When to prune clematis

How To Prune Clematis: Tips For Pruning Clematis Vines

Today’s trend of using vertical space in the garden includes the use of a number of climbing and flowering plants. One widely used flowering specimen is the clematis, which may bloom in spring, summer or fall, depending on the variety. The diversity of plant types may leave you wondering when to prune clematis. Complicated instructions for pruning clematis vines can be found on the web, but many gardeners desire a simpler means of instruction. Follow these tips for pruning clematis and you will never lose a clematis bloom again.

Tips for Pruning Clematis

Before you get started, there are a couple tips for pruning clematis that you should know:

  • Dead or damaged stems may be removed at any time when pruning clematis vines. Damaged plant parts will never be productive, so get rid of them as soon as they are noticed.
  • Know when your clematis blooms. You may want to wait until the second year to prune clematis, especially if it is the large flowering variety. Always prune clematis when flowering is finished.

How and When to Trim Clematis

If you prune clematis immediately after bloom time is finished, you won’t have to worry about removing next year’s flowers. Prune clematis for shape at this time, removing up to one third of the plant, if needed.

Avoid removing woody stems, if possible. Clematis pruning groups include those that flower on new growth and those that bloom on last year’s woody stem. Once you’re familiar with the bloom time of your clematis, you will be able to prune the vine before buds begin to develop.

When deciding how and when to trim clematis, don’t remove a developing bud. If you see buds developing when pruning clematis vines, you may be pruning at the wrong time.

Clematis Pruning Groups

  • Flowers that bloom in spring grow on old wood. Blooms of this clematis developed during last year’s growing season. Plants in this clematis pruning group should be pruned before the end of July to allow blooms for next year.
  • Pruning clematis vines that flower in summer or fall should be done in early spring, as these flowers are produced on the current year’s growth.
  • Large flowering hybrids may produce a second set of blooms. Deadhead spent flowers for another series of blooms, though they will likely be smaller than the first, as these appear on new growth. When deadheading the first blooms, as much as 12 to 18 inches of stem can be removed. This rejuvenates the plant and is often the best means of pruning clematis vines.

When and How to Prune a Clematis

Clematis are a beautiful perennial flowering vine which many gardeners treasure for their long bloom times and performance in sunny locations. To get optimal performance from your clematis it is important to prune properly. This guide explains the proper time to and how to prune your clematis.

There are three categories of clematis – group 1, 2 or 3 – which require pruning at different times. If the label on your clematis doesn’t have class information or you just aren’t sure which class your clematis belongs to it’s easy to determine, just go by bloom times. Clematis that bloom in the spring are generally in Group 1, summer and fall bloomers in Group2 and repeat blooms belong in Group 3.

First Year Clematis

Like many establishing plants, clematis require a little extra care after their first year in your gardens. All clematis, regardless of their class, should be give a hard prune in later winter (February – March)

  • Group 1 – Blooms on Old Wood
  • Group 2 – Blooms on Old & New Wood
  • Group 3 – Blooms on New Wood

Ideally, the first year after planting, all clematis – regardless of type – should be pruned back hard, around February or March, to a set of fat buds, to develop good structure. Ideally, again, you should tie the pruned vines into a fan shape, training the base of the clematis horizontally to encourage an open structure that doesn’t hide the blooms. I have to admit to some a great deal of laziness in the “tying in” department. So, remember, “ideal” is just an ideal.

After that, here’s my trick for remembering when and if to prune clematis (for me, the logic of bloom times trumps the letter system any day).

Ask yourself: when do they flower?

Early spring, which is April/May in our climate
These flower on old wood, which means last year’s growth

  • Pruning is optional, right after flowering, if they get straggly or overgrow their space. Or leave them alone. The alpina, macropetala and montana clematis fall into this category (Group or Type 1 or A).

Spring (May-ish) plus a 2nd flush of bloom (August-September-ish)
These flower on old wood AND also on new wood

  • Prune for shape in the first couple of years, then pruning is optional to cut out weak stems or contain the spread early in the season, or tidy up, just after flowering. Many of the large-flowered varieties (such as‘Nelly Moser’ and ‘Bee’s Jubilee’) and some of the doubles (such as ‘Duchess of Edinburgh’) can be treated this way (Group/Type 2 or B – sometimes called Group B1. Is it any wonder we get confused?).

Clematis grow best when on a trellis or support system

Rather than having a gap between blooming periods, these go on and on, given enough fertility and moisture. This group (also Group/Type 2 or B, but sometimes classified as Group B2) includes ‘The President’, ‘Henryi’ and newer doubles such as ‘Josephine.’ Again, you would prune as for Group B1, above: an optional light pruning in February/March to shape or cut out weak stems, with a tidying, if necessary, after flowering.

