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Clematis Care – How to Grow, Prune & Propagate the Queen of the Climbers

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.

Hands pruning a brown, woody vine

Clematis Pruning

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.

vines entwined together with multiple buds
Clematis vines entwined together with multiple buds getting ready to bloom.

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.

bright pink low-growing clematis bush on the ground
Clematis in Group 1 are typically ramblers and low growing clematis. They bloom on old wood in early spring.

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 'Kardynal Wyszyneski' Closeup Blooms
Clematis ‘Kardynal Wyszyneski’ is a Group 2 Clematis vine. It blooms on old wood in late spring and will bloom again in the late summer/early fall on new wood.

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.

purple clematis vine with dozens of blooms
Group 3 Clematis like ‘Jackmanii’ blooms on “new wood” in summer or fall.

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.

a clematis vine with pruned wood
Trim your clematis in the first year to promote a bushier, stronger plant in the future.

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. 

Blue Explosion Clematis Closeup
Closeup of Clematis ‘Blue Explosion’

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.

small pots with 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.

coral pink clematis with write lining prolifically blooming

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.

Wrapping Up

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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collage of different colored clematis vine blooms
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Clematis Care – How to Grow, Prune & Propagate the Queen of the Climbers
Groundcovers & Vines That Behave In Your Garden

Groundcovers & Vines That Behave In Your Garden

I like to think of classic vines and groundcovers as the icing on the cake when it comes to creating a beautiful 4-season, layered landscape. Often the most overlooked “layer”, an underplanting of classic groundcovers and vines add a finishing touch to your garden by weaving and linking all of the other elements together into a cohesive design.

There’s no denying when the star of the garden is the plants at foot level… and this is how you know you’ve done underplanting the right way. Pictured above: “Black Scallop” Ajuga (Bugleweed)

Underplanting classic groundcovers and vines in your landscape

Clematis Jackmanii Hanging on trellis.

Vines are often an overlooked element in many gardens, but they can provide a finishing touch by linking your garden layers together.

While most of us think of vines climbing lampposts and fences, another effective way to use them is by weaving them into your garden beds! Yes— you can train your vines to grow over your shrubs and into your trees! (Shop for vines online)

By doing this, you can extend the bloom season of both the vine and the tree/shrub you train them on.
Plant summer blooming vines among your spring blooming shrubs. Or try planting two vines with different
bloom seasons on the same fence!

Groundcovers are low-growing or low-spreading plants that spread in masses a foot or so tall. Just like vines, classic groundcovers can help to unify your garden design. As an added bonus, many groundcovers are can adorn your garden with pretty foliage, flowers and even berries. (Shop low-growing groundcovers)

Ground covers also have several benefits for your garden. They can help to smother weeds and keep your plants shady and cool. Classic groundcovers also help your plants to retain water so they don’t dry out as quickly.

Just a friendly warning to choose your groundcovers and vines wisely. Choose only the classics as many varieties can be aggressive and choke out your other plantings. Aggressive varieties require regular corrective weeding to keep them in check… and ain’t nobody got time for that!

Quick Tip: Read my post on landscape layering if you want to learn more about how to design a garden with interest in all 4 seasons of the year!

Classic Vines for your garden

I’m always very wary of vines for your garden. Although they climb and make a beautiful accent, some vines can be very aggressive. I’ve had vines takeover my landscape choking out my bulbs, perennials and even some smaller shrubs! So, use vines with caution. I will only recommend options that are not very aggressive.

Clematis (vine)

The vines I trust the most are clematis. There are many, many varieties that bloom in all different seasons in all different colors. If you’re looking for a beautiful climbing vine that’s non-invasive and non-aggressive vine, the best choice is clematis.

Clematis are beautiful and non-aggressive climbing vines that come in so many different sizes, shapes and colors. The different varieties do well in different situations, and climb to different heights.

Learn how to care for clematis here.

Here are some clematis varieties to try:

Clematis ‘General Sikorski’

Clematis ‘General Sikorski’ in Spring (from my garden)

The large flowered ‘General Sikorski’ adds dramatic color to the garden in late spring and again in early fall. Dark lavender (almost blue) flowers are semi–double blooms during its spring bloom and single during the fall bloom period. Blooms on old and new wood.

Clematis ‘Jackmanii Superba’

Clematis ‘Jackmanii Superba’ blooms closeup

The rich purple, 5” flowers of the popular clematis ‘Jackmanii‘ fade from deep to light purple as they age and bloom profusely midsummer through fall! Jackmanii blooms on new wood so prune back to 24″ or so in late winter or early spring before new growth sprouts.

Clematis ‘Blue Explosion’

Clematis ‘Blue Explosion’ blooms closeup

Blue Explosion blooms with an explosion of 5″ semi-double purple-blue flowers trimmed with pink tips. Lavender single flowers follow. Blooms May-June and again July-September. Prune dead stem tips only in early spring as it blooms on old wood.

Clematis ‘Mrs. N. Thompson’

Clematis Mrs. N. Thompson blooms closeup

Mrs. N. Thompson is a lively clematis climbing vine that will cover up an old fence or dress up a bare lamp post extremely well. Bicolor spiky blooms that resemble a passion flower. Mrs. N. Thompson blooms on both new and old wood so only prune her after blooms have spent.

