Clematis are called the
Queen of the Vines,
and rightfully so. Their flowers possess a grace and elegance few
plants can match. A favorite perennial vine in gardens, this genus
is available in dozens of species/cultivars that offer a variety of
sizes, flower colors and bloom times. To get the best performance
from clematis, consider its site and cultural needs and
Prepare a planting hole that is two to three times wider and
several inches deeper than the root ball. Plant the top of the
root ball 2-3 inches below soil level to encourage new roots
along the stems. Backfill the hole with native soil enriched
with organic matter (compost, leaf mold, etc.) and water well.
During the first growing season, keep the plant pruned back to a
height of 18 to 24 inches.
This encourages both branching and the development of multiple
stems from the buds underground. This initial training will
maximize flowering and encourage the development of a healthy
plant in the future.
Clematis has a specific set of requirements for maximum
performance. Cultural considerations include light, soil,
water, mulch, fertilization and structural support:
For maximum flowering, the plant should receive five to six
hours of sun daily.
The soil should be organically rich, moist and
During dry periods, water well to keep the roots moist.
Apply several inches of mulch around the base of the plant
to keep the roots cool and moist. However, keep mulch away
from the stems.
Starting in early spring, fertilize with a balanced
(nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) organic fertilizer per the
Provide a structure on which the plant can grow, such as an
arbor, trellis, or mailbox post. For the more adventuresome
gardener, clematis can be trained to grow on/through
climbing roses, shrubs and small trees for interesting
Pruning clematis does a number of things:
Opens up the plant to air and light.
Stimulates new growth.
Encourages more flowering.
Improves plant health.
Controls the size of the vine.
Groups A, B & C
Depending on the wood (old, new or both) that the plant blooms
on and bloom time, clematis are divided into three groups – A,
Group A – This group flowers on old (last year’s) wood.
These plants are the earliest to bloom, starting in spring.
Because they bloom on the previous year’s wood, pruning
should be kept to a minimum, only removing dead stems. If
additional pruning/clean-up is desired, wait until the plant
finishes flowering. New growth will then have enough time
to form flower buds for next year. Examples of this group
are: Clematis alpina, C. macropetala, and their cultivars.
Group B – This group flowers on old (last year’s) and new
(current year’s) wood. Stems from the prior growing season
produce the heaviest flush of flowers in late spring,
followed by a lighter bloom in late summer on new wood. In
early spring, remove any dead stems. After the spring
flowers fade, the stems that contained those flowers can be
shortened. This group is the most challenging from a
pruning standpoint, because the vines bloom on old and new
wood. One may want to adjust timing of pruning/cleanup
after observing the flowering during the course of a growing
season. Examples of this group are: Clematis florida and
its cultivars, ‘Nelly Moser,’ ‘Niobe’ and ‘The President’.
Group C – This group flowers on new (current year’s) wood
making it the simplest of the three pruning groups. These
plants bloom in late summer or early fall. In early spring,
cut back all stems to buds that are within 12 to 18 inches
of the ground. Then let the plant do its thing for the
growing season. Examples of this group are: sweet autumn
clematis (C. terniflora), ‘Gipsy Queen,’ ‘Jackmanii’ and
‘Ville de Lyon’.
If an established clematis is pruned hard or at the wrong time,
don’t worry. It will survive. Most likely, the plant will
flower at a different time than normal.
Unsure of the Clematis species or cultivar?
If you are unsure of the clematis species/cultivar that you
have, observe its flowering habit over a growing season. After
that, you should be able to assign a pruning group and adjust
pruning and cleanup activities accordingly. The three pruning
groups – A, B, C are sometimes designated as 1, 2, and 3.
By taking the time to give clematis a good head start, providing
it with proper growing conditions and knowing when to prune, you
can enjoy the “queen of the vines” in your home landscape for
Steve Piskor is a Penn State master gardener
Don't plant purple loosestrife
Tall Garden Plants