They flower on new wood only, meaning on this year’s new growth

Prune back hard to a couple of sets of fat buds a few feet from the ground in Feb/March to keep the blooms closer to eye level, otherwise they can escape from view. Viticella and tangutica clematis as well as the herbaceous or non-twining clematis can be classed this way (Group/Type 3 or C).

How to Prune Your Clematis

On your clematis you want to find a node (also called a leave axil bud) which is a joint on the stem where buds begin to branch out. You’ll want to make your prune just above the node. Remember you’re not going to permanently harm your clematis by pruning it too hard.

How to Prune Clematis

Do not be afraid of pruning! You will not kill your clematis if you get it wrong, the flowers might come out late but that’s about the worst that can happen.

When pruning clematis, secateurs can be rather cumbersome and their thin stems get caught in the blades which can cause the stems to get ‘tugged’ and damaged lower down. We have always preferred to use sharp scissors like our Barnel Clematis Pruning Scissors which are light weight and ideal for this more intricate pruning work that clematis require.

How to Prune Young Clematis

We strongly recommend that you hard prune all clematis sometime within the first year of planting for the following reasons.

1. It will encourage your clematis to put its roots out and form a strong root system.

2. It will encourage new shoots to form in the leaf axils below soil level, which were buried when planted. The more stems you have on your clematis, the more flowers you will get!

3. It will reduce the amount of foliage the young root system has to sustain.

Many nurseries will tell you to prune immediately after planting but this often means loosing flowers or the potential for flower. We recommend the following:

For Tidy Prune (Group 1) a hard prune should be carried out immediately after the first year’s flowering has finished.

For Light Prune (Group 2) a hard prune should be carried out during February or March the first year after planting.

For Hard Prune (Group 3) a hard pruned is carried out every February / March anyway.

After the first year simply follow the pruning method for established clematis below.

How to Prune Established Clematis

Tidy after flowering – Pruning Group 1 Clematis (Armandii, Atragene, Cirrhosa, Forsteri, Montana Groups & other Evergreen clematis.)

Following the initial hard prune, described above for the first year, these cultivars simply need a good ‘tidy up’ each year immediately after flowering has finished. Prune off unwanted growth then tie the remainder to its support.

If you wish to keep them more compact, light prune after flowering (see Light Pruning below). This will prevent the montana’s from getting out of control and will help prevent others from getting a woody structure at the base. Sometimes it can cause them not to flower as well, in which case you may have to stop pruning like this and only tidy them.

Light Pruning – Pruning Group 2 Clematis (Early Large Flowered Cultivars)

Following the initial hard prune described above for the first year, light pruning should be carried out during late February or March each year.

Start at the top of the plant and reduce all stems down by about one third, to remove the ‘birds nest’ from the top.

Prune the remaining stems working from the top downwards looking for viable buds or shoots as in the picture to the right. These shoots may be apparent at differing heights on each stem, some as low as 6” (15cm) from the soil level and that is fine because new growth will then come at all different heights and this will help to keep the plant flowering all the way up and generally look much neater.

A complete hard prune every few years will help to rejuvenate an old, tired plant if necessary. When carrying this out we would recommend partially pruning the clematis to between thigh and waist height during late autumn or early winter. This will help the plant re-shoot low down in late winter / early spring.

Dead-Heading Clematis

Clematis from light prune group benefit from dead-heading after the early flowers have finished. Apply liquid tomato feed as recommended below, which will encourage new flowering growth to form and another good display of blooms can be enjoyed in late summer and early autumn.

Hard Pruning – Pruning Group 3 Clematis (Late Large Flowered Cultivars, Flammula, Florida, Tangutica, Texensis, Viticella Groups & species clematis)

Hard pruning is normally carried out during late February or March. Prune all growth back to a good set of viable buds in the leaf joints, approx. 6″- 18″(15-45cm) from soil level. If you prefer to tidy your clematis in late autumn or early winter, partial hard pruning can be carried out then. Roughly prune to 18″(45cm) and tie the remaining stems to prevent damage in a windy situation. Then in late winter or early spring a full hard prune can be carried out. It is always safer to leave a bit of extra growth on the clematis over the winter period and not prune too hard too soon.

How to Prune Herbaceous Clematis

Your herbaceous clematis can be pruned just like other herbaceous plants in the garden, however do not hard prune the Heracleifolia Group until April when the weather has improved as they over-winter much better with their old growth left intact.

Completely dead stems on some herbaceous clematis such as the Integrifolia and Diversifolia Groups can be cut to 3” (8cm) in February to March, take care to avoid nipping off the new shoots as they are emerging from the ground!

To the right is a picture of an integrifolia which has been pruned, although it could easily be mistaken for a hedgehog at first glance..!

