Clematis are one of the most popular groups of garden perennials. These beauties are flowering vines and are extremely versatile. Grow them over a beautiful arbor, thread them through other perennials, or even let them climb up a tree in the corner of your yard. And to make things even better, they are fairly easy to grow! However, the task of pruning them can be daunting. But with a little bit of know-how and figuring out just when your clematis blooms, will make the task super simple!
It is important to prune them because it does encourage the plant to sprout new growth. In fact, flowering will actually diminish on all clematis vines if you do not prune them, making this garden chore critical.
We can break down clematis into three categories, which should make distinguishing when to prune your plant much easier.
1. Spring Bloomers
2. Summer or Fall Bloomers
3. Repeat Bloomers
Clematis that bloom in the spring, will flower on last year’s growth. Spring bloomers should be pruned back as soon as they are done blooming in the spring. By doing this, it allows the plant an entire season to set buds for the following year and sprout new growth.
We suggest that you prune them back within two to three inches of the ground. However, if your clematis tends to grow a bit slower, proceed with a bit more caution. Instead of pruning them all the way back, simply prune them enough to shape the plant. If there is very old wood on your clematis, avoid cutting into it, as it may not resprout. Pruning on a regular basis will help you to avoid this problem.
An example of a spring bloomer: Clematis Montana Rubens
Summer and Fall Bloomers
This category of clematis bloom on the current season’s growth. While pruning this type of bloomer may not always be necessary, you should thin the plant out for better air circulation and light access to the plant. Eventually, they will become snarled, and as mentioned earlier, flowering will lessen some.
When thinning this type of clematis, do it when it is dormant or just out of dormancy. You can cut it back to about 12 inches, or if you’re utilizing them as climbers, just prune to a healthy leaf bud.
An example of a Summer or Fall Bloomer: Sweet Autumn Clematis Paniculata
Clematis in this category get a little complicated because some will have a large bloom in one season and then sporadically continue to bloom throughout the other seasons. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to prune without sacrificing blooms. We suggest that you figure out which season your clematis blooms the most and prune the opposite season.
Pruning this category will not be as extensive as the others. Treat pruning your repeat blooms as deadheading instead of drastically cutting the plant back.
An example of a repeat bloomer: Clematis Dr. Ruppel
Is my Clematis Dead?!
It is important that you prune your clematis when it’s in dormancy. This proposes a few issues because it is often hard to tell when the plant is in dormancy rather than dead. Here is how you can tell if it’s dead or dormant– scratch the wood and see if there is green flesh. If there is green flesh, your plant is not dead! But, if there is not any green flesh under the surface of the wood, your clematis is likely dead and it’s time to replace it!
Before you rush to Bucks Country Gardens and get a new plant, make sure that you check the wood all the way down to the base. It is possible for the wood to be dead ¾ of the way down and then be green the rest of the way to the base. If this is your situation, you’re in luck! The clematis is not dead. Cut the plant all the way down to where the green starts to emerge and let it sprout new growth.
When it comes to down to it, determining when and how to prune your clematis is deciding when it blooms. If you’re unsure or have any questions, take a picture and bring it in. One of our experts will be more than happy to help you!
Jessie Tanski | Public Relations and Social Media Coordinator
David Jones | Horticulturist, Arborist, & Customer Service Specialist