Hellebore Flowers Offer Beautiful Late-Winter Blooms

A winter champion, luscious hybrid hellebores are some of the first to bloom By Janet Loughrey


Helleborus x hybridus

Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.

  • Common name: Hybrid Lenten rose
  • Zones: 4 to 9; evergreen in 6 to 9
  • Bloom time: February-May
  • Bloom size: 2 to 3 1/2”
  • Height/Spread: 18 to 24” tall and 24” wide
  • Site: Partial shade, well-draining soil
  • Characteristics: Low-maintenance, deer-resistant

Hybrid hellebores get their common name, Lenten rose, from the rose-like flowers that appear in early spring around the Christian observance of Lent. The “blooms” (which are actually sepals that protect the true flowers) last for several months, from February until May, and the foliage is evergreen in all but the coldest regions.


Tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions, hybrid hellebores perform best when sited in partial shade in rich, moist, but well-draining soil. Hellebores are quite easy to grow, and since they are perennials, will continue to bloom for a number of years.

Hellebore planting tips:

  • Many gardeners like to plant hellebores on a hillside or in raised flower beds to better enjoy their downward-facing blooms. See an excellent example of this planting strategy: A Winter Jewel Box.
  • When transplanting hellebores directly from their nursery containers, be sure to shake off the potting mix and free up any bound roots.
  • Be careful not to plant your hellebores too deeply as this can hinder flower production. Make sure the crown of the plant is just slightly buried beneath the soil.
  • Plant with companions such as snowdrops, crocus, muscari, daffodils, phlox, trillium and bleeding heart.
  • Hellebores contain toxins that are harmful to pets and humans, so keep them out of reach. See more Common Poisonous Plants for Dogs and Cats.

Hellebore care tips:

  • The leathery foliage of hellebore flowers looks best when sheared in late winter just before new growth emerges.
  • An annual application of manure or compost will help to boost the growth of your hellebores.
  • Provide plenty of water during spring and fall when they are actively growing. You can ease up during the summer because heat causes hellebores to go dormant.


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Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.


Part of the Winter Thriller™ series introduced by Chris Hansen of Great Garden Plants, the oversized, velvety-crimson flowers are widely regarded as the truest red. Dark mahogany foliage that fades to dark green is a perfect complement to the striking blooms.

Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.


“I am partial to any of the double-flowered forms, as the blooms last longer,” says Fritz. “The clear lavender-pink color makes this a great companion to a wide range of spring ephemerals, such as early-blooming minor bulbs and forget-me-nots.”

Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.


One of the many striking named varieties in the Winter Jewels™ series by Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne of Northwest Garden Nursery, the soft-pink double flowers are infused with shades of crimson. Fritz finds the simultaneous veining, spotting, and edging to be “particularly intriguing.”

Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.


“This is the variety that people gravitate to the most in our display gardens,” notes Fritz. “It’s close to a true black and is stunning when paired with Galanthus (snowdrops).” Part of the Winter Jewels™ series.

Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.


Raspberry-mauve double blooms of this regal selection by Dan Hinkley are complemented by reddish new growth. Dramatic nodding flowers are best seen when planted on a hillside or steep slope so that they can be viewed from below.

Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.


Part of the Winter Jewels™ series, the lotus-like flowers create a tropical look. Fritz finds the bright-yellow color “cheerful, like daffodils; they stand out on a cloudy day.”

Photo by: Ngoc Minh Ngo.


Introduced by Dan Hinkley, this is regarded as one of the best yellow forms. Deep burgundy flecking towards the center of the flowers makes this a striking companion to ‘Kingston Cardinal’.

For landscape craftsman Jerry Fritz, Helleborus x hybridus (hybrid Lenten rose) are staples in the landscapes he designs for his clients. “Hellebores are among the earliest and certainly the most exquisite flowers in the spring garden.” Until recently however, named varieties were all but impossible to find. Advances in propagation through division, tissue culture, and hand-pollination have resulted in more diverse flower colors, forms, patterns, increased plant vigor, and larger blooms. According to Fritz, “The newer hybrids are not only accessible and collectible, they are seriously addicting as well.” With improved breeding techniques producing a seemingly endless array of new varieties in recent years, these perennial favorites are worthy of a second look.

