Pruning hellebores gives the plant space for new growth and cleans up the spent leaves. Here's how to prune hellebores (and when to do it!)
But after a long winter, the leaves start to look tattered and worn out. They can also hide the emerging flowers, as well as pests such as slugs or snails.
By selectively pruning away the spent leaves, you can keep your hellebores looking their best. I'll show you how to prune hellebores to reveal their beautiful blooms and give them a fresh start!
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When to prune hellebores
The best time to prune hellebores is in late winter or early spring. If you see new flower stalks appearing in the center of the plant, it's time to cut away the old growth.
If you don't prune the old leaves off your hellebores, it won't hurt the plant. However, as fresh leaves emerge in spring, it will become more difficult to remove them and you may be stuck with those ugly leaves. Eventually they'll just die back, so if you miss your window, you'll just have more to clean up next year!
In the summer, hellebores go dormant to conserve energy for next year's blooms. If the flowers remain on the stems, they will attempt to set seed during this time. Deadhead the spent blooms to allow the plant to spend its energy growing stronger for next year.
How to Cut Back Hellebores
Here's a hellebore clump in the garden bed in front of our house that is in dire need of pruning. You can see how the old leaves are laying on the ground and look pretty sad. Ignore the drip irrigation tubing that runs through the middle of the plant! I'll be adding a fresh layer of mulch this spring to cover it up.
Lift up each leaf and follow the stem back to the base. Use clean pruning shears to cut the stem close to the ground, being careful not to cut into the new growth.
It's recommended that you wear gloves when pruning hellebores, because the sap can cause skin irritation. Plus, those old leaves can get pretty slimy!
Work your way around the plant, removing all the old leaves. You can leave any nice leaves if you want to, but they'll look like the rest of them eventually so I just cut them all back at the same time. While hellebores are called evergreen, their leaves really only look good for a year before they start to decay.
After cleaning up the leaves and debris from around the base of the plant, you're left with a fresh looking hellebore that's ready to bloom! You can cut back the stems further than I did, but the longer stems prevent rotting out the center of the plant. They'll be covered by new leaves soon enough.
I have five or six hellebores in my shade garden, and they were all pruned in late January. The new blooms look glorious in February and March when nothing else is growing yet!