How to prune clematis

Clematis are divided into 3 groups or categories for pruning purposes, a lot of people worry about pruning their clematis, but it is very simple if you follow the guide lines below…

Group 1 (e.g Alpina, Montana, Armandii)
These are mostly the early spring varieties that flower on previous year’s growth. Little or no pruning, unless they have outgrown their allocated space, in which case they should be pruned immediately after flowering.

These need a tidy when they finish flowering. Don’t leave this too late or you’ll lose next year’s flowers – June/July is perfect. Cut hard back to a tight structure. Always hold your pruners vertically to avoid cutting into a central vine. Tie plants in strongly to the frame, as they will – at full tilt next spring – carry a lot of weight. Feed and mulch with a general-purpose organic fertiliser.

Group 2 (e.g Perle D’Azur)
These produce their flowers in May and early June on stems made in the previous year, so prune lightly in February. To do this, follow your way down from the top of each stem until you reach a healthy bud and then cut on a slant just above it and remove old, dead stems above it. Do not prune too vigorously or you will lose the flowers, prune again after flowering if required, if not leave for second flush of flowers.

Group 3 (late summer, e.g Prince Charles, Madame Julia Correvon & Texensis)
Hard pruning as these flower on the new seasons growth. In February, cut all stems (just above a healthy new bud) approximately 30cm from the ground, remove all dead growth above this. It sounds drastic, but they will grow and flower in one season.

These late summer-flowering, viticella-type clematis (for example, ‘Bill Mackenzie’) need training and guiding up and over shrubs and climbing roses to maximise their impact. Without this they tend to make a congested nest. Spread the stems out on their support or frame, tying them in with gentle Flexi-Tie or sweet pea twizzles as you go.

If you are unsure or forget which group your Clematis fall into, the simple way to remember is that if they flower before June, prune lightly as they will flower on the previous year’s growth. If they flower from late June onwards, hard prune in February as they will flower on new seasons growth.

You may also like:

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How and Why to Prune Clematis

If you’ve ever seen a clematis that is one big mountain of tangled up stems, it’s almost enough to scare you away from growing them. But let’s take a look at why, when, and how these remarkable vines should be pruned and you’ll find it’s not as difficult as it seems.

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This article was originally posted on May 19, 2013. It was a good gardening idea and worth seeing again, so we hope you enjoy revisiting it.

Properly pruning clematises will yield the maximum quantity of flowers by stimulating new growth. Pruning keeps the more vigorous vines under control. If not pruned, these large plants can literally tear down almost any support with their sheer weight. Keeping vines pruned brings flowers down to eye level rather than at a top of a tall plant. And if you have one of those mountains of tangled stems, pruning allows air and light to circulate through the leaves, reducing moisture that can cause diseases, and also tidies up the entire plant and displays the flowers to their best advantage. Clematises can live up to 50 years, so we want to take good care of them.

It’s obvious, therefore, that all clematises need to be pruned. Almost everyone knows that there are three main groups of clematis, with three different pruning techniques. Don’t let this worry you because it’s not as difficult as it sounds.

Example of a top-heavy vine (Duchess of Albany, Group 3). Incidentally, the rabbits chew this one down to the ground every year!

Before we find out more about the three groups, there is something that every new clematis needs. Very early in the first spring after the year you plant them, all types of clematises need to be cut back to approximately 12 inches from the ground. I know, it’s really hard to do because everyone wants to see the flowers, but doing so will make the root system stronger and promote branching and new stems from underground, making the entire plant bushier and healthier. So that means that you’ll lose your flowers the first year on some clematises, but it also means that you’ll have many years of more flowers than ever. That sounds like a pretty good trade off to me! If you don’t do this, it won’t kill your vine, but you will be very disappointed when you end up with one or two wimpy vines with only a couple of flowers. Then you’ll probably end up cutting it back anyway and losing even more time in the process.

Clematis Blue Light™
Posted by goldfinch4
Clematis Crystal Fountain™
Posted by goldfinch4

Pruning produces more flowers.

Let’s take a look at the three pruning groups. Every clematis has a pruning group assigned to it. If you purchase from a reputable nursery, that information will be included on the tag or on the nursery’s website. If it isn’t, you can find the pruning group for each cultivar right here in our ATP database. Once you know the pruning group, it’s just a matter of following the information for that group.

Group #1: These are the early-flowering and evergreen clematises, and the group also includes the alpina, cirrhosa, macropetala and montana species. They flower on “old wood,” which is growth from the previous year. Don’t go crazy pruning this group. Only a light pruning is needed. Any growth that occurs after pruning will be the stems that will produce buds for next year’s flowers. If you want these vines to spread quickly, only prune to remove dead or damaged growth. To keep vigorous growth under control, you’ll want to prune back a bit more. Try to avoid pruning any woody growth.

