Always wear gloves when pruning winter rose plants.

How to Prune Helleborus Winter Roses

by Jessica Westover

The winter rose (Helleborus spp.), also called Lenten rose, Christmas rose or hellebore, adds interest from fall to spring with its evergreen leaves and papery, bell-shaped flowers. A dangerous plant for the garden, this herbaceous evergreen produces poisonous leaves, stems and seeds, along with toxic sap. Annual pruning in late winter or early spring, once the plant begins to produce new growth, keeps the plant looking neat and stops the flowers from generating their harmful seeds. Depending upon the variety, winter rose grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9.

Put on a long-sleeved shirt and gloves to protect your hands and skin from scrapes, scratches and cuts and to prevent direct contact with the winter rose's poisonous sap. Pull back any mulch or other debris surrounding the plant's base to expose the stems.

Grasp an old leaf in one hand and lift it up to expose its base. Old leaves will feel hard and leathery, may appear tattered, dull or have yellow to brown patches and spots. Cut through the leaf's stem with pruning shears, 1/4 inch above ground level. Repeat this process to remove all old foliage from the winter rose.

Remove each flower stalk once its blooms have faded and begin to drop petals. Cut through the stem with pruning shears, 1/4 inch above its base.

Place the cut leaves and flower stems into a trash bag. Pick up any fallen petals, leaves or other dead plant material on the ground surrounding the winter rose, placing them in the bag. Tie the bag tightly closed and deposit it in a trash bin.

Fill a bowl one-half full with equal parts chlorine bleach and water. Submerge the blades of the pruning shears in the solution. Leave the blades to soak for 5 minutes to allow the bleach time to kill any pathogens and wash away any winter rose sap. Rinse the blades, then blot them dry with a cloth.

Items you will need

  • Long-sleeved shirt
  • Gloves
  • Pruning shears
  • Trash bag
  • Bowl
  • Bleach
  • Cloth


  • The winter rose plant is extremely poisonous, including the seeds and sap. Never eat any portion of the plant or touch the sap. Keep the clippings away from pets and children to prevent contact with the sap.
  • Winter rose leaves contain spiny stalks, so always where protective clothing when handling the plant.
  • Change clothes and wash them immediately after pruning the winter rose to eliminate any traces of sap.

Photo Credits

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