To Prune or Not to Prune

Clematis care can be confusing when it comes to pruning. There are basically 4 ways to prune depending on when they flower. The earliest types to bloom do so on old wood produced the year before. Others need to produce new growth, which will then produce flowering buds. Watch pruning done by Szczepan Marczynski

Group A or Type 1: Early-flowering

Clematis in this group bloom in April and May off vines produced the previous season. Pruning is needed only to control growth and if done do so immediately after flowering but no later than then mid-July. Avoid cutting into the large woody trunks. Fertilize in the early spring, then again monthly.

Group B or Type 2: Large-Early Flowering

Large Early-flowering Clematis bloom in the spring on short stems growing from last season's wood then later in the season on new wood. In February or March tidy up your clematis first by removing any dead or damaged stems. Then trim each stem tip back to the topmost pair of fat green buds. After the first flush of flowers, trim your plant back by ¼ to ½. Light pruning in the spring followed by harder pruning after the first flowering will give you the best re-bloom. This second pruning will also cause new shoots to grow from the base building a fuller plant. I also believe it is best to prune all new clematis as if they were Type 3 (hard prune) for the first two seasons. This will produce more shoots from the base and establish a fuller clematis. Fertilize in early spring then again monthly. Time release fertilizes work great for this. 

Group C or Type 3: Large-Late Flowering

Late flowering Clematis bloom on current seasons growth beginning mid-Spring continuing until late fall. Each February or March cut each stem down to the lowest set of green buds closest to the ground. You will be removing good stems with nice growth but you want to build the branching as low as possible. It is very important, when your clematis is young, to prune it low. You will have a fuller plant in doing so. Fertilize early spring and again monthly.

Group D or Type 4: Herbaceous

The Plants in this group, such as c.integrifolia, flower on foliage that emerges directly from the ground. In early spring trim all previous seasons growth back hard to within 6 inches of the soil. Once the weather has warmed and new shoots appear remove the remaining old wood completely.

Planting recommendation for well-drained soil:

  • Use strong trellises or netting to for climbing support.
  • Fertilize! Rose or Tomato Time Release fertilizers work well. Fertilize in the early spring and again monthly but no later than August.
  • Plant your Clematis 1"- 2" deeper than it was in the original pot. This helps keep roots cool as well as insures new shoots from below.
  • Add a mixture of soil, good compost, well rotten manure plus bone meal or slow release fertilizer to the hole when you plant. If your soil holds water from clay, throw small gravel, sticks or bark in the very bottom of the hole for better drainage. If you have moles and pets in your yard, skip the bone meal.
  • Watch Planting  video by Szczepan Marczynski 


Dig a hole approx. 18" x 18" deep. Be sure the planting hole is well drained  so the plant does not get waterlogged. Fill the hole with water to check drainage. Next place rotten manure in bottom of hole and then fill with compost & soil mix to height where the bottom of Clematis is going to sit. Place the crown of the  clematis (where the roots come off the stems and go down)1"-2" deeper than pot-dirt-level to encourage new shoots. Tilt your plant 45 degrees to encourage new shoots. Fill remaining area with enriched soil. Stake and water well to remove any air pockets.

Planting in Containers

With a proper trellis or support, Some clematis do fantastic in containers. Your container should be no smaller than 24" by 24". When selecting your pot avoid metal or black that attracts heat.  You may wish to add a groundcover or trailing perennial. Each year refresh the top several inches of soil. If you notice fewer flowers it is probably time to remove the clematis and plant it in your garden. Feed more often also.

Provide your Clematis something to grow up or on: chicken wire, nylon deer fencing, lattice or a trellis. Use green plastic plant-tape or bread ties to hold the vines to trellis.

Dead head  remove the spent flowers often to lengthen flowering. Making seed heads takes  energy from the plant. 

Clematis take time to settle their roots into their new home.  They may look sickly after planting. Top growth is not important, it is the roots that matter.  Be sure not to over water. I cannot say this enough! Water deeply then let the soil dry out. Don't water everyday!You will be rewarded with many new shoots as the clematis matures. Be patient. Never give up on your clematis, thinking it is dead.

Additional Tips:

  • Watering - Do Not Over Water! This is the number one cause of clematis death! Water deeply then allow plant to dry out. Over watering will keep the top 2" wet resulting in rotting the crown of the clematis. If your plant starts looking sickly, cut back on your watering!
  •  Collapse- Do not panic if your Clematis goes limp. This is common on type 2's but not fatal. Cut off limp stems, cut back on water and continue care. Clematis can disappear only to return stronger the next year so don't give them up for dead even if you have only the stake left. Keep watering the stake!
  • Powder Mildew - At the first signs of mildew, spray with Ultra-Fine-Horticulture Spray.
  • Yellow leaves - Give your Clematis a drink of Epson Salts (2 TBS per gallon of water). Over watering can produce yellow leaves as well as spider mites. Mites leave pin size white spots on the leaves. Check underside of leaves for mites and if found spray at once.
  • Put out slug bait - Slugs love the young tender shoots.
  • Prune type 3 clematis back by half after first flush of flowers then fertilize again. This will give you the maximum second flowering. Don't do later than the end of July
  • Try Laying your plant in hole at a 45 degree and you will get more shoots!