Fritz—a well-known speaker, author, and industry expert who has been featured in many national publications and appeared on the Martha Stewart Show—trials the newest hellebore cultivars at Linden Hill Gardens, his destination plant nursery in Ottsville, Pennsylvania. “The most exciting trends right now include truer and more unusual colors (from amber to almost black), increased plant heights, outward-facing blooms, and more exotic patterns of speckling, veining, and picotee edges,” he says. “The fact that Lenten roses can be successfully grown in most zones, are low-maintenance and deer-resistant, only enhances their already sky-high appeal. For me, hellebores are an indispensable plant for any serious gardener.”


Do hellebores spread? Yes, hellebores will self-sow. However, allowing them to do so may result in unexpected hybrids if you grow multiple types in close proximity. Thin out any new seedlings that are too close to mature plants. Expect self-sown plants to flower after three years.

Do hellebores need to be divided? It’s not usually necessary for the health of the plant; but if you wish to divide them, this is best done in fall. Hellebores can be fussy about being dug up and moved, so it’s generally just best to leave them be.

Last updated: January 22, 2020

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This article was adapted from its original version for use on the web.

A Passion for Hellebores

Jane Edmanson

JANE EDMANSON: If you’re like me, you’ll always be on the lookout for something colourful for that quiet winter garden. And over recent years, that tough old plant the hellebore has risen in popularity. In fact, it’s risen to cult status.

Hellebores are from the Ranunculaceae or Buttercup family. They’re herbaceous perennials, mostly evergreen and come from Europe and West Asian regions where the winters are severe. They flower from winter into spring and now there’s an incredibly wide range available.

Peter Leigh began collecting Hellebores 15 years ago in his inner city backyard. Now he grows Hellebores from seed that he imported originally from the UK.

Peter, what is it about these beautiful plants that appeal to you?

PETER LEIGH: I just love the fact that they flower in the middle of winter which is an unusual thing for plants and when I started growing a few and I saw they performed really well in the garden, I then looked at some books from overseas, and at that stage some new books on Hellebores come out, saw the amazing range of coloured forms of flowers that were available and that really got me passionate about them. I thought, ‘I have to have these.’

JANE EDMANSON: There are four main Helleborus groupings. The white flowered niger, the multi-stemmed caulescent, the clumping acaulescent and the many hued Helleborus x hybridus.

Peter, the cup shaped flowers of these hybrids are beautiful.

PETER LEIGH: They are. These are the real show-offs of the Hellebore world I think. You can see that one there’s a really lovely yellow. The dark colours are also a real characteristic of the Helleborus, through to almost black. This one’s a nice plum purple.

JANE EDMANSON: And look at this one. I love the doubles.

PETER LEIGH: The doubles, yep. That’s a new sort of breeding area and they’ll probably last 20 years or so, that’s come about, the fully double form. That’s a nice double white spotted. There’s also semi-doubles which is where the nectar and the single plant become enlarged and ruffled and coloured and that’s also a very attractive form of hybridus.

JANE EDMANSON: These are where the hybrids are bred from. These are the acaulescent types.

PETER LEIGH: That’s right Jane. These are the wild species that they were bred from originally a couple of hundred years ago. They’re the acaulescents species so they don’t actually have stems. They’re clump forming out of the ground.

JANE EDMANSON: The flowers are more delicate looking.

PETER LEIGH: They are. They’re much smaller typically than the hybrids. The hybrids have been bred up to have the big colourful flowers. These ones have really quite small flowers maybe the size of a ten cent piece. They are also deciduous plants so they die back altogether, late summer and into autumn and they’re just much smaller and more delicate overall.

And Jane, this is the caulescent group of Hellebores and they’re called that because of the well developed, above ground stems that they have. And they’re a beautiful, beautiful form of Hellebore with really attractive foliage. I always say to people, treat them as much as a foliage plant, as a flowering plant. They do have flowers, but they’re much smaller. They’re enlarged clusters, but much smaller flowers.

JANE EDMANSON: A decade ago, Peter Leigh began creating his own Hellebores and now, he’s one of Australia’s foremost breeders.

So Peter, how do you go about creating new Hellebore varieties?

