Tidy ferns and helle­bores

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - Front Page -

I don’t nor­mally do any­thing about the ferns – some ev­er­green and some not – that grow at the side of a path in our rather wild wood­land garden where things are more or less al­lowed to do as they please. But this year I no­tice they are look­ing par­tic­u­larly messy. Will I do them any harm by cut­ting them all right back? And what about helle­bores? Can they be cut back too?

RB Fel­lowes, via email Dry­opteris filix-mas, are de­cid­u­ous. De­pend­ing on the weather, they tend to com­pletely col­lapse by Novem­ber, fresh fronds start­ing to curl up­wards in early spring. By all means cut them back: I have just taken the shears to my own fern wreck­age and put it on my leaf heap.

They can of course be cut back ear­lier and will make a use­ful in­su­la­tion layer un­der pegged­down hor­ti­cul­tural fleece, to pro­vide pro­tec­tion for var­i­ous ten­der-ish plants.

Ev­er­green ferns, such as our na­tive hart’s tongue, are treated rather dif­fer­ently. It is usu­ally suf­fi­cient to go over them in early au­tumn, tidy­ing them up so that they pro­vide a bit of wel­come smart struc­ture to a win­ter wood­land garden. Snip­ping out the old­est and tat­ti­est leaves makes a big dif­fer­ence, and may even make them pro­duce a few bright new fronds be­fore win­ter kicks in prop­erly. Growth then starts again in earnest as spring ar­rives. If you have never “groomed” your ferns in the past, they will come to no harm if you do a to­tal ren­o­va­tion job on them by cut­ting them right back. The sooner the bet­ter, in

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