Hellebore Pruning: How-To and A Cautionary Tale

by Genevieve on February 18, 2011

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There are two schools of thought on pruning Lenten rose, or Helleborus orientalis. One side says to prune off the old foliage to the very base just as the Hellebore is starting to flower.

The bloom spikes start coming up in the center of the plant, and the old foliage lays down obediently:

Hellebore - time to prune

If you prune it at this time, your new flowers will unfurl with the naked, innocent look of a woodland bulb – all stem and bloom:

pruning hellebore

hellebore pruned

And if your Hellebores are really plump and happy, you might not even miss the foliage:

helleborus orientalis pruned

Of course, some people don’t like the minimalist look on their Hellebores, and prefer to leave the foliage as long as possible:

Hellebores at the SF Botanical Garden

If that’s you,  just keep an eye on things and prune out the old foliage when new leaves start to come out, about two months after bloom starts.

If you miss the boat and let the new foliage emerge among the old foliage and the flowers, you get a mess, and it is hard to prune out the old stuff without harming the new:

IMG_9108

Hellebores are lovely, easy-care plants that rarely get a disease, but they do not like being crowded. Plants that look like the photo above often suffer snail damage, sooty mold, and whitefly, none of which will kill the plant, but sure isn’t attractive.

The winter cold can kill off these pests, so if you do prune off the old foliage right away as the flowers are emerging, it takes away the hiding place of any garden snails and kills off any whiteflies or mold that may be hanging about, ready to get a foothold.

Whichever way you choose to prune, you should take off your Hellebore’s old foliage between January and April, and also prune out the dead flowerheads when the flower color becomes dull and the seed pods in the center of the bloom begin to enlarge.

Hellebore flowers make a lovely display in a vase, even when they’re fading, so if you’re having trouble taking the plunge, just cut them and enjoy the last couple weeks inside.

They spread at an almost alarming rate via seed, coating the ground quickly with shiny baby Hellebore sprouts that are a terrible pain to remove. Unfortunately, it takes a really long time for Hellebores to do anything from seed – many years, in my experience, and the seedlings are random colors, so they may not be just what you were hoping for. That’s why I usually deadhead mine and just buy new Hellebores when I want them, so I can choose which colors and styles I actually want.

Want to read more about pruning Hellebores? Frances at FaireGarden prunes hers every year and shares the process with us.

More pruning tutorials here.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

gina February 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm

I had no idea you were suppose to cut the leaves off hellebores in winter/spring! I only have a couple of them, but now maybe they will get proper treatment. : )

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Genevieve February 19, 2011 at 3:52 pm

You don’t absolutely have to, especially while they’re young, but once you get a Helle with black sticky moldy gunk on it you will never miss out on pruning again! :)

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Christine February 18, 2011 at 2:20 pm

I never bothered to cut back my hellebore leaves until this winter when I saw how messy they were getting. Your post comes at the perfect time. Thank you.
Christine´s last article ..February Full Moon

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Genevieve February 19, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Awesome, Christine! :)

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p martin February 19, 2011 at 11:12 am

I like hellebores and I love Fiskars bypass clippers

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Genevieve February 19, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Me, too!

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Kathryn/plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com February 19, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Thank you for this instructive post. Quite valuable and very much appreciated!

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Stephanie February 20, 2011 at 8:05 am

My hellebores are have only been planted since last fall and this winter..Even though I bought them as one and two year old plants, they are still too small to do much trimming yet…..They are planted about two feet from one another so no crowding there..Thanks for this valuable info and pictures , I will be needing it soon enough.

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Corner Garden Sue February 20, 2011 at 7:48 pm

I came here from Jan’s link on Facebook. This will be the third season for a few of my hellebores, and the second for the rest. I didn’t prune last year, but will this year. Mine don’t get quite as much water as they’d like, and are not very bushy. The ones that got more water last year, though, are not any bushier than the others. Maybe they will in the next few years.
Corner Garden Sue´s last article ..Critters

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Corner Garden Sue February 20, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Oh, and thanks for your information. You sure have some beauties!
Corner Garden Sue´s last article ..Critters

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VW February 22, 2011 at 11:02 am

Very nice tutorial, love the pictures. It’s still so cold here that my hellebores in the ground are probably going to wait until March to bloom, sigh.

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Frances February 23, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Hi Genevieve, you have explained the quandry perfectly! To cut or not to cut, it is really just personal preference. I have decided that as long as I am physically able to do so, will cut the multitudes of Hellebores , all H. orientalis here. We are no longer transplanting the seedlings to other spots in the garden though, enough is enough. Thanks for the linkage. :-)
Frances
Frances´s last article ..Wildflower Wednesday For February 2011

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Dawn November 13, 2011 at 11:31 pm

I’d like to add hellebores to my garden. When is the best time to plant?

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Genevieve November 14, 2011 at 9:01 am

In my climate, Zone 9, I’d plant them now, in fall! Fall’s good because it lets their roots grow and get established before the temps climb and they start more active growth.

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Rita March 14, 2012 at 10:09 am

How exciting! I never knew you could prune hellebores.duh…….thanks for the great tutorial and photos………

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TOS February 16, 2013 at 8:30 pm

I just took a look at this year’s flowers on my hellebores and was worried because all of the foliage was limp and on the ground. They look just like your first photo above. I’m glad I found your post while searching for what was “wrong” with them — now I know it’s normal, and can choose whether to prune or not. Thanks!

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George Hurst February 16, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Excellent advice, thank you

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