Pruning Your Clematis

Clematis Julia and Rose Jeanne la JoiePrune After Flowering.

This is the the general rule for all Clematis, as it is for most plant materials.
But When After?
This question has a long answer, but the situation does not need to be as puzzling as you might think.
For most people the confusing thing is which Clematis to cut down substantially and which should not be pruned much if at all in fall.

You don’t have to know the names of the Clematis to know what to do, you just need to watch to see when each plant has flowers, and remember which ones bloom early and which ones bloom mid or late in the season.

A shortcut to remembering easily what to do
or not to do in Fall is contained in my rhyme :


“If it blooms before June, don’t prune.
If it blooms after June, wait till it swoons
but leave at least three to climb to the Moon”

And now for the Rest of the Story
Why it Works that Way.

1.  Early Flowering Clematis Varieties

These kinds typically flower  only on the previous years wood, so you need to leave a lot of the vine in place through the winter.

Pruning things soon after they finish in spring and early summer conserves the energy of the plant for the parts that will remain, so for those kinds that are not cut down fully each winter, do what pruning is needed soon after flowering and the plant will then put its energy into next year’s flower buds.

For these, you should do your trimming after blooming and not in the fall cleanup. This timing will allow your plant to develop a full quota of flowers for the following year. Don’t procrastinate or your vine will have put energy into preparing for next years flowers in places you may need to prune away.

The pruning of the early flowering Clematis is mostly to improve the shape of the plant or to keep it within your chosen bounds. For this type of Clematis I usually would take down up to 20% of a given plant in a given season. For these spring bloomers you want to leave a lot of room for them to grow into and occupy since you can’t shrink them annually as much as you can the later flowering kinds, which are largely or completely cut down each year.

2.  Midseason Bloomers

These may bloom on both old and new wood, so don’t prune off all the old stems.
Do plan to take some old wood away each year after flowering so there will be plenty of room for new wood to also be gracefully produced within the allocated space for reblooming and for the coming season.

  • “Wait till it swoons”

For both the midseason or late forms, you can do as much pruning as you like during the season after flowering to neaten things up, but often the seedheads at the end of the season are lovely, and the leafery is still handsome, and there is no need to prune right away. You can wait on this till the plant is no longer contributing to the picture. Some long blooming, midseason  and late blooming types bloom on new wood only, in which case a full cut down, like that used for late flowering forms, will be preferable, but in either case, there is no rush to accomplish the pruning of these. Finishing the cut downs of these plants can wait until the garden is being put to bed, the leaves are droopy (swooning)  and you are thinking of next years pictures.

3.  Late Season BloomersClematis paniculata and Clematis tangutica

For the late flowering Clematis, pruning long after flowering is typically fine. When the vine no longer contributes nicely to the picture, it is time. In the fall these late kinds will be pruned mostly all the way down anyway for their own good health since they typically bloom entirely on the new wood that they create in a single season.

Just when you should prune these is flexible, and can largely depend on whether the appearance of the vine continues to be pleasing. The seedpods and foliage of some of these kinds can look lovely till frost and beyond, so certain of these climbing friends can be assets even through the holidays.

The right time to take them fully down will be when the vine is not contributing to the beauty of the place, and when you have time. There may be other considerations like how much you mind cutting things down when it’s very cold, or when your last organic trip to the dump can take place.

Sometime between late November and the early winter, I take back all the late Clematis to about 12” above the ground, leaving 3 or 5 of the old stems that have gracefully climbed quite high that year.

  • The Three that you Leave to Climb to the Moon.

When you cut down your vines, even those that only bloom on new wood, I leave a few of the old woody stems in place where they have climbed to the places you wanted them to. That way the new stems in spring will have something to twine around, and I will have something to easily attach them to in just the right spots.

  • Who Is Who, by Name or by Character

If you acquire your Clematis with its given name, Google will help you find out which type of trimming it needs.
If you don’t know the name, watch the particular variety you are wondering about through the year. Try to see if it is blooming just on new wood (this year’s stems), or old wood (last year’s stems), or on both old and new wood.  If it flowers on both kinds of wood, you will want to leave some of the old wood on when you prune in fall so that it can do the same thing next year.

If the flowers are on new wood only, you cut down the whole vine to 12″ and it will start over in Spring.

You may not know the true name of the plant, but you have discovered something of its character, and that’s what matters for the pruning.

  • Happy Couples have Compatable Habits

Clematis Hagley Hybrid and a Jackmanii

Clematis can be lovely in intertwined pairs with complementary or contrasting colors and shapes. If you would like to try for this effect, be sure the pair you choose have the same or compatable pruning needs if they will be planted close together.

If you choose one kind which needs to be cut down early and one late, and they are growing substantially together, you will spend a silly amount of time trying to do the right thing for each of them in their entwined situation….every year forever.

If you want different seasons of bloom to occur in an overlapping place, and so may wish for Clematis with different pruning needs, start them in locations substantially apart from one another, leading their most distant stems to meet in your chosen places. This helps to keep the trimming manageable.

If the references tell you they grow 6 feet or 20 feet, pay attention, because they probably will do just that after a few settlement years, so space them accordingly.

If you make a mistake and prune your Clematis too far back or in the wrong season by mistake, it will usually just start over….as long as you have been careful not to hurt the places where the crown rises out of the ground. Sometimes when renovating an older vine that has not been tended and has gotten itself into a tangle, a one time purposeful and considerate OOps will be necessary.

The worst that can happen, if it’s a kind of Clematis that blooms only on old wood, is that you will have to wait a year for flowering, until it has some ‘new’ old wood.

Plant Protection
When I plant a Clematis I usually also permanently plant a croquet hoop over the crown to mark the place and protect it from the footsteps of overenthusiastic or forgetful people and other creatures.

This entry was posted in Garden Making Guidance, Long Blooming Plants, Most Popular Posts, Plant Portraits and Stories, Your Reasoned Landscape and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
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  • By Goozle Zone on September 9, 2012 at 8:37 pm

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  • By Clematis Clues - A Reasoned Landscape on July 3, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    [...] lots more information about Clematis, please see my articles on Pruning Clematis,  Propagating Clematis, and another on Long Blooming [...]

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