PETER LEIGH: Well Jane, the secret to it is to hand pollinate the plant and we hand pollinate all of the plants that we grow in the nursery here. I’ve selected this one here because of the flower colour. So I remove the anthers containing the pollen and I select a flower on the plant that’s going to receive the pollen, in this case I’ve selected that flower there because it’s at a loose bud stage. It’s just starting to open which means that its own pollen hasn’t started to shed yet. So I can put that on there now without any worry of the plant having self-pollinated itself. So I’ve now applied the pollen from the other plant to the stigma of that flower so that’s now been pollinated. I would then tag that flower with the name of that plant that I’ve received the pollen from so I can keep a record of the cross.

That seed from that plant will germinate next winter, so about 9 months it takes a seed to germinate one a seed has dropped and the resulting seedling won’t flower for another three years from now.

JANE EDMANSON: It’s a very long winded process.

PETER LEIGH: It requires a lot of patience.

JANE EDMANSON: So Peter, what’s your best tip for growing them successfully?

PETER LEIGH: Well Jane, I think it’s important to position them correctly in the garden and where they’re naturally found is in areas of deciduous woodland, so if you put them in an area where they’re getting good light in winter but shade in summer, that’s very important. So not too dark in the winter months.

JANE EDMANSON: Because Hellebores like to grow under deciduous trees, they really benefit from plenty of leaf mulch. So be generous with that and you’ll have fabulous Hellebore flowers, right through winter and into spring.

STEPHEN RYAN: Weren’t those Hellebores just stunning. Looks like I’m going to have to find more room around here. And if you want to know more about them, check out the article in July issue of the Gardening Australia Magazine. And if you want to know more about next week’s program, just stop where you are.

Angus has been to Canberra to have a look at one of his favourite places – the national capitals’ beautiful Botanic Gardens.

And Josh gives some great advice on looking after your precious garden tools. It’ll save you a fortune in the long run.

So until next week, look after yourself.

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.

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!

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!

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

Pin these tips for how to prune hellebores for later

Would you like a reminder of these suggestions for how to prune lenten rose? Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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How To Prune Hellebores – Learn About Pruning A Hellebore Plant

Hellebores are beautiful flowering plants that bloom early in the spring or even late winter. Most varieties of the plant are evergreens, which means last year’s growth is still hanging around when the new spring growth appears, and this can sometimes be unsightly. Keep reading to learn more about trimming hellebores and when to prune hellebores so they look their best.

When to Prune Hellebores

The best time for pruning a hellebore plant is late winter or early spring, just as soon as the new growth begins to appear. This new growth should come straight up out of the ground as little stalks. These stalks should still be surrounded by a ring of last year’s big leaves. The old leaves may very well be damaged from the winter’s cold and looking a little rough around the edges.

As soon as the new growth appears, these old leaves can be cut away, slicing them right at the base. If your old foliage is undamaged and still looks good, it’s not necessary to prune them right away, but once the new grow starts to leaf out, you’ll want to make way for them by removing the old growth. If you leave the old growth for too long, it’ll become entangled with the new growth and much harder to trim away.

Hellebores can also fall prey to snails and slugs, and masses of foliage give them moist, dark places to hide.

How to Prune Hellebores

Hellebore pruning is relatively easy. The plants are tough, and the appearance of new growth gives a clear signal to act. Remove the old growth by slicing cleanly through the stems as close as possible to the ground.

It’s important to be careful while pruning, however, as the sap of the plant can irritate the skin. Always wear gloves and clean your pruning shears thoroughly after use.

Hellebore Care Instructions


Hybrid hellebores (Helleborus X hybridus) are very tolerant and will grow well in most soils as long as the ground is not extremely dry or stagnantly waterlogged, although they usually survive even those conditions. They prefer a sheltered position in semi-shade (dense shade can reduce flowering) with a rich, moist, free draining soil. If possible, it is desirable to plant hellebores on a sloping bed, both to improve drainage and also to make it easier to look into the flowers, which naturally nod. All hellebores are deer proof.

Soil Type

Although very tolerant of soil type, hellebores are deep-rooted and to flower at their best, they appreciate plenty of nutrients and adequate moisture. They will benefit from being planted in deeply dug soil improved with plenty of humus, in the form of leaf mold, compost, or old manure. We mulch once a year in winter with a local compost called Steer Plus, but be careful to not bury the crown of the plant with mulch.

