My first memory of clematis is from early childhood. My mom grew one, which I now know was Jackmanii but as a kid thought of as just a bunch of enormous, pretty purple flowers, on the side of our home at the entrance to the backyard. She fanned the clematis across a white plastic trellis and it grew taller and fuller every year. We moved when I was 12 and I recall wishing we had dug it up to take with us. I still have yet to see a prettier Jackmanii than the one she grew all those years ago.
Today, my love affair with this sturdy vine continues and several varieties thrive in my small garden. Even though they’re all clematis, all are not treated the same when it comes to pruning. So if you’re wondering why yours isn’t flowering or why blooms only appear 12 feet up instead of at eye level, read on. Flowering has everything to do with your “Type.”
Clematis fall into three groups, or types, based on their bloom time – Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3. The plant tag will tell you what group it falls into. No tag? Look up the name if you know it. And if none of the above applies, observe it for a year and note how and when it flowers. The most important thing to know is that if you prune it at the wrong time, you’re not going to kill it. You’ll just have a green vine for the rest of the growing season until you get another go at it next year. They’re very forgiving.
The goal of pruning clematis is to maximize flowering and manage the size. There isn’t much fun in a plant with flowers so high up you need a ladder to admire them. Pruning brings their beauty closer to the ground and closer to you.
For all clematis, regardless of type, prune out all dead, weak or broken stems annually.
Type 1 Clematis
These are the earliest flowering clematis, blooming in spring on previous years growth also called old wood. Members of this group include C. armandii, C. alpine, C. cirrhosa, C. macropetala, C. montana and their cultivars. If you prune these hard in early spring, you end up with a flowerless vine because buds were set in the stem months ago. If you grow certain Hydrangea macrophyllas in a cold climate, you know how this goes. Prune, if necessary to control size and shape, right after flowering and no later than July.
Type 2 Clematis
Members of this group, like my favorite Bees Jubilee pictured up top, bloom on old and new wood. So, if you prune it in the spring you lose all the buds in last year’s stems that would have bloomed in the first flush. But you will get sporadic flowering from the buds that form in the new growth in the current season. In early spring, remove dead stems, let it flower, then go in and prune back by about a third, making your cut just above a strong set of buds.
Type 3 Clematis
There’s nothing to pruning members of this group. They flower on current season’s growth. Give ’em a good hack in late winter/early spring. If you don’t cut them back, you’ll end up with flowers way at the top and nothing but stems and leaves at eye level. Make the cut above a bud about a foot from the ground. ‘Sweet Autumn’ clematis is undeterred by this aggressive approach and retaliates quickly. I caution everyone about this one, it seeds wildly and yet, I still love it.
I’m looking forward to my first non-vining clematis. Yes, it’s a thing. I’ll be planting ‘Stand By Me’ clematis this spring and will keep you posted on its progress. It’s herbaceous and dies to the ground so no real pruning to figure out on this guy. I’ll let you know how it goes and I hope you have great luck with your clematis.
By the way, how do YOU pronounce it? I say cle-MAT-is, but I often hear CLEM-a-tis. It doesn’t matter. Just curious!