Clematis Vines For Every Gardener

Image of Clematis

Bourbon is a fantastic variety for containers!

Contrary to popular opinion, you do not have to be a skilled gardener to grow Clematis successfully. This woody climbing plant, often paired with climbing roses or grown solo in a container, is long-lived and very tough. Its daunting reputation comes from its pruning needs, but even these are pretty simple (and can be mangled without much real damage!). Let’s take a quick look at the main types of Clematis available for your garden and how to care for them!

Clematis is a huge family with many species, but only a few groups are widely used in American gardens. They are loosely divided into three groups, based both on their flowering time and their pruning requirements. In gardening sources, you may see these groups listed as 1,2, and 3; A, B, and C; or I, II, and III. They all mean the same thing.

Group 1: Spring Bloomers (flowering on old wood)

Image of Clematis

Nelly Moser has been delighting gardeners for generations!

Many of the most beautiful Clematis varieties begin blooming in mid- to late spring. They get this early start because the buds are formed the previous summer and fall, so they are ready to open with the first warm weather of spring. This is called blooming on “old wood.” (New wood refers to the current year’s growth, so if your plant is said to bloom on new wood, it means that it will grow buds the same season it flowers.)

Group I Clematis should be pruned as follows:

The first year in your garden, cut all stems back in late winter or early spring to about a foot from the ground. If you forget (or if you have already had the Clematis in your garden for a year or more but it is still young), just do it the first time you prune it, then follow the yearly instructions below. You will lose this season’s flowering by pruning away the old wood, but it’s definitely worth it for a lifetime of greater vigor, better branching, and many more blooms.

The second year in your garden, cut stems back in late winter or early spring to about 3 feet from the ground. Again, you will lose blooms for this season, but it’s worth it.

The third and all subsequent years, just cut back dead or damaged stems directly after flowering. (If you wait too long, you will remove next spring’s buds.)

Look for these Group 1 Clematis species:

C. alpina

C. armandii

C. chrysocoma

C. cirrhosa

C. macropetala

C. montana

Group 2: Large-flowered Summer Bloomers (flowering on old and new wood)

Image of Clematis

Sweet Summer Love is a purple-flowered version of the classic Sweet Autumn Clematis!

This is the largest group of Clematis found in American gardens. It includes most, but not all, of the big, beautiful flowers in the family, including doubles and semi-doubles. The Group 2 Clematis bloom heavily on old wood in the early part of the summer, and some will repeat in late season on new wood.

Group 2 Clematis should be pruned as follows:

The first year in your garden, cut all stems back in late winter or early spring to about a foot from the ground. If you forget (or if you have already had the Clematis in your garden for a year or more but it is still young), just do it the first time you prune it, then follow the yearly instructions below. You will lose some blooms this summer by pruning away the old wood, but it’s definitely worth it for a lifetime of greater vigor, better branching, and many more blooms. And you may get some late-summer blooms on new wood.

The second year in your garden, cut stems back in late winter or early spring to about 3 feet from the ground. Again, you will lose the blooms from the old wood you prune away, but you will probably get late-season flowers on new wood.

The third and all subsequent years, cut stems back in late winter or early spring to the first pair of buds. (The buds are tiny nubs appearing just above leaf pairs on the stem.) You will get early-season blooms on old wood, and possibly late-season repeats on new wood.

Henryi is a compact favorite for containers, flowering all summer long.

Henryi is a compact favorite for containers, flowering all summer long.

Look for these Group 2 Clematis varieties (there are hundreds!):

‘Anna-Louise’

‘Crystal Fountain’

‘Fujimusume’

‘H. F. Young’

‘Henryi’

‘Kilian Donahue’

‘Niobe’

Group 3: Late Blooming (flowering on new wood)

Image of Clematis

The dangling “parachutes” of Betty Corning add a new dimension to the Clematis display!

A much more diverse group than the first two, Group 3 includes many large-flowered varieties that begin their season later in the summer and may go well into fall. It also includes many species, including several American natives. The one trait all Group 3 Clematis have in common is that they flower only on new (the current season’s) wood, so pruning is critical to keep the stems growing new wood (and setting buds) right from the base of the plant.

Group 3 Clematis should be pruned as follows:

The first year in your garden, cut all stems back in late winter or early spring to about a foot from the ground. If you forget (or if you have already had the Clematis in your garden for a year or more but it is still young), just do it the first time you prune it, then follow the yearly instructions below.

The second and all subsequent years in your garden, cut stems back in late winter or early spring to just above the previous year’s growth. This isn’t as tricky as it sounds: when you look at the stems, you will clearly see a change in color and texture where the new growth begins. Just prune down to that spot. If you do this every year, your Clematis will begin flowering about 24 inches above the base of the plant, or even less for compact container varieties.

Look for these Group 3 Clematis species and varieties:

C. durandii

C. jackmanii was introduced more than 100 years ago and remains a favorite. Incredible bloom production!

C. jackmanii was introduced more than 100 years ago and remains a favorite. Incredible bloom production!

C. florida

C. integrifolia

C. jackmanii

C. tangutica

C. terniflora

C. texensis

C. viticella

‘Princess Diana’

‘Radar Love’

Sweet Autumn Clematis

‘Sweet Summer Love’

‘Venusa Violacea’


 

Enjoy your Clematis for many years to come!

 

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