Clematis Pruning, Part 1

Don't we wish?!

Don’t we wish?!

In the depths of this Seattle winter, the wet, wet, and more wet has metamophosed many plants into black slime.  Deeeee-skusting!   Serious garden clean up is in order.  But, wait — even more important to a clemaniac like myself, with 130 clematis out there, is to begin pruning . 

The Three Pruning Groups for Clematis

From late fall to early winter, I work on clematis that have their main flush of blooms  in July, August, and September, like the Clematis Abundance on the right, showing off in July.  These clematis are in Pruning Group C or 3.  They bloom on new wood (that is, new vine), so they can be cut back hard without affecting next summer’s bloom.  They will bloom only on the new vines that grow in spring and summer. 

But don’t hard-prune spring-blooming clematis, like C. montana, C. armandii (the evergreen clematis), and C. alpina, for instance, which are in Pruning Group A or 1.  They can be pruned in late spring after they have finished their show. 

And we have to wait a couple of months yet til late February or March, depending on the weather, before we can prune those luscious large-flowered beauties that have their main bloom time in May and June — they are in Pruning Group B or 2.  That’s because these clematis bloom on old vines, on which they already formed their blooms last summer or fall.  If pruned hard now, most or all of the blooms for the year will be lost.  Instead, wait a bit longer to prune them, and then,  only lightly  — I’ll be sure to show you how when the time comes. 

Clematis in Winter

Clematis in Winter

The Nitty-Gritty of Pruning Summer Bloomers

Back to my recent pruning.  Here’s C. ‘Abundance’ again, this time showing their winter charms — NOT.  And right by the front door, too.  I pruned both C. ‘Abundance’ and the one in the window box next to it back hard (down to 1-3 feet)  just before Christmas.  Sounds drastic, but worry not — they will come roaring back in the summer.  And now I’m not subjected to  those ugly dead leaves for the rest of the winter.   Check the after photo below–looks better,eh?  Especially after I covered the window boxes with greens and all my gazing globes for a holiday effect.  Turns out this treatment has the added bonus of helping marginally hardy plants in my window boxes, like begonia, flowering maple (abutilon), million bells, and others, survive the winter and give me a head start in the spring!

That's better.

That’s better.

Here’s the how-to of pruning these great summer bloomers in Pruning Group C or 3.  We call it the pony-tail cut.  Find your pruner, put on your gloves, and head outside.   Look for a likely summer-blooming pruning candidate .  Grab a handful of vines in one hand and whack them off 1-3′ from the ground with your pruners.  If the plant is large with many vines, several pony-tail cuts may be in order.  Then put all that dead mess in the yard waste.  Easy!  So easy, in fact, that a child can do it!  See my Clematis Negrityanka below blooming away last July.  Then look at it in November.  Yuch.  As you can see from the series of photos below, my young friend Tessa grabbed the vines in her left hand like a pony tail and cut them back hard with the pruner in  her right.  Easy as pie!

C. 'Negrityanka' in July

C. ‘Negrityanka’ in July

C. 'Negrityanka' in November

C. ‘Negrityanka’ in November


                What a difference

             a few months makes!


Tessa grabs the vines in her left hand and cuts them with her right.

Tessa grabs the vines in her left hand and cuts them with her right.




  1. Mireille Fontana said,

    January 10, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    Love your little Garden Helper!


    • February 24, 2016 at 6:02 pm

      Hi, again, Patrick!

      Well, I guess I’d better update that number–I think I have 170 or 180 now. Most are in the ground, but 15 or 20 are in ornamental pots, mostly ceramic pots as they don’t get winter damage here in Seattle and they are thick enough to protect from heat and cold.


  2. Patrick said,

    February 23, 2016 at 3:28 am

    Wow! 130 Clematis. Where on earth do you plant them? Are they all in the ground? For me, I only ordered 6 Clematis plants this year. 4 for stone Urns, and 2 for in-ground. Living in a Mobile Home, I have very limited property around my home, and I already have 2 Iris gardens (my passion, well, until I found Clematis). So I have no more property to plant anything. So I’m stuck with using stone Urns, which are lovely. How many do you have in Pots, Laura?


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