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A Quick Guide to Clematis Pruning

There is a very simple rule of thumb that can be applied to pruning clematis if you have lost a plant label and/or don't know what the plant is called.

  • Don't prune clematis which flower on the previous year's growth (ie before June in central England)
  • Hard prune clematis which flower on the current year's growth (ie from June onwards)
As always, there are exceptions to the rule but they are few. If you garden further north in the British Isles or elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere you need to adjust pruning times accordingly. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere your adjustment needs to take account of the reversed seasons.

Newly planted clematis

All newly planted clematis should be hard pruned in the first early spring (February or March) after planting. Remove the top growth by making a clean cut just above the first set of live buds on each stem. This will cause the plant to grow into two stems or shoots. Pinch out these growing stems once or twice suring spring. The exception to this general rule are herbaceous clematis ( C. recta, C. integrifolia and C. heracleifolia) which should be hard pruned in the autumn or late February irrespective of age - in other words, treat them just as any other herbaceous plant.
Established clematis

Clematis are generally grouped into one of three categories for pruning purposes:

  • Category 1 (sometimes called 'A'): no pruning
  • Category 2 (sometimes called 'B'): light pruning
  • Category 3 (sometimes called 'C'): hard pruning
Category 1 (or 'A'): no pruning
This category includes C alpina, C chrysocoma, C macropetala, C montana and the evergreen C cirrhosa and C armandii groups. If you wish to prune these types because they have outgrown their space they should be pruned immediately after flowering. You may or may not lose your plant as a result of the pruning. You might want to reduce the plant size over two or three seasons rather than in one go.

Category 2 (or 'B'): light pruning
This category includes the early large-flowered forms including the double and semi-double cultivars. These plants produce their main flush of flowers in May and early June on stems made in the previous year so pruning is limited to cutting out dead or weak shoots in February. This is best achieved by working your way down from the top of each stem until you reach a healthy bud and then pruning just above it. Refrain from heavier pruning or you will have no early flowers. After the early flowers have finished you can prune back some of the flowered shoots to encourage new growth. This is also the time to cut back a plant that has outgrown its position or which has become an unsightly tangle at the top. Again, be careful. Reduce the plant over two or three seasons rather than in one brutal prune.

Category 3 (or 'C'): hard pruning
This category includes the late large-flowered hybrids and the small-flowered viticellas, orientalis and texensis groups. These plants flower on the new season's growth. Prune in February by starting at the bottom of the plant and working your way up the stem to the first pair of plump, healthy buds. Prune the stem above the buds and remove everything above the cut. Treat each stem in a similar way. The plant will be encouraged to make strong new growth and an abundance of flowers.
Adapted and abridged from BCS Factsheet No.1 'Hints on Planting and Pruning Clematis' by Everett Leeds and Mary Toomey
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