Cutting The Hellebores-2009 Edition

march-28-2008-025-2 Under the category of Seasonal Chores there is a favorite among the tasks on the list. On a recent warm, over 60F day we tackled this duty, felcos in hand. The hellebores are showing color in their buds and new leaves are unfurling. In order to best appreciate these late winter bloomers the old ratty tatty leaves need to be removed. In the photo above, taken March 28, 2008, the clumps of Helleborus orientalis are looking their best, sans old leaves. Also blooming were daffodils, grape hyacinths and the spot of red is flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa.january-29-2009-027-2This photo shows both the new leaves and bud stalks in the center of the plant and the older huge darkened foliage that needs to be removed. It is not difficult but does require crawling and crouching on hands and bended knee.february-1-2009-hellebores-and-take-a-stand-004-2Here is the after shot with the buds cleansed of the distracting unecessary older leaves. Even temperatures into the teens and colder will not damage the fresh newer growth, amazing as that may seem.february-1-2009-hellebores-and-take-a-stand-006-2Once the giant leaves are removed, the infants, toddlers, tweens and semi adults are exposed to the light.

100_2162-2january-29-2009-010-2On the left is an open bloom from offspring Semi’s garden. On the right is the farthest along bud in the Fairegarden.

february-23-2007-011-2This clump, photo taken February 23, 2007 shows the neater look as the hellebore begins its display that will last well into May here in southeast Tennessee. The rhodie in the upper right corner was a casualty of the drought of the last two years.february-1-2009-hellebores-and-take-a-stand-002-2february-1-2009-hellebores-and-take-a-stand-003-2


Since it was such a nice day and who knows what the next week’s weather will bring (it is snowing as this is being written), some other late winter pruning jobs were crossed off the job list. The Salvia greggiis were taken down to just a few inches and the roses were given a haircut as well.february-1-2009-hellebores-and-take-a-stand-005-2This is the oldest and largest hellebore that grows here. It was brought with us in the move from Texas to Tennessee and is the mother of many if not most of the our hellebore tribe. Groups of seedlings can be seen surrounding her. Two more hellebores were purchased and planted that same year, 2000, a darker red and a white to join the pink of the one we call Big Mama.march-27-2008-008-2Here she is in all her glory on March 27, 2008.

A post was written about this seasonal chore last year also. You can read that if you are interested by clicking here. Funny thing, after reading the post from last year, it is much more interesting than this one in my opinion. No explanation offered. Or maybe I just can’t tell the same story twice.

For other How To posts written by Fairegarden, look for How To on the sidebar page listing or click here.


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44 Responses to Cutting The Hellebores-2009 Edition

  1. Frances,

    Great information on seasonal care. Your hellebores are rewarding you for your kindness.

    I saw bear claw hellebores at the coast on Monday where I took the daffodil photo. The leaves are quite stunning, too. I was trying my best to get underneath the buds and blossoms as they were quite shy and wanted to stare at the ground and not pose for the camera.


    Hi Cameron, thanks. I love the foliage too, it gives great winter interest staying a nice dark green. But this time of year it darkens to nearly black and really detracts from the flower show. I only cut the leaves of blooming sized plants or they job would never be completed with all those babies. Even on the slope, I have to get down to the earth to view the inside of the flowers too. I had better start doing some stretching now to be able to do that soon. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Janet says:

    Thanks for the beautiful photos of the Hellebores. I am coming around to appreciate them, since I have no shade I hadn’t looked at them. Will try to create some shade in the future to be able to add these beauties.

    Hi Janet, thank you for visiting. Our hellebores get quite a bit of sun still, in the beginning they got all day sun before the dogwoods and birches grew larger. This is another case of time of bloom making them stars that might be ignored later in the spring and summer.

  3. tina says:

    Your initial post told of the chores so well that I have never forgotten it. You know this housekeeping post is one of my favorites. I will be finishing cutting my foliage this weekend-I hope! Your Big Mama is really big!

    Hi Tina, thanks for that. I thought the first post was more of a story telling one. That will make me rethink the posting of the other big job that still awaits, the mowing of the front strips by the street. Can an interesting story be made of that? No. The snow covered the trimmed plants, giving a nice blanket for the cold temps we are now having, thank goodness. Yes, big mama is about as big as she is going to get I think. And still surrounded by more and more babies. I wonder if they will crowd her out some day? Stay warm!

