So, how do your evergreen perennials including hellebores look after the early winter blast? Most likely, they look a bit rough if your ground froze like it did here at the garden. Most likely, they’ll be fine once they thaw and we edge closer to spring.
Many plants can’t uptake water in the winter because their roots don’t reach below the frost line. In this case, the plants must reduce their need for water. Water loss in winter is highest when the evergreen foliage is exposed to either sun or wind. Some gardeners cover their evergreen perennials with branches or materials like pine straw to reduce water loss.
The first step taken by most evergreens to reduce water use is to become flaccid (limp). The plants will become turgid again once the temperatures rise above freezing and moisture becomes available. Trillium and hellebores are two good examples.
If wilting isn’t enough to compensate for the water being lost, the plants next begin jettisoning foliage, by sacrificing leaves through dessication until a balance between available moisture and needed moisture is balanced.
Here, most hellebores here aren’t yet in flower, but some of the early flowering Helleborus x ballardiae hybrids were just before bursting.
While most of the Helleborus x hybridus weren’t quite as far along, their foliage still looks rough.
We always recommend removing old hellebore foliage each late winter for a better floral show, but the key is timing. While the foliage looks unsightly to the gardener, it still serves to shade the developing flower buds and slow their progress. If you remove the foliage too early, sun, and the accompanying warmth on the developing buds speed their opening, and if more severe cold is in store, this may ruin the season’s show.
Since this hellebore above is not showing flower color and the buds are…I mean, were, still below the old foliage, we would have left these leaves intact for winter protection…they were only removed for demonstration purposes.