Pruning is one of my favourite jobs in the garden, I love to get secateurs, or better still, loppers, in hand, especially when a good tidy up becomes essential! Late February is a good time to prune the majority of our clematis – those that need either a light or a hard prune (pruning groups 2 and 3 if you prefer to work in numbers).
Hard pruning is dead easy, it is relatively quick, not too many decisions have to be made and it is excellent therapy for a day when you maybe have ‘got out of bed on the wrong side’! Whereas light pruning requires some decisions regarding height, shape etc., it is fiddlier and therefore requires doing on a day when all is well with your world and patience is plentiful!
I will keep this as clear and simple as possible
Lets deal with hard pruning (group 3) first – this group includes all the Late Large Flowered Hybrids, the Viticella, Integrifolia, Texensis, Flammula, Florida, Tangutica, Diversifolia and Heracleifolia Groups.
The hard pruning will vary, very slightly, between the groups – we will start with the Late Large Flowered and Viticellas first as the technique is exactly the same for both groups.
Start at soil level and track up each stem looking for a good set of viable buds in the leaf joints (see photo MadamJuliaC01, caption ‘Viable buds’) – leave two sets of buds and prune off just above the second set – this will be anywhere between 9” and 18” above the soil.
Try to leave two good sets of buds as insurance because the top set will shoot away quickly once the weather warms up and could get ‘nipped’ by a late hard frost. If this does happen, don’t worry, the lower set of buds will have remained dormant so you can prune any damaged growth down to them and all will be well.
Having pruned through all the stems all you need to do now is gather the rubbish stems together and pull them away from their support – this is the best bit!
Clematis in the Integrifolia, Diversifolia, Flammula and Texensis groups usually die down each winter, often to soil level and therefore need treating slightly differently at pruning time.
Again start at soil level, if there are viable buds along the stems, prune as previously described. If there aren’t, simply prune off about 3” above the soil – there will be new shoots at, or just below soil level which will quickly make new growth to provide this year’s blooms.
(see photo integrifolia05, caption ‘integrifolia Alba pruned’)
Varieties in the Tangutica group are unlikely to have any visible signs of viable buds and should therefore be pruned straight through about 18” above the soil – garden shears are useful here which saves time! The plant will look dead for weeks but will suddenly burst into new growth as the weather warms up.
Clematis in the Heracleifolia group should only have their old flowering wood ‘topped’ just now – you to prune them later in the spring, early April is ideal. See the Pruning Heracleifolias and Winter Flowering Clems. blog for instructions but for now, simply reduce the stem by half, this will help to tidy the garden up.
Clematis in the Florida group are not 100% hardy, but if you are fortunate to live in a milder area, or if you have a very sheltered garden then maybe you have these planted out. Most of us however, have to rely on growing these exotic beauties in pots so that we can move them into a greenhouse or conservatory to overwinter. Whichever, you may find that the plant has remained semi-evergreen, or even still in flower – but you must prune it now! Simply prune off above a set of buds or leaf joints around 12” above the soil.
If you simply do not have the time, or even the patience to sort out your different varieties of hard pruning types you could just gather the stems together, prune through about 12 – 18” above the soil and remove the top-growth – that would be sufficient to tidy the plant and it would still be fine!
Light pruning is for your Early Large Flowered Group –
These clematis often make a large ‘ball’ of growth at the top of the plant that I refer to as “the birds nest”! The easiest way to deal with these clematis is to roughly cut off the top 1/3 of the stems in mid-February (St. Valentines Day maybe!) Return after a couple of weeks once new shoots have started to appear.
This time, start at the top of the plant and track down each stem pruning off dead growth just above the first viable set of buds in the leaf joints. The height at which these buds appear will vary and you may find some stems with no viable buds until low down near the soil. Don’t worry, this is quite normal, prune these stems just above the low buds then very carefully remove the cut stem from amongst the ‘good’ ones. It will be worth the effort as this method will ensure new fresh growth is made from top to bottom of the plant, in turn this will encourage flowering up and down the plant.
Keep in mind that clematis are tolerant of most things the gardener does to them and I do not know of an instance where a clematis has died simply because it has been pruned incorrectly!
(Picture DJT pruned2, caption ‘Light prune completed’)
Tips: - Now is the time to feed all your clematis a single handful of bonemeal. Scatter it around the base of the plant and carefully work it into the soil, but do avoid knocking off any freshly emerging shoots. If rain is not expected within a day or two, water it in. Bonemeal (not Fish, Blood and Bone) will give a good slow start to your clematis.
You can also add some slow release fertiliser tablets to those clematis that are hard to get to, for example at the back of the border, this saves you having to scramble around the borders to feed them through the summer.
I hope this helps you get through the pruning of your clematis more easily and if it makes you feel better about it, before you start, just tell them, ‘Peter said so!’