  4. easygardener says:

    It has always been one of my dreams to have a garden with a high bank on which I could grow Hellebores – and a path below so I could walk along and look up into their faces. At least it would save me from bending down all the time (lol)

    Hi EG, thanks for stopping by. I have to say that the hellebores here are on said bank, but too high up, I still have to crawl around on the ground to look into their faces. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Gail says:

    Frances, “Big Mamma” the mother of many hellebores is spectacular. I hope to someday have a clump as excellent as she. I will head out there once it warms up to give them all a good haircut….but not today. It is cold and expected to fall to the teens again tonight? Take care and keep warm. Gail

    Hi Gail, thanks. She is a big girl, or woman is more apt. The snow is covering the newly shorn hellebores here still, a good thing since it is so cold. But the warm up will be here in a couple of days they say, hooray! You too stay safe and warm.

  6. Darla says:

    I have been seeing this plant Hellebores, wonder if it will grow here? It is beautiful!

    Hi Darla, thanks. You may be able to grow it, I had in in Houston, although it was only little then, too young a plant to bloom. Hope so! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Seeing all of your lovely hellebores makes me anxious to see mine. They are still covered with snow. I wonder how they are fairing this winter. I will be able to see this weekend as it is supposed to get into the 40’s and maybe even the 50’s. The snow will all go away.

    Hi Lisa, thanks. It sounds like you will be seeing your hellebores soon, hooray! I loved seeing your favorite bird with those red berries!

  8. gittan says:

    Oh, I just love these Hellebores. In your gardne they are planted in a perfect place, the slope. Mine are tiny (rather new), in a bad position and will be moved as soon as possible. The garden center where I used to work have a Hellebore sale right now. Guess where I’m going tomorrow? Do you think I need to bring my wallet? =)

    Hi Gittan, thanks. The hellebores are very happy here, they are in various beds around the garden and all seem to be doing well, making babies all over. I do think your wallet will be necessary on your trip to the garden center. The prices here have come down for the plain types that I have, although the named fancier one are fairly expensive. In a few years yours will be making young ones of their own and you will have free plants, the very best kind. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Dave says:

    The hellebores look great! Definitely a good plant for the midwinter-spring garden here in TN. I should put a couple in our garden somewhere!

    Hi Dave, thanks. The hellebores would be an excellent addition to your garden. One or two can become many in a few years time. I never got babies until I started mulching them in the fall, that tells me that the seeds need cover to germinate. A nursery owner here said they need two seasons of chill and thaw to get the seeds going to, so they take a while, but once they get going, even the baby plants are nearly indestructible!

  10. Tyra says:

    Hi Frances, oh dear, oh dear, I must say I was completely stunned by the last picture. I’ve never seen any so grand Hellebores, ever. Magnificiant./ Tyra

    Hi Tyra, thanks. Big Mamma is bigger than any hellebore I have seen either. She is over ten years old and has never been moved, which is amazing just for that fact! She is nothing fancy, no name, just H. orientalis. In this case, size does matter! HA

  11. I can see we are hellebore sisters! Can’t have enough. In a couple of weeks, some of my volunteer co-horts from the JC Raulston Arboretum and I will visit the Pine Knot Hellebore farm to see what Judith Knot Tyler has been up to (“Hellebores a comprehensive guide” Burrell & Tyler, Timber press.)

    One of my favorite book jacket photos is of their book – they are laying down. There is something comforting about laying down to photo shoot these heavenly hellebores! Feeling the ground is half the experience.

    Hi Helen, hooray for hellebores! That farm sounds terrific and so does the book. In this case you can judge the book by its cover. ๐Ÿ™‚ I will try to remember how much fun I am having when photographing the hellebores in bloom while on the ground. I usually just crouch in an uncomfortable position and hope for a decent shot. This year I will apply myself!

  12. jodi says:

    Glorious indeed, Frances! You may remember I finally got a couple of hellebores to come through the winter and bloom for me last year. I’m hoping for a repeat performance from them….for sure they’re well and truly buried after yesterday’s latest deposit…

    Hi Jodi, thanks. I do remember you wondering if your hellebore would make it and bloom for you, so glad to hear it did. The snow is a good thing it seems for them, and you are awash in that. Do stay warm!

  13. nancybond says:

    All those colourful, swollen buds and those gorgeous, pinkish blooms are a sight for sore, snow-weary eyes today, Frances. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Hi Nancy, thanks. It does look like you got a wallop of snow! Loved the laughing bird at your kitty. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Brenda Kula says:

    Oh, those are beautiful! I haven’t tried these before. I shall have to look them up and see where I can purchase them.

