Yes, You Can Cut Back Dead Plants Too Early

I advised in my March newsletter that it was time to cut back hellebores, especially the ones that would be blooming soon. I followed my own advice, too. But I wrote that newsletter toward the end of February. How was I to know we’d get our coldest days of the winter in March?

budding hellebore with last year's leaves intact.

Here’s one hellebore before it was cut back.

To my eye, the old leaves have flopped over and aren’t providing much protection to the emerging buds. The bigger leaves that appear to be providing protection are from another hellebore–which I also cut back.

hellebore after leaves had been cut back.

I cut these hellebores back around February 23. The high that day was 62°F (17°C).

I could easily believe we would get more cold weather and snow, but after such mild weather I didn’t think we’d see colder weather than we had had all winter.

On March 5, it got down to -9°F(-23°C) before the sun rose that day

My hellebores took it pretty badly.

hellebore damaged by cold

There might be a few buds worth saving in the back.

hellebore damaged by cold

This one looks like a total loss.

hellebore damaged by cold

This one definitely looks like it has some buds worth saving.

Tonight we are “only” supposed to get down to 9°F(-13°C), but since we were “only” supposed to get down to 2°F(-16°C) on the morning we got down to -9°, I expect it to get colder than they predict.

hellebores covered with pots to protect from frigid cold.

So I covered those poor hellebores.

It’s supposed to get even colder tomorrow (6°F/-14°C) and then 8°F(-13°C) the following day, so I will probably just leave those upended pots in place for the next three days. There won’t be much sun to speak of and plenty of cold, and I’m not going to feel like taking them off every morning and putting them back on as the temperature drops.

Lesson learned, I think

I probably won’t cut back dead hellebore foliage in February ever again. But I really don’t know if leaving it on would have helped it endure sub-zero temps with no snow cover. But maybe it would have helped if the air hadn’t been quite so cold. Some of my snowdrops look kind of droopy, and one clump of winter aconites looks like mush, though the rest are fine. I didn’t do anything to protect them or to make them more vulnerable, and they pulled through as best they could. You can make yourself nuts trying to protect your plants from every freak weather event that comes along, and I don’t plan to start. But I guess I feel a little guilty about the hellebores, because I could have left them with their old leaves for a little bit longer, and I didn’t.

How about you? Having crazy weather? Doing anything different because of it?

from Cold Climate Gardening


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