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Plants & Product Information: Clematis

Pruning PointersTiming is important: Don’t prune in the fall. In Nebraska it’s best to prune Feb. – April before the bud’s swell. Before you start cutting,  you’ll need to know which of the three pruning groups your clematis is in. We’ll refer to  them as groups 1, 2, 3.
There’s nothing more spectacular than a clematis vine in full bloom. Who doesn’t dream of a trellis or arbor covered with vibrant–red or rich purple flowers. Fall just wouldn’t be the same without Sweet Autumn Clematis’ intoxicating fragrance and thousands of star like flowers. With proper planting, pruning, and fertilization your vine will be the envy of the neighborhood. If you’ve grown clematis, you know that pruning can be puzzling. The fact is, your clematis will survive, and even bloom, with no pruning. But with the right pruning it’ll grow and bloom more vigorously. And let’s face it: We grow clematis for the colorful flowers!
  • Group 1- little or none.
  • Group 2- lightly to maintain size.
  • Group 3- hard pruning.

In our area, most clematis fall into groups 2 or 3. Following are some popular varieties:

  • Beauty of Worchester – 2
  • General Sikorski – 2
  • Jackmanii – 3
  • Kiri Te Kanawa – 2
  • Multi-Blue – 2
  • Rhapsody – 3
  • The President – 2
  • Comtesse de Bouchard – 3
  • Hagley Hybrid – 3
  • Ernest Markham – 3
  • Niobe – 3
  • Rouge Cardinal – 2
  • Sunset – 2
  • Duchess of Edinburgh – 2
  • Mrs. George Jackman – 2
  • Bill MacKenzie – 3
  • Bees Jubilee – 2
  • Carnaby – 2
  • Fireworks – 2
  • Mrs. N Thompson – 2
Small Flowering
  • Sweet Autumn – 3
  • Plena Elegans – 3
  • Rubromarginata – 3
Group 1 Clematis (none)These clematis bloom in early spring on old wood. Wait to prune until after the main flowering has finished. This group only needs enough pruning to keep the plants looking fresh and under control. Some popular species in this group are: C. alpina,C. macropetala, and C. montana.

Group 2 Clematis (light)

Large-flowered doubles and re-bloomers usually fall into group 2. They bloom in spring on old wood and then again in late summer on new wood. As plants leaf out in the spring, remove any stems that have died back. Then do a light pruning to keep the vine trained to its structure. Make sure their growing structure is tall enough to accommodate the mature size of the vine. Group 2 cultivars are good companions to climbing roses because their pruning requirements are similar.

Group 3 Clematis (hard)

Group 3 cultivars are the easiest ones to prune. They bloom in spring and summer as well as fall. This is a large group of clematis with lots of different heights and flower sizes to choose from. You have to be ruthless for this group of clematis to grow their best. Since they only bloom on new wood, cut the entire plant down to within a foot of the ground, leaving just 2 to 4 sets of buds per stem (see right illustration). If you don’t, the plant will be thin at the base and full of dead stems from the previous year’s growth. The flowers will also be smaller, fewer and only towards the top of the vine. Any group 3 cultivar can also be used as a ground cover.

7 Steps to Clematis Success1.  KNOW YOUR VINE

One of the most important things you can do is properly prune your type of vine. However, after the first year all types should be cut back to 10-12”. This is important to encourage low branching and heavier flowering over the whole vine.


Clematis prefer slightly alkaline soil. A pH of 7-7.5 is just right. Dig the hole 18” deep and wide. Work in lots of organic matter, such as EKO COMPOST. Set young plants deeply so the first two sets of leaf nodes will be underground – (see right illustration). This encourages plants to send up more stems so you’ll have a thicker plant. Water in thoroughly with Quick Start.


“Head in the sun, feet in the shade” is old clematis advise. A 4-inch layer of mulch will keep the roots cool and moist just as well as shade does. A more colorful suggestion is to plant shallow rooted annuals around the base of the vine.


The best place to prune a stem is just above two strong buds -(see left illustration)- where two leaves were growing the previous year. These buds will quickly develop into new stems. Don’t worry about making angled cuts – it’s not necessary.


Clematis wilt is easy to spot: A portion of your vine wilts quickly, often just as the plant starts to bloom. Wilt is caused by a fungus that enters the stem, usually just above the soil line. There is no cure other than to cut the entire stem to the ground and dispose of it in the trash. Do this as soon as you notice the wilt. That will prevent spores from moving to other stems. Systemic fungicides can help prevent wilt from spreading to healthy stems. Apply to vines immediately after you remove infected portions. Read the package label for specific application information. The rest of the plant usually survives, providing there are enough other healthy stems. That’s another reason to plant clematis deeply: If a  stem becomes infected and has to be removed, more will come from the base of the plant to replace it.


Clematis like to be well fed, but not overfed. Feed clematis plants once a year, right after pruning, with an all-purpose, granulated fertilizer, such as Osmocote.


Clematis can vary almost as much in height as in flower color. Smaller varieties, 4’-7’, can be grown in containers with an obelisk or on small trellises. They also can be trained to grow into small trees or shrubs. These clematis are large enough to show up, but not so big that they’ll smother the shrub, giving the illusion that the woody plant blooms twice a year, with a completely different flower.  Most clematis grow 8’-12’ and make excellent subjects for covering structures, such as pergolas, arbors, fences, and large trellises.

You can also use clematis as a groundcover. A good choice is ‘Sweet Autumn’ which can grow up to 20’ in one season.

Clematis vines and roses are a classic pairing. They can be grown together on a trellis for a dramatic effect.


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