    Hi Brenda, thanks. They are a favorite of mine, for the toughness and time of bloom. Making all those babies to spread around doesn’t hurt my opinion of them either. Good luck on your search. Mine are no special named variety, just the species. I got Big Mama from White Flower Farm more than ten years ago.

  15. skeeter says:

    I can see where this blogging is going to cost me more money! Argโ€ฆ I usually purchase things which are early summer to first frost bloomers. But when I look at pics such as these, I want those things as well! I must add more spring bloomers to my life…

    Hi Skeeter, blogging has brought many new plants to my wish list too. I just cut back on other things and am better off for it too. I don’t need another new blouse or shoes, but I always need a new plant! ๐Ÿ™‚ Where you live, you can have flowers all year!

  16. Catherine says:

    I love big Mama. I think my hellebores need a trim now. The flowers always look so much nicer when they aren’t competing with the old leaves. Guess I know what I’ll be doing today!

    Hi Catherine, thanks. Big Mama is in a class by herself, even around here she is much larger than all the others. If you have a nice day, do cut the leaves. You will be happy with the overall appearance when they blom then. We still have snow and it is below freezing even during the day, boo.

  17. Semi’s Hellebore is so pretty! How fun to have blooms, or even buds, already. It’s going to be a few more weeks at least before I get to tackle this chore. Deadleafing the Hellebores is the first gardening chore of spring. I am so looking forward to it.

    Hi MMD, thanks. I am exactly like you about this job because it is the first real gardening of the year with something to show for it. No matter when it happens, it has great meaning. ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Hi Frances, I just went outside to check my hellebores. I will be totally honest here, although it is a bit embarrasing: I have NEVER cut them back before, and they’ve been there for at least 5 yrs. if not more. I got them from a very nice garden center when my daughter was younger, at least in middle school…and she’s 20 now…so, that’s a while.
    I usually just let the leaves stay there and in the summer I see flowers but I have to pull the leaves up to see them. I had NO idea what I should be doing. I probably should delete this comment before I publish it!
    At this point, when I pulled the leaves back, I saw small red shoot coming up. I cleared some mulch from around them but didn’t clip leaves off yet. I’m surprised the cold won’t hurt the new, fresh leaves. I’ll take your advice though, and clip the leaves soon. I want to wait until I can stand there w/my camera & do a before and after shot!
    Ok, I’ve rambled long enough. One more thing, have you noticed Blotanical is not working? And, I can receive comments on my blog, but I lose them if I publish them. So, I WANT people to leave comments but know I won’t publish them until I figure out what is wrong with Blogger, as well. It’s always something, as the saying goes…

    Hi Jan, first off about your comments. Before switching to wordpress, I changed the comments on blogger to be published automatically and still received an email notifying me when there was a new one. There was no problem with spam and if there was a comment I didn’t want, it could still be deleted. Really saved a lot of time that way. About the hellebores, the leaves don’t HAVE to be cut, it just makes for a prettier show if they are. And I am sure Stuart is working on a fix and we will just have to be patient, poor guy.

  19. Marnie says:

    Frances, what pretty snow pictures. Snow is absolutely magical–if you don’t have to drive in it or shovel it. I can’t believe things are blooming for you. Temperatures here last night were -5.

    Hi Marnie, thanks. That is way too cold, but we are having a cold snap too, not getting above freezing even during the day. That is rare here but there is some snow cover left over, I think that helps. I hate to drive in it too, people around here have no idea how to handle the car in it. We had to learn when we lived in NE PA, they never shut the schools down for snow. And we are ready for spring, not snow shovels, and yes, we do have one though it hasn’t been used in years. HA

  20. Frances, Hellebores feature in my desert island plants. I love them – you have the perfect spot for them. I have always thought they should be grown on a bank so that you can look up into the flowers. You have some wonderfully mature clumps.
    (I cut back my leaves last week ๐Ÿ™‚ )

    Hi Karen, thanks. I love them too, but still have to get way down to see inside the flowers, ever on the slope. Maybe it is a bit easier to look up from below, but still I am wallowing in the flowers, sort of fun actually! ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Melanthia says:

    Your Hellebores are fantastic, Frances. I just cleared away the old foliage on the TWO that I have. I’m going to explore getting seeds from them. A new adventure for the boy and me!

