When to Prune Clematis Vines

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The clematis vine, a delicate climber with a wide spectrum of shaded blooms, can be a sensitive garden guest. With three primary categories of clematis to guide pruning practices, take care to fully understand your vine for the best chance of success.

Group A: Early Flowering

  • Clematis that bloom early, part of Group A or 1 clematis, bloom on "old wood" or last year's growth. It is necessary to prune these lightly to remove dead wood in early spring, taking care not to trim any stems with buds, and then prune closely following the blooming period. Clemson University Extension horticulture experts Karen Russ and Bob Polomski suggest pruning no later than July on these early-flowering varieties. Some species belonging to this group include C. alpina, a 6-foot vine with lavender, bell-shaped flowers, and C. armandii, a creamy white, vanilla-scented bloomer that can climb up to 30 feet high.

Group B: Large Flowered

  • "Niobe," a ruby-red hybrid that flowers all summer long, and "Nelly Moser," with 8-inch-wide, rosy mauve blooms, are both part of Group B or 2. This group produces flowers throughout the summer, blooming on both old and new wood. Russ and Polomski suggest February or March pruning for this group, cutting back the new growth to where the highest pair of green buds emerge on the stems. University of Illinois Extension horticulturist Greg Stack advises that light pruning is best, but if this group is looking leggy and needs a good cut back, do it in spring after the first flush of blooms. You should still have time to produce fall blossoms.

Group C: Late Flowering

  • Stack calls this the "grit your teeth" group, as the Group C or 3 late-flowering clematis need a heavy cut back every spring in order to thrive. Prune back to 2 to 3 feet of new growth, which is where the flowers will emerge from. The good news is that they are such prolific producers that even with the heavy pruning required, you are assured a mass of blooms throughout the season. If you avoid the task, Stack warns that you may produce an unattractive, sparse-looking vine. C. viticella is a tall-growing, purple-hued variety, and C. tangutica has tiny yellow blossoms that leave silvery fruit pods behind for the winter.

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