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Prune Clematis for Top to Bottom Blooms

Prune Clematis for Top to Bottom Blooms, this is not a general clematis pruning guideline but how to renovate an overgrown or spindly growing one.

Again I need to repeat, this is not how you prune your clematis generally.  This post is really about one way to renovate clematis that may be blooming all on top but down below is bare vines yet you don’t want to cut it all off at once. 

This is my Warsaw Nike clematis.  It is in Group 3,  a Summer bloomer that blooms on new wood on into Fall. (it is often sold as Group 2)

Want to know the basics of How to Grow Clematis? I have you covered here.

So let’s get to it and prune clematis for top to bottom bloom!

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Warsaw Nike clematis climbing back porch rail with red rose, text overlay reads Prune Clematis for top to bottom blooms, Flower Patch Farmhouse

Which Clematis Pruning Group

This method will also work on Group 1 & 2, you may sacrifice some blooms on any of them the first season after the renovation prune but it will give you top to bottom blooms. In the long run you get more blooms and a prettier plant.

Note: if you have a group 1 clematis do some research on the particular named variety.  Each one can have unique preferences on pruning. But if you only prune back some canes as I show here then you should be fine on most.  Group 1 typically only bloom on old wood so keep that in mind. 

Warsaw Nike clematis climbing up a porch post and stair rail.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you. Please read my disclosure for more info.

When to Prune Clematis

This method can be done from November on into March.  I choose November as I can access mine then, come any later and the ground could be covered in snow until June.
(when starting a new garden I do so in Fall as noted in this article, Start a Lazy Gal’s Garden)

This past Summer my Warsaw only bloomed way high at the top and did not re-bloom as prolifically as years prior.

Notice the tangle at the top of the lattice and on the porch rails.  If you follow it down you note the bare woody vines towards the base.

I have since learned that Warsaw Nike is actually a pruning group 3 clematis and blooms on new wood. Many suppliers have this mis-marked as a group 2 except for a very reputable grower I get many of my clematis from. 

Prune Clematis to Refurbish and get Top to Bottom Blooms

How to Prune Clematis

I start by cutting the entire top back by a third. I just used the porch floor as my guideline and cut across the tangle of vines.

Prune Clematis to Refurbish and get Top to Bottom Blooms

This helps me to see which vines come from which canes at the bottom.

The bottom near the ground is overgrown with other plants which I need to remove to get a clear picture of the base of the clematis and what I am working with. All those plants need to be removed.

Nothing here is dear so I start yanking them out and tossing into the compost bucket. (note: if you struggle with a fungus that can kill back clematis do not compost your vines)

Prune Clematis to Refurbish and get Top to Bottom Blooms

Clearing it all away shows me this…

Prune Clematis to Refurbish and get Top to Bottom Blooms

There are 5 strong woody vines coming from the base and one small one that is very limber.  

I pull the skinny limber one to the side so as not to accidentally cut it during my foray with the pruners

Later you will see what I am going to do with that long skinny vine

I cut one of the thick canes back to the ground then one 12 inches from the ground.

Right now my favorite pruners are these Fiskars Bypass Pruning Shears, and for larger vines I use the Loppers (these came in really handy when I pruned back the larger canes on my Climbing Rose)  

This will encourage new growth lower on the clematis. New growth is a good thing on a type 3 clematis since they bloom on new growth.

The next cane, the center one is cut at about 3 feet long.

The cane on the left is one I left longer, it goes in behind the trellis and comes out at the base of the porch floor.

The cane on the right actually goes behind the trellis and snakes over to the right side and back out around the corner, I left it to emerge from the other side but cut it back to the floor base as well.

Prune Clematis to Refurbish and get Top to Bottom Blooms

Why Prune Clematis at Different Lengths

By cutting the canes at the different lengths I will get new growth and blooms all  along the plant from the base all the way to the top.

If you only have 1 or 2 vines coming from the ground, cut it to about 6 inches from the ground. Cutting it will encourage your clematis to send up more vines from the root.

With new clematis I cut it back the first two growing seasons so it sends up lots of vines from the root.   

What did I do With the Last Vine?

So what did I do with the last vine left on the ground?

I buried it along the ground, not deep, just under the soil..you can see the leaves on the left and under the bare dirt is the vine.  

This will stay this way all winter and if everything goes as planned it will root in more than one spot along the vine…

Prune Clematis to Refurbish and get Top to Bottom Blooms

like this one below…I know it doesn’t look that convincing but towards the center where there are some brownish leaves is a clematis that rooted where it touched the ground.  

I will dig this up and replant it elsewhere after severing the vine from the mother plant.

This is called layering..see all about how I propagate Clematis by Layering here. You will love it!

