Clematis Pruning: The Early Years

July 10 2014 rhr 035Have you ever come across a clematis with long, stringy stems reaching into a towering tree with the glorious blooms gracing only the upper reaches of the tree? These clematis vines can only be admired from afar as the blooms are well above human height. This phenomenon can be avoided with some simple pruning in the early years of your vine.

October29 2014 RHR 132

Clematis I Am(R) Happy  in full bloom. photo credit: R. Robert

It doesn’t matter whether your specimen is in group 1, 2,3 or A, B, C; the pruning steps are all the same the first three years. This pruning procedure will prevent the long, stringy growth and encourage lower branching and flowering.

It doesn’t matter whether your specimen is in group 1, 2,3 or A, B, C; the pruning steps are all the same the first three years. photo credit: R. Robert

It doesn’t matter whether your specimen is in group 1, 2,3 or A, B, C; the pruning steps are all the same the first three years. photo credit: R. Robert

Year One: After planting your clematis two inches below the soil line, trim to 12 inches.

During year 2, trim to 18 inches above the soil line. photo credit: R. Robert

During year two, trim to 18 inches above the soil line. photo credit: R. Robert

Year Two: Trim to 18 inches tall.

Continue to trim to 18 inches during year three. photo credit: R. Robert

Continue to trim to 18 inches during year three. photo credit: R. Robert

Year Three: Trim to 18 inches tall.

Clematis 'Comtesse de Bouchaud' in full bloom. photo credit: R. Maurer

Clematis ‘Comtesse de Bouchaud’ in full bloom. photo credit: R. Maurer

After the first three years, follow the appropriate pruning technique for your type of clematis. This “early years” pruning technique will create a stunning floral display from top to bottom.

 

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  1. What if you miss this three year window? Is there any way to prune it if it is already leggy?

  2. Other than being leggy if the plant is healthy feel free to prune all canes back to 18 inches. Being careful to leave at least one pair of healthy buds on each cane. Late February or early March before the leaf buds begin to expand is the ideal time to do so. Clematis are typically very forgiving to harsh pruning. Pruning a mature plant in this manner may cause you a bit of anxiety but don’t worry. When I move or divide a mature plant I typically cut it back in this fashion. By pruning this way it will stimulate the plant to branch near the base. You may even get a few new shoots from below ground. Fertilize and water it well this growing season and it will bounce back in no time.

    Adam Glas, Scott Arboretum Gardener

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