Clematis (Clematis montana ‘Marjorie’)
Posted by kniphofia
Clematis (Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’)
Posted by xeronema

Group #2: Included in this group are early and mid-season large-flowering, double and semi-double clematis. These plants can be a little tricky because they flower on both old and new wood. The biggest flush with the largest flowers is in spring on old wood, followed by a smaller flush in fall, or even by a steady, small amount of flowers throughout the summer. When pruning, follow the vine down to a swelling leaf axle bud and prune right above it.

Not a very good example, but if you look at the large vine right at the place where its branching out, you can see the leaf axil buds just beginning to form.

Remove any dead wood, tidy the vine up a bit, and prune back to keep growth in check. If you have a big tangle of vines left from last year, try to untangle as many vines as you can after the first flush of flowers. If you can’t untangle the vines, this is the time for a hard pruning, up to as much as 1/3 of each vine. If you do a hard pruning and your plant has double flowers, you may only get single flowers later this year. To keep a more natural look, stagger the length of the vines as you trim them back. Tie any new growth to supports to keep the plant open to air and sunlight. You’ll also want to remove any old leaf stalks remaining on the vines from last year. Plants in this group tend to get bare toward the bottom as they get older and do well with other plants around them, covering their bare stems. If they get too top heavy, they can be pruned back quite hard without damaging them. If you live in a very cold area, you’ll probably have to prune back farther due to damage by winter weather, or you may not have a choice at all if they die back to the ground.

Clematis ‘Dr. Ruppel’
Posted by virginiarose

Notice the flowers all the way to the ground on this beautifully pruned clematis.

Some suggest that Group 2 plants should be cut back hard every third year to avoid the tangled, old growth that can occur on the top of these plants.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also do a special “second-year pruning” on these clematises, and on Group 1 plants as well. This is another hard pruning, but this time it entails cutting back the vines to about three feet from the ground. Again, this causes more new stems to grow from the ground and stimulates the vines to branch out. This isn’t necessary, but it will improve the appearance and health of your clematis in subsequent years.

Clematis ‘Sprinkles’
Posted by LarryR

Group #3: Late large-flowering, late flowering species, and viticella clematises make up this group. They generally die back to the ground in winter in cold areas. If not, they respond well to hard pruning and can be cut back to about two feet tall. They usually get flowers on the last several feet of new growth and can be cut back even farther because they don’t bloom on old wood. Like the Group 2 vines, they will get bare stems toward the bottom as they age if they aren’t cut back hard. Hard pruning sounds brutal, but it will reward you with lots of new growth and many flowers. As the new growth appears, tie it to supports to keep it looking its best. This is probably the easiest group to prune.

Clematis (Clematis viticella ‘Venosa Violacea’)
Posted by tabby

There are also clematises known as integrifolia or herbaceous clematises. These are non-vining perennials with a dense and somewhat sprawling habit. Although they can’t attach themselves to a support, they can be tied to one or left to sprawl on the ground. These can be cut to the ground with your other perennials in late fall or early spring.

Clematis integrifolia

Another reason to prune is to control wilt. Clematis wilt occurs when the ends of the vine turn black and the vine, or even the entire plant, collapses. When this happens, cutting the plant all the way back to the ground will produce new growth. This is a radical pruning method but it will save your plant.

As you gain more experience with the clematises you have, you’ll be able to recognize the three pruning groups from their bloom time. Group 1 blooms in early spring, Group 2 blooms on old wood in the spring and new wood later in the year, and Group 3 blooms on new wood late in the year.

Now that you know how easy it is to prune them, your plants will be happier and prettier and will produce more flowers. Quite an impressive return on investment for only a few minutes a year!

The large-flowered varieties of clematis – the Nelly Moser and Jackmanii – can be pruned at any time over the next few weeks as soon as you see their silky buds emerging. Don’t be too afraid. Cut back all that top growth to strong buds or shoots between waist and chest height.

You can adopt the same system with the yellow-flowered and fluffy-seeded Clematis orientalis and Clematis tangutica, but where these grow over a trellis or arbour you can cut back to any healthy pair of silky buds that are about to grow away, removing the tangle of dead growth beyond them.

The bell-shaped and pixie hat-shaped clematis – Clematis texensis and Clematis viticella – are the easiest of all to cut back. Pruning of these clematis consists quite simply of cutting them right back to ground level now, to flower again in the summer.

With this as your rough guide, you should find clematis pruning much less intimidating, and your plants will not suffer a jot.

Don’t miss Alan’s gardening column in today’s Daily Express. For more information on his range of gardening products, visit alantitchmarsh.com.

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