Get Out the Clippers! It’s Clematis Pruning Time in Seattle.

Yikes!  C. Will Baron is a MESS and growing fast.

Yikes! C. Will Baron is a MESS and growing fast.

Even though I pruned most of my summer-blooming clematis last fall, I have many spring bloomers in dire need of pruning now.  Lately, here in Seattle we’ve had RAIN RAIN RAIN and the ground is soggy and sloppy!  I know, I know, Seattle is supposed to be rainy but we got spoiled with a long dry spell earlier in the winter.   Clematis Will Baron, above, has become a serious rat’s nest that certainly needs my help.  This one has been in the ground for going on 10 years and has overwhelmed its partner, the rose ‘Buff Beauty’, which I have not been able to prune much in two years.  This clematis is ready for a radical renovation!

My plan of attack is to cut out the three really old canes at ground level (see photo below), then slowly work my way up to prune and gently pull the rest of these old canes out bit by bit.  This should clear up the mess and allow the three newer canes to take over and grow more politely with the rose, which I will finally get to prune.

I'll remove to two old peeling canes and keep the three younger ones.

I’ll remove to two old peeling canes and keep the three younger ones.

All the while, I can think of the lovely lavender-blue clematis that will bloom with the peachy roses of Buff Beauty in June.

Clematis 'Will Baron' with Rosa 'Buff Beauty' in June

Clematis ‘Will Baron’ with Rosa ‘Buff Beauty’ in June

Between raindrops a few days ago, I managed to prune Clematis Fair Rosamund.  The clematis of Pruning Group B (or 2) require fiddly pruning, a little like detailing a car –  very time-consuming.  The finished product you see below took me about three hours.

C. Fair Rosamond, freshly pruned

C. Fair Rosamond, freshly pruned

But in a very few months when I see the beautiful white blossoms tinged in pink with dark red anthers, I’ll be glad I took the time.  And it’s fragrant, to boot!

Clematis Fair Rosamond

Clematis Fair Rosamond

Clematis Talk This Saturday (March 8) at 12:30pm at Sky Nursery

If you live in Greater Seattle and would like to learn more about pruning and caring for clematis, I’ll be speaking at Sky Nursery, just north of Seattle, on Saturday March 8, 12:30pm.  This is part of PlantAmnesty’s Fifth Annual Prune-a-thon at Sky Nursery.  There will be eight free pruning talks (clematis, roses, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, Japanese maples, and more) plus free 15-minute mini garden designs from professional designers for all comers!  Come on down!

PlantAmnesty’s Prune-a-thon at Sky Nursery
Intersection of Aurora Ave N and N 185th St in Shoreline
Saturday, March 8, 9am – 4pm
Click here for more details.

The Nitty Gritty of Pruning Early-Blooming Large-Flowered Clematis (Pruning Group B)

Clematis 'Guernsey Cream'

Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’


The early-blooming large-flowered clematis are the ones with heart-stopping, jaw-dropping huge and beautiful blooms in May and June. A few even bloom as early as April, at least in Seattle’s climate. Some well-known cultivars in this group include Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’ (pink), Clematis ‘Rebecca’ (red), Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’ (cream), and Clematis ‘Daniel Deronda’ (blue). (See photos .)

Clematis 'Nelly Moser'

Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’

Unfortunately, Pruning Group B clematis hang onto their leaves and leaf stems all winter long, resulting in a raggedy tatty mess. Don’t plant one of these clematis by the front door, because they can’t be pruned until spring when the new green vegetative buds begin to swell, showing us where to make our cuts. Fall pruning is out because it would likely send many of those beautiful flowers off to an early death in the yard waste.   The gorgeous clematis unfortunatley also have two additional downsides:  they require fiddly pruning and they are the ones prone to a dastardly disease called Clematis Wilt.  If I can gear myself up to do it, I will write a post about wilt one of these days.

