Tips for Pruning Clematis Vines
Is it Time to Prune Your Clematis?
For many of us, this is an ominous question. No matter how long we've been gardening, Clematis presents a challenge, because this woody climber is divided into pruning groups (1, 2, and 3), and each group has different requirements. Anyone who has played fast and loose with pruning a Clematis has come to respect those little group numbers!
But pruning your Clematis sounds more complicated than it really is, and it's well worth the once-yearly effort! After all, no garden should be without "the Queen of the Climbers" to decorate trellises, walls, outbuildings, and neighboring shrubs and trees with enormous blooms, year after year! So let's "demystify" this process right now and get your Clematis growing its very best for the length of its long, long life!
First, you must find out which pruning group your variety belongs to. If you bought it from Wayside Gardens, our website or catalog will tell you. If your variety isn't being offered this season give us a call and we'll happily look it up. If you bought yours elsewhere, take a look at any book on Clematis. (An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Clematis is an excellent source of information about all things Clematis.)
There are distinctions in flowering time among the three groups — generally speaking, group-1 is early, group-2 midseason, and group-3 late-blooming — but you don't want to rely on that. If your Clematis has a name, it will have a number!
Second, consider the age of your Clematis. If you've been growing a variety for several years without pruning it at all, please read this important section on first-year pruning. If you inherited an established Clematis, you can skip directly to instructions for the pruning group you need: group-1, group-2, or group-3. If you're thinking about growing Clematis for the first time or selecting a new variety for your garden, take a look at the requirements and varieties in all three pruning groups to help you make up your mind!
Before You Prune Your New Clematis
You aren't going to like this, but the first year of your Clematis's garden (or container!) life, you need to do a special pruning. If you planted your Clematis last spring or fall, or if you've been growing Clematis without pruning it, please give it this first-year trim — it will make your Clematis more beautiful over its entire (long!) life.
Every variety, regardless of group, should be cut back to about 5 inches from the ground in late winter/early spring the first year after it is planted. You don't have to — it will certainly still grow and flower without ever feeling the snick of the shears — but if you want a bushier, stronger, tighter growth habit, with flowers from the base of the plant instead of beginning 4 feet off the ground, cut every stem back to 5 inches from the soil. Don't worry about leaving buds; Clematis handles that sort of thing with underground growth.
Now, the bad news is that if your Clematis is in Groups 1 or 2, this first-year pruning means that you won't get blooms this year. These groups bloom on "old wood" (the previous season's growth), so you'll lose one season of color. But I promise you your Clematis will more than make up for this loss in the years to come!
So — cut every stem that's coming out of the ground to 5 inches tall, even if you've got an old established Clematis that's been twining up a tree for 5 years without a trim, or with random trims at various times of year. (Do you notice it blooms less each year, and perhaps only at the very end of the stems instead of from the base? This pruning will put a stop to that nonsense and give you lots of blooms, all along the stems!) That's it — your work is done for the year!
Now, if your Clematis is in Groups 1 or 2, you should also do a special second-year pruning. Not everyone does this, but if you want a lush, many-stemmed, bloom-happy plant, the second year you should prune all stems back to about 3 feet from the ground in late winter/early spring. You will get blooms this year, because everything above 5 inches from the ground is old wood, but your Clematis won't grow so tall so quickly. Again, this is all to the good — it will encourage more shoots to emerge and better flowering in years to come — but if you're too impatient or simply forget, most Clematis are very forgiving!
If your Clematis is in Group 3, skip the second-year pruning. Your variety blooms on new wood, so this pruning is completely unnecessary.
Once you know your Clematis's pruning number and get that first-year trim out of the way, keeping this woody climber looking its best and blooming like crazy is simple! A few minutes once a year will yield you armloads of flowers for many seasons, and you will continue to find new uses for Clematis, from hiding an unsightly fence to decorating your most formal garden art!
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