I am cutting all the old foliage off the Helleborus orientalis and I am pleased I have my timing right. Few plants are putting out their new foliage yet. We never used to do this. Indeed, for decades, the main hellebore border (about 30 metres long) was just left to its own devices. Then I read about NZ hellebore expert, Terry Hatch, cutting off all the foliage – even putting a lawnmower through them, though you would have to get your timing absolutely right to carry out this approach.
I tried it and the hellebore display was hugely more charming in winter because the flowers were visible and the fresh foliage was light and bright. It also gave more light to bulbs beneath the plants and cleared out the aphid infestations we can get in the foliage. While about it, I weed out the multitudes of seedlings we get beneath. We do not need yet more hellebores in this area which is already quite congested.
Last year, Mark demurred. He wondered if cutting off all the foliage from evergreen plants would weaken them over time. Fortunately, when we headed over to England on our summer garden trip, we stayed with a new friend. Diana is one of those wonderful English gardeners – an amateur enthusiast but with a specific technical knowledge allied to practical experience which exceeds that of many professionals. We were happy to accept her opinion and indeed she does clean off all the old foliage.
I get dirty knees and do it all with grape snips. One year we tried putting the strimmer or weedeater over the bed. While it was speedy, I didn’t like the chewed stems it left and it didn’t do the weeding either. The trick is all in the timing. Leave it much later and it takes much longer because it involves trimming carefully around fresh new growth. The rewards will come in a few weeks because I can see fresh growth and flower stems starting to push through. We used to follow up with a compost mulch but the soil is now so rich in humus that this is no longer necessary.
I only carry out this extreme trimming on H. orientalis. The other species we grow just need an occasional trim of spent stems.