How To Prune Hellebores – Learn About Pruning A Hellebore Plant
By: Liz Baessler
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.
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Read more about Hellebore
SERIES 16 | Episode 31
It has taken dedicated gardener, Ted West, 25 years to gather a definitive array of hellebores. and now he has dozens and dozens of them. In fact 15 species and at least 100 different colours and varieties of hellebores.
Hellebores are part of the Ranunculaceae family, which includes Ranunculus, Anenomes and Clematis. They are native to western and southern Europe, including the Mediterranean and individual plants can live for up to 40 years.
They are available in a range of colours, such as earthy whites, greens, yellows and deep purples, often with speckles and flashes of colour. Hellebores grow best in Southern Australia, in cool, elevated regions, from Sydney to Perth and further south.
The main species grown in Australia include Helleborus orientalis, but Helleborus foetidus is also popular. H. orientalis is a shorter growing variety, with a beautiful flower. H.foetidus is quite handsome, with its tall divided leaves and flowers that stand up well above the foliage. Sometimes the flower has a little brown rim.
Helleborus cyclophyllus has yellowy green flowers and a slight perfume. Ted also grows H.argutifolius which are a taller growing variety, best suited for the back of a border, with its head of lime green flowers.
Hellebores grow mainly in dappled shade. Growing these plants in total shade, means less leaf growth. They do well in an open garden, but need mulching and like a more acidic soil. With sandy soil it's important to add mulch and compost.
Ted's favourites include H.orientalis a double pink hybrid, and he has bred double plums and double whites in small numbers. Another special is a H. orientalis cultivar - with its white star shaped big bloom and a little green at the base of the petal.
Watch out for the gold coloured Hellebores. The seeds came from Chantilly in France, In the future, Ted is keen to breed a double gold round Hellebore but he says that takes time - many, many years.
So that's hellebores. They are among the most marvelous garden plants. Plant them in the garden with dwarf bulbs and cyclamen, magnolias and camellias to get the most fantastic display during winter. What's more, if you plant a few plants now, they'll reward you with wonderful flowers over many, many years.
Stinking Hellebore Growing Tips
Soil: Being typical shade garden plants, stinking hellebores like a cool, moist, well-draining soil, rich in organic matter. Think of a forest floor. They do best in a soil pH that is slightly acidic to neutral (6.5 - 7.5) but are adaptable.
Starting from Seed: It’s very easy to collect seed, as the seed pods dry, however, it’s even easier to allow them to seed themselves and then dig and move the volunteer plants the next season. The seed doesn’t remain viable for long. You should sow them as soon as possible.
Planting: Stinking hellebore are very easy to lift and divide and re-establish with ease. The trick to re-establishing seedlings and divisions is to not let them dry out. Keep them moist while in transit and water them in well. Allow the soil to dry slightly after that, but do not allow the plants to remain in dry soil for long until you see signs of new growth.
When and Why to Cut Leaves Off Epimediums and Hellebores
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 [foliage] 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: “[people] 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.