Want to see how I Prune Group 2 Clematis in Spring, you can find that here!

clematis-prune-3-of-12

UPDATE:  to see what is happening now (Mar/Apr) with this Clematis CLICK HERE Update on my Clematis

All types of Clematis need a good structure to climb, to build your own see this post: Build an Easy Garden Obelisk

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Delores

Wednesday 16th of September 2020

Pamela, I love all the information you give on Clamatis.. we just moved to our farm in May, 2020 in zone 7a. I'm not sure about the # 1, 2, 3. But one has a medium velvet maroon & the other has large violet blooms. However they both bloomed sparingly this summer. I don't know how old they are but at least 5-6 years old. The stems are very small next to the roots. My plan is to dig around the roots and add some good soil and compost to them. I plan to prune them in November but should I cut them back to 6-8" or 12-24"? Thank you for your Pinterest site.

Pamela

Thursday 24th of September 2020

Pruning them back either way is fine and should help them develop thicker stems at the base. Spread a couple inches of some good compost around them in the Fall. I have found that clematis like certain areas of my garden and don't like others so if they fail to respond to this treatment consider digging them up and moving them. Or purchase more and plants around to see where they like your garden.

Robyn

Friday 11th of October 2019

G'day, from Australia ! I found your very informative website. I've just (that is, 3 months ago) put in 3 new Clematis vines. One of them is growing well, has several arms growing up to the sky with a few flowers on it. The other 2, have not grown up at all - yet are covered with flowers. So no growth, but full of blooms. What's gone wrong ??? I can't even see any 'leader' which wants to go up the trellis. at the leaf ends there's not one small shoot which wants to take off. They are squat and are doing absolutely nothing to grow upwards. Yet the 3rd one is doing beautifully. All in same garden bed, all with same soil/compost mix, all receiving the same amount of sunshine each day, all receiving the same amount of water. They are all next to each other (about 3m apart). What should I do, please ???

Pamela

Friday 11th of October 2019

If your plants are flowering well and you only planted them 3 months ago then they are fine. It will take a couple years for them to really take off and grow upwards. The adage, first year sleep, second year creep, third year leap, applies.

Give them time and they will rewards you for sure.

Sue Alldaffer

Tuesday 25th of September 2018

Hello, I planted an evergreen clematis planted last fall. It has one stem which started to branch out at about 46 inches from the ground and the other stem branches out 20 inches from the ground. It is seems very health above that but only had a few blossoms all summer. I am not sure if I should do pruning since it is a new plant or if I should prune it. My planting zone is 8a and 8b! I could really use your advice !

Pamela

Tuesday 25th of September 2018

With clematis, no matter what type it is, should be pruned back hard the first year to encourage good sturdy root development. You want more stems to emerge from the soil so cut it back hard to about 18 to 24 inches. You will sacrifice blooms but in the end it will be worth it. In future years it will have more stems and more blooms.

hMh

Tuesday 17th of July 2018

Love your site Pamela thank you for excellent information and education ... since I've lost the names of Clematis' I've planted half a dozen years ago how do I find out if I actually have a poorly performing one or one in the group that only grows on old wood? I thought originally that they all grew on new wood every year but surely this many years later they should be a lot thicker at the base like the picture of your fantastic plant ? ...and really aren't doing that well even with excellent soil and sunshine ! The Jack manii I I had in the city couldn't be killed ! it was incredible and so easy to grow ...this is the one plant I haven't had any success with since moving to A Zone colder (4b) but the labels all said they could handle this zone ... any advice other than compost and compost tea (that I've been using for years) or why I have such spindly stems every year? (I know they're not planted too deeply And they get 6 to 7 hours full sun ) thank u for any ideas!

Pamela

Wednesday 18th of July 2018

Have you tried pruning them nearly to the ground in late Fall? I know all of mine have come back better than ever this past season as I gave them all a hard cut back. Clematis do well in cold or lower zones so I doubt that is the issue. Other than giving them a hard prune this coming Fall I am as flummoxed as you are.

Penny

Saturday 30th of June 2018

Hi. I have been looking for some good advice on growing Warsaw Nike clematis and love your site! This is my first attempt at growing clematis. I purchased a Warsaw Nike this spring from Home Depot and planted it after last frost (late May here in southwestern Ontario, Canada). So far, there are no blooms and it seems to be taking a long time to grow. I mulched it and the roots are shaded by a tree as well. The vines are growing up into a very sunny spot, so I thought it would be a good location. We are in USDA zone 4 to 5. Cold in winter but lots of snow cover and hot, sometimes humid summers. I don't know how old the plant was when I purchased it. It was only about 1 foot tall on the little trellis they provided in the pot. Can you please guide me on how to care for it and how and when to prune? Is it possible that it's just too young to bloom, or have I done something wrong? Thank you so much! Penny

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