Hellebores are one of those things that we get excited about in the spring; because they are some of the earliest plants to grace the gardens, arriving when most of the garden is still in its winter slumber. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of cutting those enticing new hellebore blooms to bring into the house only to find they quickly wilt.
What Stage of Maturity Are the Blooms?
The appropriate technique for processing hellebores is linked to the maturity of the blooms on the stem. The more ripe a hellebore is the hardier it will be. Notice the difference in these photos: the first photo shows a young or ‘unripe’ hellebore. In the second photo, the flower has dropped its stamens and begun ripening to form a seed pod.
A young or ‘unripe’ hellebore needs more care when harvesting.
A maturing hellebore flower: the stamens have dropped and a seed pod is beginning to form.
Conditioning Young or ‘Unripe’ Hellebores
Hellebores cut when immature or unripe are the ones that cause flower lovers everywhere the most heartache – they need a little extra care when harvested. Using a pair of sharp snips, cut deep into the plant at the base of the stem close to the ground. My favourite way to process hellebores at this stage is to lightly score two to four slits along the full length of the main stem then plunge them deep in cool water in a cool location to condition for 12 to 24 hours. If you imagine the stem has three or four flat sides you’d trace a slit along the length of each “side”. You want to make sure the water is deep enough that the entire stem is submerged. Vessels that work well for me for this are tall vases with narrow throats, like large wine bottles or glass milk carafes. You can also tape a grid over the top of a bucket to offer some structure for the stems.
Score hellebore stems along the length of the stem with a sharp knife to improve water uptake and extend vase life.
Conditioning Hellebores with Ripening Flowers
For sure success or ease of harvest, you can give your hellebores some time to ripen first. Once at least some of the blooms on a hellebore stem have dropped their stamens, the flowers will be more hardy. You can skip scoring the stems at this stage, although I often still take the time to score Instead of scoring, give the stem a fresh angled cut and then dip the stem in Quick Dip or boiling water for about 20 seconds. This encourages the stem to draw up water for optimal hydration. After dipping, condition the flowers in cool water in a cool location for 8-12 hours.
If you leave your hellebores in your garden to continue ripening, you’ll reach the most fool-proof harvest stage: the fully mature hellebore where all the blooms have opened and ripened. Some will have formed obvious seed pods (you may want to leave those and see if your helleore will self-sow); but this is also a fuss-free cutting stage! While I find mixed stems more beautiful, with the fresher colour of younger flowers and the presence of buds and stamens offering additional aestheticr, mature hellebores still offer much for late spring designs. Flowers in this stage are tougher and almost leathery and will hold up much more easily; simply harvest, give a fresh angled cut, and place in water to condition for at least several hours.
As always, flowers are best cut early in the morning for the best freshness and vase life, and enjoy!
Hellebores pair perfectly with other seasonal goodies including hyacinth, tulips and twiggy branches.