Clematis 'Rebecca'

Clematis ‘Rebecca’

Clematis 'Danel Deronda'

Stripping the Vines

The time to prune these vines is when you begin to see green vegetative buds along the vines. The first step is to cut all the old leaves and leaf stems off the vines. The leaf stems (or petioles) are what clematis use to climb. They will have hardened over the winter and each one will have little hooks at the end (the leaf attachments), which greatly complicate untangling the vines. For a good look at what leaf stems look like, see the photo below of Clematis ‘Fair Rosamond’ before pruning. Removing the leaves and leaf stems, which is much like deadwooding a tree or shrub, is the most time consuming part of pruning the clematis in Group B. Take time and carefully remove all or most of these small leaf stems—work from the top down, bottom up, or inside out as long as you are cutting only leaves and stems, not the vines. I find that my little gardening scissors work best for this chore (see photo below). When done, you are left with stripped vines, some of which may have fallen off their supports since their little hook attachments were cut off.

Clematis 'Fair Rosamond' before pruning, showing old leaves and leaf stems

Clematis ‘Fair Rosamond’ before pruning, showing old leaves and leaf stems

Cutting Them Back

Now you can actually prune the vines.  Always do this work from the top down. The reason is that all the vines will look dead near the bottom, so you can easily cut a vine from the bottom, only to discover, to your chagrin, that the cut vine was carrying the bulk of the growth (and therefore the flowers). At the top of each vine, you will usually see a couple of joints on the stem with no growth, maybe a joint or two with puny growth, and then a joint with a large juicy green vegetative bud (see photo). Cut back to just above that juicy bud. Usually, between two inches and two feet of each vine get cut off. Don’t worry about any puny buds or no-bud joints below the juicy bud. Then tie or weave each vine onto its support. Spread the vines out as you do this and make as many as possible lay horizontally (or nearly so)—this effort will bring great rewards later with a more floriferous show over a greater area.  To see a vine with pruning completed, check out the after photo of Clematis ‘Fair Rosamond’ below.

Pruners work for cutting clematis vines, but my little gardening scissors work even better!

Pruners work for cutting clematis vines, but my little gardening scissors work even better!

After Pruning

Water and fertilize after pruning. Either use organic fertilizer (I use a mixture of manure and compost with a bit of bone meal and alfalfa thrown in) or any rose or tomato fertilizer.

Then sit back and enjoy the show! Once the clematis has just about completed its first blooming, a second bloom may occur later in the summer if you cut the vines back one-third to one-half. These clematis will grow many long vines over the summer, on which they will set the new flower buds for next year’s extravaganza. As these vines grow, twiddle or tuck the growing tips into their support in the direction you would like them to grow.

Clematis 'Fair Rosamond' After Pruning

‘Fair Rosamond’ After Pruning

Clematis Pruning Workshop

Good Gravey, the garden is burdgeoning!  Like Ellen DeGeneres (quoting Simon and Garfunkel), I want to say slow down, you move too fast.  Whenever I’m at work, the day is perfect for gardening.  When I’m off, it pours or it’s freezing like today.  Geesh.

Students from the Clematis Pruning Workshop

Students from the Clematis Pruning Workshop

Clematis Pruning Workshop

Last week I taught a Clematis Pruning Workshop in my garden with four students attending.   I enjoyed it and learned new things myself!  The eager students seemed to have a good time as well.

Pruning Group A (Early-Blooming, Small-Flowered Clematis)

First we walked around the garden looking at how various Pruning Group A clematis look in early spring.  These clematis, which bloom between October and May, don’t usually need an annual prune. 

We checked out my Clematis montana growing in a 90′ tall Port Orford cedar (it’s about 40′ or 50′ into the tree, which looks amazing when it blooms).  We also inspected three evergreen New Zealand clematis that will show off their fragrant creamy white blossoms soon.  Two Clematis cirrhosa, also evergreen, are growing in the garden, too, and one of them, Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’ (see my February post highlighting this clematis), has been in bloom for over a month now.  One of the most unusual Pruning Group A clematis I have is Clematis napaulensis, which is winter green (it goes dormant in the summer) and sports creamy white bells with red stamens in winter–mine is young and not blooming yet.  But the majority of Pruning Group A clematis in my garden are various hybrids of Clematis alpina and Clematis macropetala, both of which have lovely nodding bells in many colors in April and May.

