Pruning Hellebores – Tips for Lenten Rose Maintenance

Hellebores are a long blooming perennial plant that needs very little in the way of maintenance but it does get a bit ragged looking at times of the year.  Pruning hellebores will keep your Lenten rose looking its best all year long.

Lenten Rose Pruning

Find out how to go about pruning Lenten Rose.

What is a hellebore?

Hellebore is a herbaceous evergreen perennial plant that has delicate drooping flowers.  The plant is known for its early blooming nature

Lenten rose otften flowers in the winter. It’s lovely to see the blooms peeking up above the white snow underneath. It is one of the first plants that tell us that spring is on the way.

The plants are a member of the family ranunculaceae. Common names for the plant are Christmas rose or Lenten Rose.

The flowers are so pretty and resemble wild roses that have opened up. It’s not uncommon to see it blooming around Christmas time here in zone 7b. 

In colder hardiness zones, it will even break through frozen ground in very early spring.

Do you cut back hellebores?

All garden plants need pruning at some stage, and hellebores are no exception.

The flowers of Lenten Rose last a very long time in the garden, but the foliage needs a bit of TLC to keep the plant looking tidy.

The flowers sit above the plant and seem to keep their shape and look intact. However, the cold of winter and the damage that winter does to plants can make their leaves a mess.

Tips for Pruning Hellebores

The flowers of lenten rose are very subtle compared to many other perennials.  Some of the tones are muted and seem to get hidden by the leaves. Some flowers are even the same shade of green as the leaves!delicate color of hellebore flowers

While the flowers, themselves, last a very long time on the plant, the leaves are another story. It’s not unusual to see perfectly formed flowers sitting on top of badly damaged leaves.

That just means it’s time to give the plant a hair cut!

hellebore dead leaves

Since the leaves of most hellebores are large, they can sort of “swallow up the flowers.” Removing the old, tattered leaves gives the plant a new lease on life and allows the flowers to shine.

When to prune hellebores

Depending on your growing zone, late winter or early spring is a good time to remove the old, dead leaves from the plant as the flower buds start to emerge. 

If you wait until the plant is in full flower, you run the risk of damaging the pretty blooms.

New hellebore flower growth

The older, decayed leaves can also be a home for bacteria and fungal spores that can infect lenten rose plants and other planted that are nearby.

Any diseased growth should be pruned as soon as you see it so that it does not spread to surrounding plants.Hellebore new growth after pruning

Once you have pruned the plant, new leaves will grow up from the center and spread out as they grow larger.decaying leaves of hellebore plant

Pruning hellebores is quite an easy task but you need the right tools.  Be sure to use bypass pruners that are very sharp. 

Hellebores also have small thorns, so wearing good gardening gloves is suggested.

Garden gloves and pruning shears

As the growing season progresses, continue to prune off any damaged leaves to give the plant a more tidy look. 

There are some plants that are very specific about when you should prune, but hellebores are forgiving plants.  It won’t mind if you tidy it up all throughout the year!

Even though Hellebore is considered a late winter and early spring blooming plant, it is evergreen all year round, so I find myself pruning hellebores in summer months, too!

Deadheading hellebores flowers

One of the questions that I am often asked is “should I deadhead hellebores?” The short answer is yes, but the longer answer will be more pleasant to discover.

You’ll be delighted to see how long the flowers of a hellebore plant will last.  I’ve had some of mine be in flower for months. But all good things do come to an end.  

Deadheading hellebores is easy. Just remove the old flower stems when the start to decline.  Cut them back to the base of the plant. 

One exception is the Bear’s-foot Hellebore (H. foetidus) – also known as “stinking hellebore”.  Since the stems carry the flower buds for the next season, you should leave these on the plant.

Remove flower heads before seeds set if you don’t want the plant to self seed.Hellebores flowers

Deadheading the flowers of hellebores allows the plant to use its energy towards producing new blooms, rather than trying to maintain the current flowers that are on the way out.

Some Hellebore plants have clusters of flowers that sit high above the plants. These stems can get very heavy and “droopy” on well established plants. 

When the tops of this variety gets too unwieldy, it is a good time to deadhead hellebore, stems and all!

What to do with Lenten Rose seedlings

The drooping nature of the flowers of Hellebore plants will ensure that there are lots of tiny seedlings under the plant. 
Hellebore seedling

Hellebores set seed easily, and it’s not at all uncommon to see small seedlings around the mother plant. 

If you leave these plants to grow naturally, the garden bed can become overgrown with the plants.  A good idea is to dig up the seedlings and plant them in pots until they grow a bit bigger.

Once they have grown, you will have a ready supply of new hellebore plants for your own garden, or to give as gifts! Remember that the new seedlings might not look like the parent plant but will still have the characteristic Lenten Rose look to them.

You just might get a different color of flower, or slightly different leaf pattern.

Using Hellebore Flowers indoorsLenten Rose cut flowers last a long time indoors

If you remove the flower stems before they set seed, you can bring them indoors.  You will be delighted to discover just how long they will last in a vase of water indoors.

I’ve had some hellebore flowers last for up to a month at a time! When you consider how expensive cut flowers are, having some lenten rose indoors is a great way to enjoy the flowers inside, especially when the weather is colder.

A note on Hellebore toxicity

Care should be taken with pruned leaves and flowers from hellebores.  All parts of the plant are poisonous if consumed, so keep them away from pets and children.

Lenten roses are ever green plants even though they only flower for part of the year.  But with a bit of time spent pruning hellebore, your plants will continue looking good all year round.


Admin note: This post for hellebores pruning first appeared on the blog in December of 2017. I have updated the post to add more information and a video for you to enjoy.

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