Remove Old Foliage and Stems

Remove the old faded flower stems, unless you require seed, or you will have an excess of seedlings beneath your mother plant. Remove all foliage from hybrid hellebores and the deciduous species in December or January. This is done to improve the appearance of the plant (the old leaves eventually die, slowly), making it easier to see the flowers and also prevent the spread of any existing disease to the newly emerging flower stems and leaves.

Disease and Pests

Hellebores are generally trouble-free and easy-to-grow plants. Some of the occasional problems that they may experience are fungal diseases, aphids, and slug or snail damage. We do not spray against fungus in the garden, but prefer to cull plants that show weakness to disease. If aphids become a significant problem there is a spray sold by Gardens Alive called Pyola Oil or Take Down, available on Amazon, that is a mixture of pyrethrins and canola oil that is very effective and is acceptable to organic growers.


Hellebores are typically long-lived plants. The regular mulching helps keep them healthy and free-flowering. They do not usually need to be divided for the health of the plant, but if you wish to transplant or divide a hellebore, that is best done in September or October. Dividing is best accomplished by digging the whole plant, washing the crown free of soil in order to make it easier to see what you are doing, and then cutting between the growth buds with a sharp knife. If you leave at least three buds in each division, the plant will recover more quickly.

Seed Sowing

Sow hellebore seed as soon as possible (preferably in June to August). We use a mix of 75% Black Gold® and 25% perlite. Sow the seed thinly and cover with 1/4″ (6mm) layer of #2 chick grit (obtainable at any feed store). Leave the pot out in the open, not in direct sun, and do not allow them to dry out. When germination has occurred, bring them into a cold frame or cool greenhouse, taking care against possible damage from slugs or mice. Transplant into small pots when the first true leaves appear and they are large enough to handle. We use 4″x4″x6″ band pots and a product called Patio Potting Soil formulated by a local forest products company, Rexius. Pot on as required. Liquid feed regularly from about six weeks after potting on.

Cut Flowers

Linda Beutler and her commercial floral design students impart their wisdom below with the best way to preserve your Helleborus X hybridus blooms.

Cut Hellebore Water Recipe:

In a quart of water, add one packet (which equals one level, not heaping) tablespoon of commercial floral preservative, and 2 tablespoons of ethyl alcohol. NOTE: the CCC students used ethyl alcohol containing acetone. For the next best results you could swap isopropyl alcohol for ethyl alcohol (95% ethyl alcohol is available at Oregon Liquor stores). Use only mature flowers with seed already forming.


  • Leave the hellebore stems as long as possible and harvest the stems when the nectaries have fallen off the primary (first to open flower, with secondary buds open or opening).
  • Always cut the ends of any cut plant stems at an angle.
  • Don’t be skimpy with the water; you want at least half of the stem length submerged. In our experiments we used vases that held a quart of solution. Helleborus X hybridus stems don’t have bark or a tough outer sheath so some water/solution will be absorbed through the sides of the stems as well as being drawn up the cut end.
  • Don’t overdose the formula be adding more commercial preservative of alcohol. This isn’t like cooking with garlic—more is not better.
  • If the hellebore stems develop a “cooked” looking cut end after a week or so, simply pull them from the water and cut that portion of the stem off.
  • If you don’t have commercial preservative, you will still notice better vase life for hellebores by just using the alcohol, still only 2 T. per quart of water.

Hellebore, also called Christmas rose, is a magnificent winter-blooming flower.

Main Hellebore facts

Name – Helleborus
Family – Ranunculaceae
Type – perennial

Height – 12 to 32 inches (30 to 80 cm)
Exposure – part sun and shade
Soil – ordinary

Flowering – December to March

Caring for it and planting it are steps that will enhance blooming.

  • Read also: Hellebore, flowers for the cold

Planting hellebore

It is often advised to plant hellebore in fall, ideally in the vicinity of November but you can plant it until spring as long as it doesn’t freeze.

Since hellebore only flowers after 1 or 2 years, hopefully you’ll get that done quite early so that you’ll savor its bloom without delay.

Proper planting is the key to having your hellebore thrive for many long years.

  • Avoid direct sun and select a spot that is partly shaded, perhaps with sunlight either in the evening or in the morning.
  • Enrich your soil with special perennial, flower plant or all-purpose soil mix and possibly add soil conditioner like manure or seaweed or home-made compost.
  • Let the clump sit in a bucket of water before planting it to the ground.
  • Plant the hellebore in your blend of garden soil and soil mix.
  • Space plants by about 12 inches (30 cm).
  • Water abundantly.

