Hellebore Leaves

Nursery News: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.


Helleborus 'Ballerina Ruffles'This beautiful, newly introduced double hellebore called ‘Ballerina Ruffles’ will be available at the hellebore sale on March 29.

One certain sign of spring at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is when I start getting calls and emails about hellebore leaves.  Since so many of my customers have questions about this, I thought I would write a quick post on the subject.  For a longer post with a detailed explanation of hellebore maintenance as applied to the various types of hellebores you might have in your garden, please read Cutting Back Hellebores.


DSCN3715Sweet box (Sarcococca) is a true evergreen shrub and still looks beautiful after our hard winter.

The question I get from my customers this time of year is: “What’s wrong with my hellebores, the leaves look terrible?”  The answer is that although hellebores are often called evergreen, they are actually an herbaceous perennial and lose their foliage every year just like a peony or a coneflower.  Unlike a peony, hellebore leaves last through most of the winter adding ornamental interest to the winter garden.  Hellebore foliage is winter green not evergreen.  Eventually the leaves fade and are replaced with fresh new growth.


DSCN3713-001A typical hellebore in my garden right now.

In mild winters, hellebore leaves will still look fresh and green in March.  But in harsh winters like the one we just experienced, hellebore foliage will look like the photo above.  No matter what the leaves look like though, you should cut them off at the base in late winter before the flowers start to emerge.  I usually recommend mid-February but that was impossible this year.  I am cutting them back now as they emerge from the snow.  I want to get the job done before the new flower stems mingle with the old leaf stems.  If that happens it is hard to remove the leaves without unintentionally chopping off flowers.


DSCN3710Just trace the leaf back to the base of the plant and cut it off.


DSCN3727A close up of the base of the plant with the old leaves and the new buds.

So the answer is there is nothing wrong with your hellebores.  Despite the awful winter and frigid temperatures, they will bloom as beautifully as ever.  They just need a little maintenance.  But before you get chopping, please read the more detailed directions in Cutting Back Hellebores.


DSCN3711As soon as the snow melted, snow crocuses burst into bloom, a sure sign of spring.

DSCN3723Snowdrops are equally as determined to get blooming and have been covered with honeybees on warmer days.

That is about all that is going on at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens right now.  If you have ordered snowdrops, I am hoping to start shipping as early as next week.  Although it is supposed to go down to 20 degrees tonight, the ten-day forecast predicts warmer weather.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed!


Nursery Happenings: Our first open house sale featuring a huge variety of hellebores is scheduled for Saturday, March 29, from 10 am to 3 pm.  Customers will get an email with details.

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a local retail nursery in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S., zone 7a. The only plants that we mail order are snowdrops and miniature hostas and only within the US.

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41 Responses to “Hellebore Leaves”

  1. Joan LaLeike Says:

    One of the most practical Posts!

    Mobile message by JL


  2. I always try to cut mine back in my own garden after the first of the year. At work I been told to leave them alone unless they are solidly brown, but I long to prune them.

    • Les, I guess the theory would be that the green leaves keep feeding the plant. However, as we both know, hellebores are so vigorous that it really doesn’t matter if you cut the leaves off before they are solidly brown. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to go through the plants twice: once to cut winter-browned leaves and another time to take off the remainder, what a nightmare. I have literally hundreds of hellebore plants and they each have one chance to be groomed. You could tell them that an expert told you to take them off all at once! Carolyn

  3. I do what you do and attend to them once a year. I love that first image, great color.

  4. Clara Berger Says:

    Hi Carolyn,
    Misery loves company. Your hellebores look as bad as mine.
    Like you, I’ve cut off all the old leaves to avoid dealing with the old and new leaves mixed together. The blooms are there just waiting to happen when we have a few more warm days.

    • Clara, We need a lot of warm days to actually get them up and blooming because although the days have been somewhat above 32 degrees the nights have still been frigid. Nevertheless, I know they will soar out of the ground once the weather cooperates. Carolyn

  5. Midtim@comcast.net Says:

    Are these the same ones I preordered?

  6. ‘Ballerina Ruffles’ … spectacular! We have unheard of winter burn this year… very concerned for many conifers and rhodies… the waiting to see if they are alive and will send decent fresh growth is upsetting….

  7. Thank you for this useful information Carolyn. I must re read all your hellebore posts as soon as I have more free time.

