In nature, clematis species are not pruned by mankind, and they survive, so it is good to relax and realize that you will not harm your plant with your decision to prune or not prune. Modern pruning recommendations are helpful as a guideline for growing the plants in containers or in ground. It is helpful to think of pruning as a gardening style vs. a mandate. After all Grandma’s purple clematis on the porch was never pruned and it was beautiful!
Pruning recommendations are just that, recommendations. For ease of understanding, clematis plants are identified as type 1, 2 and 3. In some areas clematis plants are sold as type A, B and C.
The main reasons for pruning clematis are to establish a tidy presentation on some sort of support, encourage healthy vigorous growth and maximize the flowering potential. All newly planted clematis benefit from pruning at least once in their first year in the ground. This helps the plant focus on establishing roots.
Pruning Type 1 Clematis Flowers
Type 1 clematis are those that bloom the earliest in your garden or on your patio in containers. These clematis form buds in the previous season that are ready at the first signs of warming temperatures and more daylight hours to burst into bloom when other clematis are just starting to grow.
You can consider these as ‘never prune’ plants, unless you need to keep the size in check. To keep the size in check, but still reap all of the early spring blooms, tidy up the plant, or reduce size, just after the plant blooms each year. This allows plenty of time for re growth and bud formation for the following spring. Your type 1 clematis may surprise you with late summer blooms, in that case do not prune the clematis after the late season blooms. Wait until the following spring after the main bloom period subsides.
Examples of type 1 clematis are atragene, montana, and evergreen clematis.
Pruning Type 2 Clematis Flowers
Type 2 clematis are generally larger flowered, spring to early summer blooming varieties that flower from new growth on the stems from the prior years growth. Most will bloom from new stems and older stems, so retaining some of the stems from prior years helps the plant produce the largest and most flowers possible.
Type 2 clematis need little more than a tidy up to remove damaged stems, or keep growth in check each year. In the early spring, if winter damaged stems need to be removed, by all means do so, taking care to remove only the damaged part. Start at the top of the stem and work your way down.
After your type 2 plants bloom, you can reduce the size or do other more severe pruning as your gardening style dictates. The earlier you do this after the plant ha had its main bloom period, the better. This allows the plant to grow fresh stems and length for the next season.
Examples of type 2 clematis are ‘doubles’ and the largest, earliest blooming clematis such as Niobe, Proteus, and Snow Queen.
Pruning Type 3 Clematis Flowers
Type 3 clematis produce flowers in late spring and summer on the current year’s growth. While nothing could be easier than simply tidying up the type 1 and 2 clematis, pruning type 3 clematis is considered by many to be the easiest. In early spring reduce the stems of the plant just above the lowest leaf axil or growth node from the ground. Starting at the ground, clip the stem just above the first node where the plant produces leaves.
To make this even easier, on a large clematis plant with many stems, gather a ‘pony tail’ of the stems about 2 feet from the ground and cut it off. Then look at each stem and cut it off above the lowest growth node as directed above.
In climates with a long growing season, doing this again after the first blooming of the plant, will provide a second bloom period. Alternatively, deadheading or removing one or two growth nodes from the ends of the stems may also encourage a secondary flush of blooms from the plant.
Examples of type 3 clematis are the Viticellas and other smaller flowered clematis such as Sweet Autumn and Golden Tiara.