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Clematis Care – How to Grow, Prune & Propagate the Queen of the Climbers
Clematis vines, also known as “Queen of the Climbers” are beautiful, flowering vines that can add a lot of interest to your home garden. Clematis come in all different shapes and sizes and are one of only a few perennial vines that will not get out of control and cause a lot of extra maintenance in your garden. With that said, there are some things you’ll need to do to keep your clematis cared for and healthy.
Where to Plant Clematis (Water, Sun, Soil Needs)
Clematis are very versatile plants and if you do your research, you’ll almost certainly be able to match up a clematis with your own growing conditions. There are over 300 different clematis varieties to choose from and most will grow in Zones 4-9 (some even in Zones 2-3).
Clematis Sun Requirements
Clematis vines prefer sunny locations. Most require at least six hours of sun to bloom, although some varieties will tolerate part sun (3-6 hours/day). A common saying for clematis is to “keep their faces in the sun and their feet cool.”
Moisture Preferences of Clematis
Clematis do prefer even levels of moisture and don’t like to dry out. It’s best to keep their roots cool by planting a groundcover or shallow-rooted perennial plants around the base of the clematis. A 2″ layer of mulch will also help to keep the roots cool and moist.
Clematis Soil Needs
Most clematis prefer neutral or slightly alkaline soil, but there are also varieties that will tolerate acidic soil (like ‘Jackmanii’).
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Fertilizer for Clematis Care
Fertilize your clematis during spring and early summer. It is best to fertilize every two weeks throughout the season to keep it blooming for a long time.
Supporting Clematis Vines
Growing clematis vines must be supported. Most varieties, however, do quite well growing along a trellis, over an arbor or along a fence.
There are several benefits to regularly pruning clematis, including better air circulation, improved health and easier maintenance.
But, not all clematis are created equal. They will fall into one of three pruning groups based on their bloom time and whether they bloom on “old wood” (last year’s growth) or “new wood” (this year’s growth). How you prune them will depend on which group they’re in.
Overall, when deciding how and when to prune clematis, don’t remove a developing bud. If you see buds developing when pruning clematis vines, you may be pruning at the wrong time.
Clematis Types / Pruning Groups
Clematis pruning techniques and timing vary from variety to variety. Clematis are categorized into one of these three pruning groups.
- Clematis Pruning Group 1 (PG1): The Ramblers and Early Bloomers. Group 1 Clematis blooms on “old wood” in early spring.
- Clematis Pruning Group 2 PG2): The Big-Flowered Summer Bloomers. Group 2 Clematis blooms on “old wood” in late spring and “new wood” in summer/fall.
- Clematis Pruning Group 3, (PG3): The Late/Summer Fall Bloomers. Group 3 Clematis booms on new wood and flower in late summer into fall.
Regardless of the pruning group, you should always prune or cut off any diseased or dying parts of the plant throughout the growing season.
If you plan to grow multiple clematis on the same trellis, it’s easiest to choose two varieties that are in the same pruning group.
Clematis Group 1 Care & Pruning
Group 1 clematis bloom mostly on “old wood” (the previous season’s growth). They are typically short, compact varieties and are often used as edging material. They begin their flowering season early spring from buds set the previous season and don’t die back in the winter.
Group 1 clematis don’t require any pruning, but if you’re going to do it, do it right after bloom. Prune Group 1 clematis only when it’s necessary and do so sparingly. Clear out dead wood and keep the stems tidy. If you prune Group 1 clematis too low or too early in the season, it could cost you next year’s flowers.
Clematis Group 2 Care & Pruning
Group 2 Clematis blooms on “old wood” in late spring and early summer, then rebloom in summer or fall on “new wood.”
In late winter or very early spring, remove dead branches of Group 2 Clematis that are higher up on the vine. Then, cut back each stem about 6-8″, ending the cut right above the point where it branches (this is also called to “a pair of strong buds”).
The great thing about Group 2 clematis is that this is the most forgiving pruning group… so they are a great option for beginner gardeners. Even if you make a mistake and prune too harshly, you’ll still be able to enjoy the late season rebloom that happens on new wood.
Clematis Group 3 Care & Pruning
Group 3 Clematis blooms on “new wood” in summer or fall. In the winter, Group 3 clematis will go dormant and usually die back to the ground so they can produce new buds each spring.
In late winter, prune all stems of Group 3 Clematis back to a set of buds about 12″ from the ground.
If your Group 3 clematis does not die all the way back and you keep last year’s flowering stems on the plant, it likely won’t set new buds. Which means… no flowers for you next year.
First Year Clematis Pruning (Groups 1, 2 and 3)
No matter what pruning group your clematis belongs to, there are special pruning instructions you should follow for the first year. If you planted your clematis last spring or fall, or if you’ve been growing clematis without pruning it, please give it this first-year trim.
First year trim: In late winter/early spring, cut your clematis back to about 5 inches from the ground, regardless of its pruning group.
A first year trim will make your Clematis more beautiful over its entire (long!) life. Giving your clematis a first year trim will result in a bushier, stronger, tighter growth habit, with flowers from the base of the plant instead of beginning 4 feet off the ground.
The bad news is that if your clematis is in Group 1, you will not get blooms this season. And, if your clematis is in Group 2, you will only get the late season bloom. But in the end, the first year trim is well worth it.