  8. So nice to see signals of spring in your area Carolyn. I cut my hellebore leaves back this year and they’ve been so much easier to enjoy. Such tough plants. Last year someone gave me a bit of Sarcococca and it’s not looking very good after our hard winter; glad to see yours looking so beautiful. susie

  9. My hellebore have bloomed all Winter here in Raleigh, North Carolina. Wonderful plants!

  10. I don’t know what I would do in my very early spring garden without Hellebores. They are a wonderful garden plant, and the foliage is terrific all season. I just purchased two Pink Frost Hellebores at the Boston Flower Show this week – although there is still a lot of snow on the ground in my garden, I look forward to planting them outside.

  11. It’s Hellebore time–one of my favorite times of the year! Mine are still buried in snow, but I can’t wait to see how they fared this winter. I usually wait to clip the old leaves and gently rake away the leaf mulch until I’m nearly certain we’re on a warming trend. They are incredible plants!

    • Beth, Sometimes hellebores are in full bloom here at the end of January but always by the end of February beginning of March. This year there is nothing yet. When everything decides to bloom it will be spectacular but gone in a flash probably. Carolyn

  12. Uh oh, I posted on the same topic just a few minutes after you! I hope I haven’t breached some sort of blogging etiquette, if so my apologies 🙂
    Glad to see things reappearing out of the snow and in good shape, I’m hoping the next few days gets rid of all this leftover snow. Please keep on posting about snowdrops! The season can be so short especially when most of it is spent under several inches of snow.

    • Frank, I think most of my readers are probably tired of hearing about snowdrops but I may do one more post with photos of my favorites. I am sure we have different sets of readers and everyone can benefit from finding out how to care for hellebores. Carolyn

  13. flowers in the snow always facinating to me

  14. I learned the hard way that hellebore leaves are not really evergreen! Now I cut them back in late winter, as you directed, and I am always so thrilled at how great they look when their new foliage and flowers emerge! i hope some of the fabulous new hybrids will eventually come down in price so I can afford them!

    • Deb, After this winter, I am seriously considering cutting them back in the fall even though the leaves provide great fall and early winter interest. I probably have almost 1,000 and there is too much other garden work to do in the spring. Carolyn

  15. Hello Carolyn,
    Glad to see that the snow is at last melting a bit with you. How much more special spring will seem for you this year. Hope that the Snowdrop talk went well( if it’s happened?) and I agree with your last reply about when to cut hellebore leaves back … we’ve never had as severe a winter as you’ve just endured, but we do always now try to cut the leaves back in late autumn(November), simply because we never seem to have time after this – or if snow does arrive in Dec/Jan/Feb we get caught out by not being able to access them. This year we even cut some back in late October, and they haven’t suffered at all, flowering better than ever,

    • Julian, Unfortunately more snow expected tonight followed by 22 degree F weather. There is always the concern here that the leaves somehow protect the emerging buds and so shouldn’t be cut in the fall. However, after this winter, where the leaves were mashed down, providing no protection, and the temperatures approached zero, but the buds of the hybrid hellebores are fine, I think I an going to convert to fall cutting. Carolyn

  16. Carolyn I love those double hellebores. I caught a glimpse of my biggest one needing a hair cut just before it was buried again. It had lots of new growth just waiting for a warm up.

  17. Carolyn, as a result of following your posts I finally got back into growing hellebores. Even if I say so myself they were looking good, what did I do, leave them all in Aberdeen.

  18. Excellent advice, Carolyn, and just in time for me to take care of my scruffy-looking hellebores as they emerge from under the snow. One of them has buds, so I should get right out there. Then I’m going to follow your ‘Cutting Back Hellebores” link. Wish I could come to your open house sale, but not possible this year. Happy that spring is in sight at last. P. x

  19. The Ballerina Ruffles are just adorable, I’d love to have them, all three please 🙂
    I bought 2 new hellebores this year too, could not stop myself, Helleborus ericsmithii ‘Winter Sunshine’ and H. hybridus ‘Double Primrose’. I will look for the ballerinas over here!
    I usually cut the leaves back on my hellebores just before Christmas, even though they usually look just fine. I often leave some of the smaller leaves so the plants are not completely bare, I like the look of some leaves when the flowers turn up. My hellebores usually start to flower around Christmas or just after.

  20. Hellebores are an acquired love. They are quietly beautiful, not at all showy. But their beauty becomes apparent after you’ve grown them and appreciated all they have to offer. Great post!

    • Jayne, The basic hellebore that everyone started out with could be considered not showy, but many of the brightly colored new introductions are some of the most eye-catching plants in my garden, especially in February when they normally bloom. And nothing beats a Christmas rose in full bloom—they stop my customers in their tracks. Carolyn

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