Hellebores as cut flowers

By Glennis Byron
January 28, 2023
Filed in Flowers
2 minutes

I love hellebores. There are few other plants that are as happy in shade, bloom profusely for months and are completely avoided by deer. It’s always such a joy to see them popping out of the ground in late winter just at that moment when the garden looks dreary and there’s nothing to pick for the house. But until recently I’ve always found them rather disappointing as a cut flower.

Conventional wisdom has it that if you want to use hellebores as cut flowers you have to leave them until the flower is mature. That is, wait until the sepals (the colourful parts we might assume to be the petals) harden, the stamens start to shed, and the seed pod starts to develop. If you don’t, they will simply sulk and wilt.

All very well, but at this stage many hellebores – particularly the whites – start to look decidedly grubby: what begins as pristine white matures into a rather mucky green.

Fortunately, there is a way to condition the immature flowers to give them a vase life of at least a week, so for those of you who, like me, were unaware of this simple trick, this is what to do.

• First clean the bottom of the stem – the part before it branches – of all leaves and side shoots.

•Then take a sharp craft knife and slit the stem that you have cleaned very lightly. You don’t want to slice it in half, just go in a millimeter or two and that’s plenty. And you don’t need to go all the way up to where it branches. Here the arrows show how far I slit the stem with three different flowers. They all worked beautifully.

Arrows show how far the stems have been slit

• Finally cut the base of the stem at an angle and place in clean cool water, ensuring all of the stem that is slit is submerged.

I even found that a stem full of buds would last well, and that the buds would continue to grow and open, although not becoming as large a flower as they would have done if left in the ground.

Closed bud on left, bud after three days on right

You can also use this method on very short stems and for those varieties that hang their heads, this is a particular advantage. Rather than leaving them in the garden and having to scramble down on your knees to peer up into the flower – something particularly unappealing on a cold and damp February day – you can float them head up in a dish with some simple greenery.

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  • I’ve also read that I should sear the stems in just boiled water for 5 seconds? Do you think this is necessary?

    • Glennis Byron

      I’ve not tried doing both at the same time, but I don’t suppose it could hurt!

  • Muriel Armstrong

    This is where my pansy ring bowl comes into its own, as it shows off the blooms wonderfully and it’s so east to make a table arrangement with the delightful hellibores.

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