If ever the need arises to move your hellebore to a new spot, proceed preferably in spring and extract the largest possible clump, because hellebore doesn’t like being transplanted.

  • Multiply through crown division in spring.

Pruning and caring for hellebore

Easy to care for, hellebore doesn’t bloom until the second year after planting. It needs time to settle in.

When buds appear, eliminate wilted, spotted or withered leaves, especially for the Helleborus niger variety.

Once it has started bearing flowers, you can remove wilted flowers regularly (deadheading) to trigger appearance of new buds.

To make you hellebore even more beautiful, you can also remove damaged leaves to highlight the beauty of its flowers.

For potted hellebore, it is necessary to regularly add fertilizer because the substrate quickly loses its nutrients in pots.

Hellebore key points to know

Hellebore is a perennial that blooms very beautifully and that will follow through the winter season until the beginning of spring, most often from November to March and April.

If it doesn’t bloom during the first year, this is perfectly normal, since it usually needs two years to unveil its cute little flowers.

In a flower bed or a garden box, hellebore, also called “Christmas rose“, will know how to appeal to you with its pastel-hued petals that are pink and white.

Hellebore will grow year after year and you’ll enjoy seeing its cute white, yellow, pink, green, purple or violet flowers as jewels in your garden or terrace.

It is very hardy, since it can withstand freezing down to about 5°F (-15°C).

All in all, hellebore presents a great many advantages, since it is very ornamental, unique, and flowers for a long time. Caring for it isn’t a hassle, either!

Hellebore interesting species and varieties

Without necessarily launching a full-blown hellebore botanic collection, it makes sense to have several varieties so that shapes and colors can complement each other.

If you have multiple hellebore varieties, you’ll be spreading out the blooming season from November all the way to the beginning of spring.

Whether they be wild, hardy, early or late bloomers, every hellebore is unique and will make you proud of every single square foot of garden.

Remarkable hellebore cultivars

Helleborus foetida – This hellebore variety is quite at ease in forest underbrush, is quite hardy and usually blooms as early as November, and continues doing so all winter long.

Helleborus Orientalis – Certainly one of the most common cultivars, this oriental hellebore is also one of the most varied in terms of colors and shapes. Easy to care for, the only attention it needs is to remove damaged leaves one by one.

Helleborus nigercor – It got its name from the hybridization of its two parents, the hellebore ‘niger’ and the Corsican hellebore. Its foliage stays green all year round and it still is able to offer abundant and plentiful blooming for many long months.

Helleborus niger – Also called the black hellebore, this plant is probably the most difficult hellebore to grow. It doesn’t like very acidic soil. It is the original Christmas rose.

Helleborus Purpurascens – Also called the violet hellebore, it is one of the first to bloom. The purple underside of its magnificent petals is amazing.

Helleborus veridis – Also an evergreen hellebore, its flowers match its leaves and are a luminous green color.

Helleborus hyemalis – Also called dwarf hellebore or winter hellebore, it has the special trait of remaining small and produces very cute yellow flowers.

Smart tip about the Christmas rose

When purchasing it, check that it isn’t infested with whitefly.

Experts remember to mulch the base of the plant in winter to protect it from deep freezing cold!

Read also

  • Flowers that bejewel gardens, terraces and balconies at Christmas
  • Hellebore, flowers for the cold

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Pink & Green hellebore by eklektik2xs under license
Green hellebore by Birgit Böllinger under license
Pink hellebore by Silvio under license

University of Washington
Botanic Gardens

Showy Epimedium ‘Lilafee’ flowers with fresh new spring leaves.

Busy gardeners appreciate the early spring flowers and minimal care required of evergreen perennials such as epimediums and hellebores. They don’t need dividing or staking or fertilizing, they just do their thing without much gardener intervention. Yet a little attention in late winter will improve the appearance and show off newly emerging flowers.