Comparing Early  Spring Growth on Various Clematis

Clematis alpina (Pruning Group A)

Clematis alpina (Pruning Group A)

 We found that the Pruning Group A clematis (alpinas and macropetalas) and the large-flowered spring-blooming Pruning Group B clematis both had new leaf growth tight to the vine in early spring, and many were already showing flower buds.  The leaves on the alpinas/macropetalas are more finely divided than those on the Pruning Gruop B clems.  See photos.  When compared to Pruning Group C clematis in my garden, which bloom on old wood, we found that the young growth on the Cs stretched out much further from the main vine and showed no signs of flower buds.   These clematis are working to grow vines this time of year, while the As and Bs on the other hand devote their spring energy to producing flowers–they will throw vines after they finish blooming.   

Clematis 'Guernsey Cream' (Pruning Group B)

Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’ (Pruning Group B)

Please note:  these photos and comments represent observations of particular clematis in my garden and can’t really be used to identify which pruning group another clematis represents.  If you don’t know what clematis you have or when it blooms, prune it lightly as for Pruning Group B (which will be described in my next post, coming soon) and wait to see when it blooms and what it looks like in order to identify it.  

Clematis 'Betty Corning' (Pruning Group C)

Clematis ‘Betty Corning’ (Pruning Group C)

The Actual Pruning

Pruning Group A clematis do not typically require an annual pruning.  However, because most of them are large plants, they will eventually get into trouble and need to be pruned, very often after they have gotten large and unwieldy or when they are growing where they are not wanted.   The best way to handle this situation  is to prune shortly after the plant has finished blooming.  I described the process to the group and had them practice on a large plant.  They divided the plant into two parts — you have to be a bit rough to get the plant separated into two groups, but don’t worry, the plant will recover.  Then they cut half of the plant back hard and left the other half to be pruned hard next year.   This process has the two-fold advantages of ensuring that the plant won’t succomb to the hard pruning and maximizing bloom for the following spring.

We spent considerable time on Pruning Group B plants, which require much more detailed pruning (see my upcoming post for details).  Additionally, the group pruned a large Pruning Group C plant (Clematis ‘Betty Corning’) so that it would have a leg up into the tree it is growing in (normally Pruning Group C plants are cut back to 1′ – 3′ because they bloom on new wood).    I demonstrated a similar pruning situation on a Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ that must climb a fence before it can reach the tree it will embellish with its red blossoms in summer.  See before and after photos below.


Clematis 'Fair Rosamond' Before(Pruning Group B)

Clematis ‘Fair Rosamond’ Before(Pruning Group B)

Clematis 'Betty Corning' Before Pruning

Clematis ‘Betty Corning’ Before Pruning

Clematis 'Madame Julia Correvon' Before

Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ Before


Clematis 'Fair Rosamond' After

‘Fair Rosamond’ After


Clematis 'Madame Julia Correvon' After

Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ After

Clematis 'Betty Corning' After

Clematis ‘Betty Corning’ After

Clemaniac Heaven


Clemaniac Heaven!

Clemaniac Heaven!

Lately, we here in Seattle have been blessed with a few sunny days and, oh , the juices are flowing — in me and in my plants!  Garden cleanup, including weeding, sweeping, chicken-coop cleaning, and many assundry early spring tasks have been filling my outdoors time (when I’m off from work on sunny days).  One task I accomplished is to gather together all the clematis that have showed up my potting area over the past several months.  Ahhhhh, such glorious promise in all those pots.  Now that rain is forecasted for  a couple of days, I can stay cozy  inside, check all my clematis resources, and plan where each new baby will go.

Clematis Pruning

Most of my clems in the ground are sprouting now and need pruning badly, but I’ve been holding off.  On Thursday, I have the privilege through my job at PlantAmnesty to teach a small cadre of students (4 or 5) how to prune clematis in my garden.  I will discuss pruning and demonstrate on my own plants and then allow the students hands-on practice.  I’m really looking forward to the workshop and will be sure to post before and after photos!

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.



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