    Hi Melanthia, thanks. I have found that mulching the plants in the fall covers whatever seeds might have fallen and helps with germination. Also I was told that they need two winters to germinate so have not tried them in the greenhouse. Nature has a much easier idea, just let the flowers fall to the ground and wait patiently for the babies to arise.

  22. Daphne Gould says:

    I was given a hellebore last year for my birthday. I almost killed it before the ground was unfrozen and I could plant it. I put it in the soil last spring. I’m assuming it is still there under the snow. It is nice to know how to take care of it as I had no clue.

    Hi Daphne, that’s great. These are the toughest plants in my garden. I have moved them in the worst coldest weather and they never blink an eye, droop or pout. The little ones I am talking about, although some teenagers have been moved too. If yours is blooming size, the leaves can be cut, being careful to leave the new ones. I have cut many a flower bud in haste before, it is heartbreaking, especially if there is only one flower bud!

  23. Anneliese says:

    Frances, please move up here and become our full-time perennial gardener. You will many spaces to choose from, including sunny fields, shady woodlands, and a few sloping areas in between. Of course, you might not enjoy our Wisconsin climate, and I can’t pay you. But you’re still welcome any time.

    Hi Anneliese, thanks for that kind offer, HA It sounds like fun but it might be a tad cold for my delicate constituion. I do look forward to seeing you again in Chicago?

  24. Racquel says:

    They look much happier with their winter haircut. I did the same thing to my roses this week. Love the photos of Big Mama, she’s a beauty.

    Hi Racquel, thanks, I agree. I was thinking about not doing this task, but really I enjoy it and the plants look so clean and neat. It may not be the Piet Oudolf way, but Big Mama says she likes her place tidy!

  25. Monica says:

    Hold up the bus now! Didn’t you say it just snowed? But now it’s 60? Bananas!

    Hi Monica, no, the 60’s came before the snow, last weekend. It is supposed to be in the 60s again this weekend too, with single digits forecast for tonight! We have crazy weather here in TN. ๐Ÿ™‚
    ps, the seeds came today, and got mailed on today too!

  26. linda says:

    What beauties they are Frances! I really appreciated this post, as I planted my first hellebore last spring, and now I know what to do when it’s time to get out into the garden. I haven’t seen my lone hellebore since sometime in December, as we’ve had a pretty heavy snow cover since then. But I did notice some very dark foliage way back then and was wondering if I should prune it. Thanks for the tips! They’ll come in handy for my one lonely hellebore and a couple of others ordered for spring.

    Hi Linda, thanks. I am so glad this will help you with your wonderful hellebore care. Do be so careful about cutting only the old stems, it is so easy to accidently cut the new ones at the same time. I have done it many times. It doesn’t matter so much with a giant one like Big Mama with so many buds, but I have done it when there was only one bud, just cut it off. Don’t do that! ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. Thanks for adding me to your blog roll, Frances;-)

    My pleasure, Helen. ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. I am AGOG. I had no idea hellebores got that big, and I learned so much about hellebores from this post and comments. Like some other commenters, I feel that garden blogs are gradually sucking me into the hellebore whirlpool – and that’s fine with me.

    Hi Pomona, HA that is a work not seen in the comments here before, well done! Big Mama is by far the largest hellebore here. Maybe her roots have found some buried treasure, or animal far under the soil. I too have learned of plants on blogs that simply must come live here, and am happy about it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  29. gisele schoene says:

    I didn’t know about this! It makes sense and I was wondering why my hellebores were not attractive. Thanks for the lesson. I will get my felco as soon as this cold weather is gone. I have 3 plants that will look nice after a ‘hair cut’.

    Hi Gisele, thanks for visiting. Your hellebores will be much neater and the flowers easier to appreciate with the old foliage gone. It is supposed to be warm this weekend.

  30. Teza says:

    Funny how some gardening minds go to the same place on the same day! Its -17 here, but I can see the foliage on a couple of the Helleborus peaking through. I thought your Big Mama was the much lusted after H. Thibetanus for a second…. same wonderfully drooping petals. She will definitely be a second choice if I do not have luck!

    Hi Teza, thanks and welcome. It is heartening to know that the beloved hellebores can grow in such diverse climates as both of ours. You have introduced me to many new varieties that I did not know and will look for in the future, thanks!

