Friday, 9 February 2018

When to prune clematis - made simple!

When to prune clematis - made simple Green Fingered Blog
Ever heard someone explaining when to prune clematis, and still been left with no idea what to do? Then let's make things simple...







"When should I prune clematis" must be one of the most frequently asked questions in relation to garden maintenance. 

I suspect the reason people ask about pruning clematis so often is because the answer they receive so often sounds complicated, long winded or confusing. 

The answer frequently seems to become technical, and includes discussion of whether the clematis concerned belongs to Group 1, Group 2 or Group 3. Or it may refer to different types of clematis by name, such as "viticella" or "alpina". You may not even be sure of which of these your clematis it belongs to, if it was already in your garden when you moved in, or if you've not kept the label. 

But that doesn't matter, because to demystify the whole process, and make it easier to decide when to prune your clematis, I'm going to ask you just one simple question:

"When does your clematis flower?"


Yes it might be controversial but if you are struggling with all the advice given about pruning clematis, just take note of when your clematis flowers and at the very least you should avoid ruining it. The most important piece of advice you need is quite simple:

Prune after flowering


That's it. For most gardeners purposes, that's it. If you want to do it perfectly then by all means check the botanical names and read all the different advice for different categories of clematis, but if all you want to know is when is the right time to cut back your clematis without ruining it - here goes:


A really simple guide to pruning clematis

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Pruning early flowering clematis


If your clematis flowers early in the year, then it will carry on growing for the rest of the summer, before stopping for a winter break and then flowering the following spring. These flowers develop on these existing stems from the year before, so if you cut them down in spring there'll be no flowers. 

So for clematis that carry on growing after they've flowered early, cut them back after they've finished flowering. In most cases this is in summer. Then they'll grow again and flower the year after.

You don't need to know the variety or type, just take notice of what the plant is doing. As long as you prune after it's flowered nothing much is going to go wrong. 


Pruning later flowering clematis

If your clematis flowers later in the year, it likely just grows to a certain height, flowers, sets seed and is done. It won't put on any more growth and the stems will slowly die over autumn. It will start producing new shoots the following spring, and the flowers develop from this new growth each year.

This means you can prune it as much as you like without fear of removing the flowering shoots. Either cut it back in late autumn and wait for it to regrow in spring, or leave it for winter and cut it back once the new shoots emerge.

Personally I leave it until spring, mainly because I enjoy the seed heads as a feature through autumn. 

After flowering, clematis produce seed heads which are often attractive features and can be left for a while to enjoy. Initially you can dead head them to promote more flowering, cutting off just the flowers themselves, but then leave them to go to seed.


Clematis seed head
Clematis seed head
You can leave the seed heads on early flowering clematis as well but not for too long. You need to prune them early enough in the year to give them time to grow those flowering stems as I described earlier.

The later flowering types can be left with their seed heads for as long as you enjoy looking at them.

How to prune clematis


As you have gathered by now, this is not a detailed tutorial on how to prune clematis. I'm attempting to keep it simple, so all I will say about how to actually go about pruning is this:

  • If you want to cut right back to the base, do it! As long as it's after flowering it should regrow, either immediately (early flowering) or the following spring (later flowering). It will only grow so far in a year so it depends where you're growing it and what sort of structure it's growing on, whether you want it to grow back to the same size as last year, or get bigger.
  • If you want your clematis to get taller, leave some stems in place, or cut back to just above an emerging shoot part way up, as in the picture below. You may well find fresh buds at various heights. Cut back to whichever one you want, and the plant will expand upwards from that point as the season goes on. You can allow for how much growth it normally puts on in the year when deciding how far back you want to prune it.

Young clematis shoots Green Fingered Blog
Emerging clematis shoots


  • Pick a good strong new shoot to cut back to, and you can be fairly confident that it will grow well from that point.
  • The usual pruning tips are worth considering. It's normally good to cut on an angle, away from a bud, so that any water runs off out of the way rather than sitting on the cut.
Young clematis shoots Green Fingered Blog

I've purposely not mentioned specific varieties in the above sections, as this is normally what confuses people when working out what they should do. The key, as I've said, is to be aware of how your clematis grows, and then, regardless of what type it is, or whether you know what type it is or not, you should be able to cut it back at the right time and enjoy flowers year after year.

Clematis gravetye beauty flowers Green Fingered Blog
Clematis viticella "Gravetye Beauty"
That was a deliberately simple guide to pruning clematis but if you feel I've left out anything crucial, feel free to let me know using the comments section. Are there new shoots on your (late flowering) clematis yet? 


2 comments:

  1. This was really useful - Thankyou. I'd never thought of it like that before. I struggled with the types 1,2,and 3. Your guide is a great way to look and take notice.

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  2. Thanks Julie. I think a lot of people struggle with types 1, 2 or 3. That's fine if like me you like spending time getting into details but I think most people just want to make sure they don't make a mistake by pruning at the wrong time and miss out on a good display of flowers, so hopefully this will take the mystery away.

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