How to Prune Clematis

When and how to prune Clematis raises concerns for gardeners. As with all pruning, do it at the wrong time and you may prevent flowering, which means "when" is as important as "how".

There are a huge number of Clematis on the market, and the main point is not which variety Clematis you have planted, but to which pruning group it belongs.

The first step in pruning a Clematis is to decide to which group it belongs: 1,2, or 3.

How to prune a New Clematis

The first stage in pruning Clematis is how to prune a new Clematis. You have purchased a lovely Clematis from the garden centre, planted it carefully, and the question is how to prune it when it is new? 

All newly planted Clematis are pruned in the same way because you want to make the immature plant produce a number of stems. It depends on the state of the Clematis when you buy it. If the plant already has multiple, that is 3-5 stems, growing from the base it does not need pruning it's already in good shape. This is often the case if the Clematis purchased is more mature.

If the new clematis is a single stem, prune it back hard the first spring, February/March to a pair of buds around 30cms from the ground. Within a short period it will throw out new shoots which can be trained into shape. After the first year, prune according to its group.

Which Pruning Group is my Clematis?

Clematis pruning groups 1, 2 & 3 explained

Dead easy if you have the label, but what if that is lost, or you have an established Clematis in a garden you have acquired? 

Here are some hints.

There is an old gardening saying "If it flowers before June, don't prune."  This applies well to Clematis. Those which flower early in the year, from February until early May are going to be Clematis alpina, macropetala and montana which for pruning purposes are all 'Group 1' The flowers are on growth made the previous year which means this type of Clematis must not be pruned early in the year in the spring, or you will cut off the buds and branches on which the flowers are forming, and cut off the potential flowers. This group is an exception within the Clematis group, as it does not require routine annual pruning and will flower happily without pruning. Group 1 Clematis can be pruned if needed, but always after flowering, to tidy up or contain within a growing space. 

The next group of Clematis are very popular because they have large showy blooms and can be identified because they flower in early summer May and June,  and are varieties such as 'Nelly Moser', (Image above center) 'The President Niobe' and are all known as "Group 2" 

Finally, the third group are the late flowering Clematis. These are a bit confusing because some Clematis in this group have large flowers such as 'Jackmanii', (illustrated above) and others can have small flowers such as C. viticella. Although the flowers sizes are different, they are all distinguishable by the fact that all flower late in the season and are known as "Group 3" 

If you make a note when in the year your Clematis flowers you can make a judgement on how to prune it.

Early spring flowering are group 1; summer flowering group 2 and late summer flowering group 3. This is is a broad brush approach as the only fail-safe way is to identify the precise variety of Clematis, and then to check to which pruning group to which it belongs. Since there are hundreds of types of clematis and new ones being bred all the time, identification this way is not always easy.

Now you know which Clematis or pruning group it is - what to do next ?

How to prune different types of Clematis

 

Group 1 the early flowering species which include C. Montana C. alpina, and C. macropetala as a group require little or no pruning. These Clematis will benefit from a light trim after flowering. Some C.montana are vigorous and may need pruning to contain them in the growing space, in which case prune back to size you want, after flowering which will be late May. Avoid

any pruning after June, as the Clematis is then producing wood (and flowers) for next year. Clematis in Group 1 can be left unpruned. Clematis montana is a popular variety as it flowers reliably and requires no pruning, so is one of the easiest Clematis to grow. (see Types of Clematis.)

Group 2 early to mid-season flowering (below centre image) Video How to prune Group 2 Clematis, which require moderate pruning to a framework.  These Clematis flower early summer during late May and June, and need to be pruned in late Feb/early March. Group 2 Clematis are pruned back lightly to a framework of branches and buds; avoid pruning too hard, as this may reduce flowering.

Prune off the top growth to a pair of axil buds to make a framework cutting back, not harshly, to a good pair of axil buds. You may remove quite a bit of top growth, some may have buds and shoots, don't worry that's normal just lightly cut back to a good framework and remove any spindly or poor shoots.

In the images above the stems of the Clematis in Feb/March look dead, all brown and stringy. In the second image the Clematis in winter looks dead it definitely is not. Locate the axil buds shown in the second image and in third image, prune back to axil buds and cut off top growth. By pruning time February or early March Clematis are already growing and the top of the plant in particular will have buds and shoots on it. Do not worry that when pruning that you are cutting off this new growth, plenty more will follow. 

Group 3 are the late flowering cultivars, and small flowering cultivars Video How to prune Group 3 Clematis . With the late flowering group of clematis pruning is easier simply cut  down to about 30 cms in Feb/early March.

Group 3 Clematis tend to be vigorous and need to be pruned hard every year.   A reservation about this variety of Clematis is that they are vigorous and can quickly outgrow its space. Most of Group 3 need a lot of room and will overwhelm an adjacent good-sized shrub, such as a large species Rhododendron within a couple of seasons. 

Videos: pruning groups 1,2, & 3 explained and How to prune Clematis Group 2 and 3

Last updated 22.12.2020