  31. Jon says:

    Frances, I love plants with a history and thanks for sharing “Big Mama’s” biography.
    Lovely pictures on this charming post which warmed my heart on this cold day!
    Jon at Mississippi Garden

    Hi Jon, thanks, so glad you enjoyed learning about our Big Mama. She is unique in her size among the other hellebores here. It is hoped that her progeny will grow to her size too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  32. kerri says:

    Oh, to have hellebores like yours, Frances! Lucky you! It must feel good to have that chore done. That’s not a comfortable position to be in for any length of time.
    I’m envying you those 60ยบ temps. We had 2ยบ on the back porch this morning. But we were blessed with bright sunshine all day as a consolation ๐Ÿ™‚

    Hi Kerri, thanks so much. It has been quite cold here since that job was done, we even got some snow that is still here, but it is supposed to warm up and stay warm for a week of so soon. You are the lucky one with that chickadee eating out of your hand! ๐Ÿ™‚

  33. Dee says:

    Wow! Big Mama is one beautiful specimen. You’ve already pruned your roses? I’ll wait until the end of February or the 1st of March, but our weather is a little harsher than yours. I’ve been replanting all of the bulbs I dug for the garden redo. Lovely post, my friend.~~Dee

    Hi Dee, thanks, she really is a good example of how a hellebore looks at maturity. I pruned the roses already, earlier than our usual Valentine’s Day because the weather has been so much colder than normal for longer periods of time. The key is to do it while they are still dormant so the cuts don’t spur the new growth too soon, same with the salvias. Your weather has been harsher than ours too. Good job on replanting your stuff from the redo, and yes you need some muhly grass! ๐Ÿ™‚

  34. It’s 11 degrees right now and will be 70 on Sunday. I saw where the mountain windchill was -30. That’s nuts.

    As always, you make me want to plant what you are writing about. If I wasn’t so addicted to you–I’d stay away.

    Aw, Anna, you are so sweet. I am glad you don’t stay away, for that brings me back to your place. Those coreopsis blew me away too. ๐Ÿ™‚ This weather is just plain crazy here too. I am excited about the warmth coming AND STAYING for a while anyway that is being predicted. The garden is calling me and probably you too.

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  36. LindaLunda says:

    Hi Franses!
    What a fab collection you have! I have been looking a couple of times know on them!
    I love helleborus and aspecely the orientalisยดs
    My favorit are the spotted ones.. and the double ones.

    Hi Linda, thanks so much. All of ours are the orientalis but we have no doubles, too expensive! Last year we got Blue Lady and Red Lady, they are still small though. I am hoping they will make babies like the species so we can have a nice mix. I have kept the Ladies away from the others, but the bees don’t follow those rules anyway so who knows what will come of them, if anything.

  37. andrรฉ says:

    Thanks for this handy tips! Your hellebores look really nice, so I guess they enjoy your treatment. I have a few, but they are still very tiny…

    Hi Andre, thanks for stopping by, glad you liked the tips. Younger hellebores don’t really need this treatment yet. But it really makes a difference for the older ones in the presentation of the flowers. And I am in love with your greenhouse story! ๐Ÿ™‚

  38. LindaLunda says:

    If I get any seed from my double orientalis this year… would you like to have some?

    Wow Linda, thanks so much for that generous offer! Yes, I would love to have some doubles! You are a treasure! ๐Ÿ™‚

  39. Ann says:

    Excellent helpful info here. Never thought to prune away those heavy leaves. Makes great sense. Will forward this along to my parents. Thank you! You’ve got a wonderful blog here.

    Hi Ann, thanks for those kind words and welcome. I can’t remember the first time I tried cutting away the leaves, but do remember being scared that I might damage the plant with so much cold weather yet to come. It was a pleasant surprise that the plants seemed to thrive with the old foliage gone.

  40. Rose says:

    I just ordered my first Hellebores! Thanks for the timely info, Frances. This is a job I won’t have this year, but hopefully my new babies will grow this summer, and I’ll have to prune them back next year.

    Hi Rose, good for you! I am glad that you will know what to do when the time comes with the hellebores. The old foliage won’t need to be cut until there are flower buds. Hopefully yours will come with some, but if not, hold tight. It takes three years to go from seedling to blooming size, but then there is no looking back.

  41. ryan says:

    Some really nice hellebores. They are one of my favorite cut flowers. They can last over a month if you sear the stems in some hot water.

    Hi Ryan, thanks for that tip and welcome. I have never used the hellebore as a cut flower, for I love them in the garden so much and have a plant eating cat that would not give up until she had tasted the beauties. ๐Ÿ™‚

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