Roy Farrow, one of the UW Botanic Gardens horticulturists, attends to enormous swaths of epimedium and hellebore in the Washington Park Arboretum’s Witt Winter Garden. When and why does he trim the leaves off? “We attempt to cut down all our Epimedium by flowering time – which translates to late winter to make sure we don’t miss the window. The reason we don’t do it any earlier is either they are good evergreen ground covers or they have particularly colorful foliage in the winter.” Sometimes due to less than ideal cultural conditions, epimedium foliage can look bedraggled by November. The leaves can be cut off then, but that carries risk as well. Roy observes: “ love to trample all over areas that have plants about to come up.”

Helleborus x hybridus (H. orientalis) foliage gets cut back earlier in the year at the Arboretum, but some established patches that are particularly hardy rarely receive attention. The main reason to remove foliage is to focus attention on the new flowers emerging from the center of the plant. However, Roy reports, “In some gardens they get botrytis quite badly and look terrible by the end of fall and it’s a good idea to cut down the foliage to keep the inoculum down. Sometimes it’s aphids that drive people to cut down foliage and then flowers later on.” The Winter Jewels series plants have been especially susceptible to disease.

Helleborus x hybridus flowers emerge from the center of the plant and look best with ratty old foliage removed.

Hellebore species, such as H. argutifolius and H. foetidus flower on stems that grew the previous year and then decline later in the year. This type of hellebore should be left alone in winter.

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Winter-flowering hellebores have become very popular in recent years. One type, the Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus), was named Perennial Plant of the Year in 2005 by the Perennial Plant Association. This hellebore and its close relatives (the Corsican hellebore, the Christmas rose, and other hellebores) produce beautiful flowers in the depths of winter. Most are easy to grow, tolerant of tough conditions and divinely beautiful. That’s why they are popping up in gardens all over town.

But there’s a teeny little chore associated with having these plants which greatly enhances the tidiness of the plants and keeps them healthy and looking good over time.

This simple task is to cut back the previous year’s foliage and flowering stems.

A “before” picture of the Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus), taken in January. See the winter-damaged leaves? Those can go. Then you’ll be able to see those little pink flower buds as they develop into lovely flowers. If you didn’t do this in February, that’s okay – you can do it now. Just feel the leaves – keep the fresh green ones and remove the tough old leathery ones.

With the Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus), cut the previous year’s foliage back to the base right as the flowers begin to emerge in January or early February. This lets you really see the flowers and also prevents a fungal disease that can spread from the old leaves (if you leave them on) to the new leaves. So if you were “in-the-know,” you would have cut the old leaves off then. If not… well, you can do it now!

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This photo of a patch of Lenten rose (H. x hybridus), taken in February, shows the foliage already cut back. New foliage appears in February to April.

The Christmas rose (H. niger) flowers in late December or early January but the flowers look pretty for months. Cut flowering stems and old foliage back as the new growth emerges and flowers fade, from February through April. Or, whenever you get to it. (Hellebores are amazingly forgiving.)

The old flower stalks of the “stinking hellebore” or, more politely, the bear’s claw hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) can be cut back about now, if you haven’t done it yet.

All other kinds of hellebores… now is the ideal time to cut back the foliage, as the flowering season for these late types ends. The late types include the Corsican hellebore (H. argutifolius) and hybrid hellebores like H. x sternii.

This image shows a half cut back hellebore (H. argutifolius ‘Silver Lace’). Foreground: the tough, leaning old flower stalks that are nearing the end of their season (to be cut back). Background: the old flowering stalks have already been removed and you can see the new leaves.

Here’s how to cut back a hellebore:

Get your clippers and cut all the tough older leaves and flowering stems at the base. You’ll see the soft, tender new foliage emerging from the center of the plant – keep this, as it will replace the tough outer stems and leaves that you cut off. If in doubt about which is which, feel it. The old foliage feels tough, leathery, hard. The new growth is flexible and soft! Don’t be alarmed if the new foliage is sort of wilty-looking. It’s been growing underneath the shelter of the old foliage. Just give it a few days in the wind, rain and sunshine and it will toughen up.

You can also leave some old flowers on the plant so the seeds can ripen. Especially with the Lenten rose, you’ll often end up with a little forest of seedlings underneath the mother plant the following spring. Dig them up and share them with friends or spread them around your own garden.

Cutting off the old stems and leaves keeps the plant tidier. It also keeps hellebores healthier, as it gets too congested and invites disease and aphid infestation. So give it a quick clean-up in spring and your plant will look better – and flower better next winter.

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