How to prune Helleborus winter roses

Written by elisabeth ginsburg
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How to prune Helleborus winter roses
The Helleborus is really a buttercup. (Elet1/iStock/Getty Images)

"Winter rose" is one of the common names for Helleborus, a genus containing 15 species, native to parts of Europe, China and western Asia. Hellebores are not true roses, belonging instead to the buttercup or Rannunculaceae family. Among the best-known species are the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) and the Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis hybrids). Grown as ornamentals, hellebores are low growers with large, nodding flowers in a variety of shades. Hellebores are not large shrubs or climbing plants and do not need the kind of pruning required by true rose species. However, they do need to be cut back every spring.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Rake
  • Sharp clippers
  • Garden waste bag or container
  • Kneeler (optional)
  • Mulch

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  1. 1

    Rake away leaves and winter debris from around hellebore plant. You should be able to see the large, dark green leaves from last season, which will be resting on or close to the ground. You should also see flower buds or open flowers and small, bright green new leaves.

  2. 2

    Grasp one of the large leaves and pull up slightly so you can see where its stem meets the ground. Clip off the leaf as close to the ground as possible. Repeat with all of the old leaves, being careful not to clip off flowers or new leaves.

  3. 3

    Mulch around plant or plants to a depth of about 5 cm (2 inches) after all old leaves have been clipped and removed.

Tips and warnings

  • Both Christmas and Lenten roses appear early in late winter or early spring, depending on the area. Christmas rose, which usually has white blooms, flowers first, followed a few weeks later by Lenten rose. The optimal time to prune is when the flower buds are about to open. A kneeler may come in handy as you probe to find the leaf stems and clip the old leaves from the ground-covering plants. Flower buds are harder to spot on Christmas rose, as the large, older leaves may cover them completely.
  • All parts of the hellebore plant are poisonous.

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