Second Year Clematis Pruning (Groups 1 and 2 only)
if your Clematis is in Groups 1 or 2, you should also do a special second-year pruning. This second year trim will result in a lush, many-stemmed, bloom-happy plant.
Second year trim: In late winter/early spring, prune all stems of Group 1 and Group 2 clematis back to about 3 feet from the ground.
Even with pruning, you will get blooms this year, because everything above 5 inches from the ground is old wood. The added benefit is that that this second year pruning will encourage more shoots to emerge resulting in better flowering in future years.
If you’re too impatient or simply forget, most clematis are very forgiving! You won’t damage or kill your clematis if you forget to prune.
How to Propagate Clematis Vines
There are several ways you can propagate clematis vines in order to get more clematis plants. The easiest way is by taking softwood cuttings.
Propagate Clematis by taking Clematis Cuttings
Wait until your clematis is done flowering for the season. This is the perfect time to take cuttings. Fill small, sterilized (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) plant pots with moistened potting or seed starting mix. Rooting powder is also useful to get your cuttings started (I use this one from Amazon).
Next, find a piece of the vine that has both old and new wood. The old wood is harder and brown in color while the new wood is usually green and more flexible. You want something right in between the two… a cutting that is “ripe” — but not too woody or too soft.
Unravel the vine and cut it from the plant, making a note of which side of the vine is the top and which is the bottom (base). Cut 1″ above a leave node, where leaves are coming from the vine. Then, cut all but one of the leaves off.
Dip the base into rooting powder, then place into the potting mix. You can use a dibble or even a pencil to make a hole in your potting mix. This will ensure you can plant the cutting without removing the rooting powder.
Cover your pot with a clear plastic bag and leave in a warm place but out of direct sunlight. Clematis cuttings can take up to five weeks to root.
Here’s a great video that will show you the process.
Clematis Care FAQ
Are clematis vines invasive or aggressive?
Sweet Autumn Virginsbower (Clematis terniflora, sometimes listed at C. paniculata) is known to be an invasive variety of clematis. It’s native to Asia and is known for it’s sweet, fragrant white blooms in August & September. Unfortunately, Sweet autumn clematis is still widely sold in the nursery trade even though it’s known to be invasive and can be a prolific self-sower. It can even grow from seeds that are very, very far from the original pant, making it a threat to native habitats in your area.
Other varieties of clematis are easy care and will not become aggressive or unruly in your home garden.
Are there any cold-hardy clematis for Zone 2 or 3?
Yes, try any alpina, macropetala or viticella clematis types such as:
- alpina: ‘Pink Flamingo,’ ‘Jacqueline du Pre,’ ‘Pamela Jackman’
- macropetala: ‘Blue Bird, ‘Jan Lindmark,’ ‘Joe Zary,’ ‘Markgams Pink’
- viticella: ‘Polish Spirit,’ ‘Betty Corning,’ Etoille Violette,’ ‘Julia Correvon’
Do clematis need to be cut back?
You shouldn’t cut back clematis until fall. This allows the plant to put energy into producing new growth so it has enough strength to survive winter. Cut back only if the plant is too tall or outgrowing its space.
Does my clematis need fertilizer?
Yes! Fertilizing helps promote healthy growth and flowering. Choose a high nitrogen fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, 16-16-16, 20-20-20, or even composted manure. Apply the fertilizer once in spring and again in late summer.
How do I keep my clematis blooming?
If you want continuous blooms from your clematis, it’s best to fertilize every two weeks throughout the season (from spring through late summer) to give it the nutrition it needs to continue blooming for a long time. You should also regularly water your clematis and ensure it’s cited in the right location so that it can thrive.
What happens if I don’t prune my clematis?
Group 1 clematis blooms on old wood, so vigorous pruning is discouraged for this type. If you prune the old branches, you are also pruning off the buds that will flower and your clematis will not bloom.
Group 2 clematis bloom on new and old wood. So, if you do not prune, you will still get the first blooms, but they will be higher up on the vine.
Group 3 clematis blooms on new wood, so if you fail to prune last year’s flowering stems, it won’t set buds and will not bloom for you. Luckily, many clematis in Group 3 will naturally die back to the ground in the winter. But, if they don’t, you should whack off all the old stems in late winter/early spring down to about a foot from the ground, just above the place where the new season’s growth begins.
Can you cut clematis back to the ground?
Many Group 3 clematis go dormant and die back to the ground naturally in the winter. No matter what clematis group you have, you can cut it back to the ground. Just know that if you have a Group 1 or Group 2 clematis, this will cost you blooms in the next season. But, eventually the plant will recover.
Should you deadhead clematis?
You can deadhead clematis for a tidier looking plant, however, it’s not necessary. Many clematis hybrids are sterile, which means that deadheading has no effect on their production of blooms. Clematis vines will bloom whether you deadhead the flowers or not.
Clematis, or “Queen of the Climbers” are beautiful, flowering vines that can add a lot of interest to your home garden. There are different varieties that you can choose from that will grow in a variety of different soil conditions with varying amounts of light. Most clematis do prefer moisture, so it’s best to plant their roots in the shade and their faces in the sun.
Vines are a really magical and important part of your landscape design, but they are only one small piece of the puzzle! Check out this article on Landscape Layering to discover all of the other types of plants you should be including in your garden.
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