Clematis ‘Kardynal Wyszyneski’

Clematis ‘Kardynal Wyszyneski’ in full bloom.

An award-winning clematis, Kardynal Wyszyneski is a free-flowering vine with 6-8″ glowing crimson pink flowers highlighted by a centeral cluster of dark anthers. It blooms in June-July and puts on a second show in the fall. Kardynal Wyszyneski blooms on new wood so prune in early spring just above where you see swelling buds.

Clematis ‘Beautiful Bride’

Clematis ‘Beautiful Bride’ blooms closeup

Beautiful Bride gets her name because this vine resembles a wedding gown. This is one of the few clematis vines that will bloom all the way to the ground with enormous white blooms that can reach 10″ across! It blooms in early summer and again with a smaller show in late summer. Beautiful Bride blooms best on old wood so only lightly prune unhealthy stems in spring.

Shop for clematis online

Zones 3-9 | 36-72″ W x 10-12′ H | hardiness zones and size vary by variety!

The best classic groundcovers for your garden

Phlox (groundcover)

Phlox groundcover looks great cascading over stones or the edges of a stone border.

Deer avoid it. Butterflies and hummingbirds can’t stay away! This classic groundcover comes in a variety of colors to make a pretty garden carpet. Just plant phlox and it grows and grows and grows. It looks great cascading over stones or the edges of a stone border.

Purchase phlox today.

Zones 3-9 | 18-24” W x 4-6” H

Sedum (groundcover)

Sedum is easy to grow and one of the most drought-tolerant groundcovers available.

Sedum is a classic groundcover that comes in many sizes and varieties. ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Angelina’ are good varieties to look for. Sedum is really easy to grow and one of the most drought-tolerant and classic groundcovers available.

Shop for sedum online.

Zones 4-11 | 18-24″ W(spreading) x 3-24″ H

Creeping Jenny (groundcover)

Creeping Jenny (aka Moneywort) is a chartreuse groundcover offering a great contrast color to other plants and flowers.

Creeping Jenny (aka Moneywort) is a another of the common, classic groundcovers I recommend. Its chartreuse color offers great color contrast to other plants and flowers. A vigorous trailer, Creeping Jenny works well for shady spots in your landscape and ALSO thrives in sunny locations. Use some for your hanging baskets for a great “spill” feature.

Purchase creeping jenny here.

Zones 3-8 | 6″ H (vigorous spreader/trailer)

Ornamental Grasses

You’re in for a treat — a bonus layer beyond perennial plants and flowers are ornamental grasses. Ornamental grasses deliver a lot of bang for the buck. They introduce exciting textures to the garden, along with movement and even sound as they rustle in the breeze. You can count on these beautiful, low-maintenance grasses to add interest to your landscape all year long.

Fescue ‘Elijah Blue’

Elijah Blue Fescue Ornamental Grass
Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’. Photo by Pretty Purple Door.

Elijah Blue Fescue is one of the most popular, no fuss ornamental grasses. The low growing blue-green clumps form in tight mounds making them great for border plantings and adding texture.

Purchase Elijah Blue fescue grass here

Zones 4-9 | 6-12″ W x 6-12″ H | Full Sun

Feather reed grass ‘Karl Foerster’

Feather Reed

A slight breeze will put the 5′ tall, feathery “blooms” in motion adding life to any landscape. Because of its strong vertical growth habit Feather Reed grass maintains its posture even in heavy rain or snow. Deer resistant.

Purchase Karl Foerster Feather Reed today.

Zones 4-9 | 2-3′ W (clumps) x 3-5’ H | Full Sun

Striped tuber oat grass

striped tuber oat grass

One of the brightest ornamental grasses, Striped Tuber Oat Grass is a shade tolerant grass that spreads slowly. Each little blade has white borders with a thin, dark-green line running down the center. As it grows, leaves look nearly white.

Zones 4-9 | 2′ W (clumps) x 2′ H | Shade

Wrapping Up

Classic groundcovers and vines tend to be one of the most underutilized categories when garden planning. But using classic groundcovers and perennial vines in the right way can make your 4-season layered landscape look lush and cohesive.

Vines can be planted within flowering trees and shrubs to extend bloom seasons, while classic groundcovers can be used to smother weeds and cool the soil beneath your other plantings. Not to mention both can adorn your garden with pretty flowers, foliage and even berries! Beware of aggressive varieties of vines and groundcovers, though, as they can easily take over your garden and choke out your other plants.

Remember: Anyone can put tall plants in the back and short plants in the front, but with the use of vines and classic groundcovers you can take your landscape from good to AMAZING.

Read my landscape layering post to learn more about how to create an effective landscape. It will show you how to incorporate trees, shrubs, plants, flowers, vines and classic groundcovers into your garden for 4-season interest.

The best vines & groundcovers to complete your landscape

Keep Reading…

In my perennial garden plan, I’ll go over landscape layering and give you some suggestions for each of the 5 layers:
Layer 1: Ornamental Trees
Layer 2: Evergreen Shrubs
Layer 3: Perennial Deciduous Shrubs
Layer 4: Perennial plants and flowers
Layer 5: Groundcovers, Vines and Grasses

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