Tidy ferns and hellebores
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