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.

{ 25 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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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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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Rich Peterson April 20, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Just discovered Hellebores at Home Depot. I know. :-(

I bought three of them, fertilized and planted in a Washington, DC Late April, Cold Spring. They look just great. But, only Green Leaves. 1 Plant has produced Purple Leaves with what appears to be buds coming through.

Is the season over for them, or will we have some blooms Spring into Summer? Fall? Winter? They seem to be spread. Elated they are Deer Resistant. When is it too late to plant more?

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Genevieve April 23, 2014 at 8:23 pm

If they aren’t setting out blooms in the next month, you’ll be waiting until next year. Be patient, Rich! They will come! Ask your local agricultural extension agent, nursery worker, or hort college about planting time. That varies by region.

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Lisa Rancore April 23, 2014 at 4:27 pm

All my leaves are completely Brown and crunchy. No green left on them whatsoever. The lime green flowers are still blooming. What do I need to do? If I cut off all the brown leafs… There will no leafs left. :(

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Genevieve April 23, 2014 at 8:18 pm

Cut them. The new leaves come out after the blooms start to go.

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Rich Peterson April 30, 2014 at 8:56 am

Dear Genevieve:

Thank you. Patience. Yes, what a concept!

I’m in Washington, DC. And, it’s an unseasonably “Late and Cold Spring.” No nighttime temps.

I’m not worried about no bloom, as the leaves are pretty and fill in the space well. I was going back to Home Depot for more, but they wanted $15 per plant.

Considering their buying power, I assumed it was still a good price for the plant. True?

I’m not entirely sure how I landed on you, other than Google. But, look forward to reading your site and following your counsel.

With Every Good Wish.

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Rich Peterson May 27, 2014 at 2:28 pm

No Blooms on Hellebores, but the leaves show well, so next year.

Quick question on Solomon’s Seal:

In Washington, DC, early 80′s now. Good rain. I have a few and they’re doing exceedingly well in very shady AREA. I CAN CONTINUE IN THAT VEIN.

IS IT TOO LATE TO PLANT THEM FOR THIS SEASON?

OR, BEST TO WAIT UNTIL FALL OR EARLY NEXT SPRING, PROVIDED WE GET ONE. NOT THIS YEAR. SPRING SPRUNG LAST WEEK. (Sorry about the caps.)

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Alice Fisher June 12, 2014 at 1:46 pm

I see many questions about blooming and pruning. I have babies – some that I wish to share while others need to be somewhere else. When is trans-planting time? Winter here in Washington State is way too wet when it is not freezing, spring they are blooming. That leaves late summer or fall. I do under stand that they are not pleased with transplanting but I so not wish to destroy such lovely things.
While I am asking, are they mono or dicot?
Thanks
Alice Fisher

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lois cook June 14, 2014 at 4:42 pm

hellebores blooming okay, but the foliage is so big they hide the blooms. Can i cut back this foliage?

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