, and the now poisonous water flowed into Athens, killing many people and animals and forcing their surrender.
MORAL: DO NOT PUT HELLEBORE PLANTS OR WASTE WITHIN REACH OF CHILDREN.
Or within reach of your enemies!
I’ve never understood the logic of cutting off the leaves of hellebore and I have never done it. I always assumed it was done out of a desire to keep everything in the garden looking neat and tidy and of no particular benefit to the plant. Looking at a bed of hellebores is like looking at a photograph of a crowd of people: some are neatly dressed with bright smiles; others, as you find them, and others who really don’t want to be there. But each bring an interest to the photograph.
Love this idea – I will be looking to see which ones look bored.
Unless the leaves are horrid or obscuring the flowers I leave them on. My garden, my choice. I like leaves and they work hard.
Reassuring. Thank you.
Anne, I always love your rants! And yes, I am all with you. I LOVE hellebores, so much bang for so little work, and they make the garden come alive in winter. Also agree with many other commenters: I only take out the ugliest or most damaged leaves. I suppose Mother Nature is not running around in winter either snipping off the leaves of wild hellebores. So why would I? Took me a while but I have come to realize that to a large degree established plants, when grown in the right spot, can take care very well of themselves and don’t need my fuzzing, cutting, deadheading, spraying, manicuring and any other overeager intervention. Lazy gardening, smart gardening – it’s all fine with me…
And I think you are spot on. We should always think sympathetically of those garden writers obliged to produce a weekly column and to find something to say in it. And we should always take what they produce with a pinch of salt?
I’m afraid I have my hellebores in too shady of a spot – they have bloomed only a few times in 20 years. Of course, when others have hellebores in bloom, we have snow/ice, -10 degrees and REALLY long nights. I meant to move them this past year but didn’t get to it. Now I’m inspired to find a better spot this year. And I most likely won’t take leaves off unless they are nasty. Leaves are for producing food so I can actually, maybe, GET flowers.
I hope that will work – I don’t know about what temperatures they need. Good luck!
I find you have to be a bit of a contortionist to get a good photo of the front of a hellebore. As for the leaves, I’m way too lazy to be cutting them off. RIght now, both leaves and flowers are going strong in the snow, one of the things I love about the plant
They do look good in snow. (What doesn’t, if the sun shines/!). They have bred some now which turn their faces up: just to help you take photos, of course.
Anne, I think you are right in letting the plant show you what it needs. Removing viable leaves makes the plant work harder, so I leave them alone. Hellebore can be tricky in north Texas, mainly because our rabbits adore them, as they do all of our most expensive flowers. Best in tall containers here, which can be put on a wall or tabletop for both viewing and protection. $$$$$
I have a rabbit problem here too (downstate NY) and sadly, my first criteria when considering any plant is to find out how ‘rabbit resistant’ it is. I sorely miss not growing lilies anymore, and having to completely protect so many young shrubs with metal contraptions until they get big enough so that I only need to ‘fence off’ the trunk. I didn’t ‘cage’ a young Fothergilla last winter and it was eaten halfway to the ground; took all of this year to replace that growth. But all my references say that rabbits don’t eat hellebores, which is one of the reasons why I grow them. So I’m surprised that they eat yours.
I have come to believe that rabbits (and deer) will eat anything. At considerable cost we fenced the entire 2 acre ornamental garden. But just to cheer you up if you envy that – they still get in (people leave gates open..) and now they can’t get out.
(But it does help)
O – rabbits!!! They are terrors. Still – I imagine hellebores display well in tall containers. (esp with their leaves!)
I’m inspired to go examine my hellebores for flowers now!
And of course I don’t cut off the old leaves–that would be entirely too much work. ^_~
But this rant also struck a philosophical chord in me. Or maybe an existential one? Can we connect this question (and these pretty pictures) to a greater question about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything? Maybe the answer is not 42. Maybe the answer is: hellebores.
You have an important possibility there. But should we keep it to ourselves?
Hellebores are not commonly grown here in Southern California–no idea why not, because they grow well and seem to thrive. The local rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii, ignores them. When a leaf starts looking “manky” (mostly in late autumn) I tug it gently, if it comes out, it’s out, otherwise I try again in a few days. Our semi-arid climate discourages many fungal problems–semi-arid is not without positive aspects.
Discouraging fungal problems sounds wonderful from here in wet Wales!
I agree it’s really important to unleaf its like the rotten tomato logic
My apologies. Very late to the party!
Today was a good day. I learned something new today.
Apparently we can break them down to 2 different general types of hellebores (not really talking about species level) some varieties have very thick and durable leaves that are care free and some have leaves that look very sad by the end of the growing season. Hence the reason for grooming them.
Fortunately the plants we grow are thick leaved and carefree. Entirely serendipitous.
At the 5:15 mark this is discussed.
Hope you all have a wonderful holiday!
I will pursue your link and learn too! Thank you.