Clematis Care: The Ultimate Guide To Growing and Pruning Clematis

Learn how to grow and prune Clematis to produce big, beautiful flowers all summer long with this Clematis care guide that has all of the information you need.

Clematis Care: How To Grow Clematis With Big Beautiful Blooms

Clematis Care

I have come to the realization that I am a little obsessed with Clematis.

I didn’t actually know how obsessed until I started taking pictures for this post. There are 25 different varieties of Clematis growing in my garden at the moment! And I’m not ruling out getting some more 🙂

However, I think I’m justified.  All you have to do is look at those beautiful blooms to know why I have so many of them.

Beautiful Clematis blooms
Beautiful Clematis blooms

But that’s not the only reason.  Clematis is a very versatile and easy to grow perennial vine.  It comes in many colors, sizes and bloom times.  There are varieties with large flowers, small flowers, single or double petals, bell-shaped or tubular blooms.  Some varieties will only grow to be 2 – 3 feet tall, while others can cover the side of a garage.

And in almost all cases, the clematis vines are not invasive, so you can grow them through other bushes without worrying about killing the plants (I do have experience with a couple of exceptions which I will tell you about later).

It has so many redeeming qualities that I think should be a part of everyone’s garden (which is why clematis is on my all-time favorite perennials list).

So that’s the “why” to grow Clematis…keep reading to find out where and how to grow Clematis or if you prefer, you can skip straight to the section you want to know about:

Clematis Care: Where To Plant Clematis

Clematis holding its own growing through a Wisteria vine
Clematis holding its own growing through a Wisteria vine

Zones: 4 – 9

Light: Part sun or sun

Although most guides say that Clematis is a full-sun perennial requiring at least 6 hours a day of sunshine, where I live in South Carolina, I find that it grows best in part shade. It really doesn’t like the heat of our summer afternoons.  In fact, some of my plants bloom in the spring, die back completely in the summer and then grow and bloom again in the fall when the temperatures cool down. (I can’t really complain about that since I get 2 bloom times every year!)

But (as with a lot of plants), the further North you are, the more sun it will need to produce the most blooms.

Clematis 'Josephine' - mature blooms
Clematis ‘Josephine’ – mature blooms

Unlike some other vines (such as Wisteria), Clematis is generally not an aggressive plant.

Clematis growing through roses
Clematis growing through roses

That means it can be grown up through bushes or on top of other plants without causing them harm.

Clematis 'Alice Fisk'
Clematis ‘Alice Fisk’

Of course, they look beautiful growing on trellises, arbors, and fences, too. Since Clematis climb by twining their leaves around supports, and the stems aren’t very long, they have difficulty sticking to wood structures. To make it easy for them to grow, stretch some fishing wire or string across the growing surface to give them something to grab on to.

Although most gardeners don’t grow it this way, Clematis can also work really well as a ground cover.


Clematis Care: How To Grow Clematis

How To Grow Clematis

Once you have figured out where you are going to put your Clematis, the next step in caring for your Clematis is planting it.

Clematis can take a couple of years to really become established, but once they do, they pretty much take care of themselves.

What Kind Of Soil Do Clematis Grow In?

Clematis 'Josephine' - early blooms

The first step in Clematis care is to make sure you have well-drained but moist soil to grow the plants in. Their roots can rot if they are too wet, and the leaves will fall off if it is too dry.  Adding some compost and good top soil to the hole when you are planting will help to give your Clematis a head start.

Plant your new Clematis so that a couple of inches of the stem is buried in the ground.  This will help the plant establish strong roots. If it has a lot of growth on the top, pruning it down to about 18″ tall will allow the roots to get established and promote a healthier plant.

Clematis also prefer neutral to alkaline soil.  If you live in an area that has acidic soil (like I do in South Carolina), you might want to sprinkle some lime around the plants in the spring.

Purple Clematis
Purple Clematis

How Much Water Is Required?

Watering regularly is a necessity for happy Clematis plants, especially during the heat of the summer. As I mentioned above, not having enough water will cause the leaves to dry up and fall off leaving a very unhappy looking plant.

Installing your own drip watering system will help to make sure that they get the consistent watering they require.

Clematis 'H.F. Young'
Clematis ‘H.F. Young’

What About Mulch?

Clematis don’t like their roots to get too hot.  The easiest way to prevent overheating is to cover the base with a thick layer of mulch (not touching the stems). Or, you can plant them where the roots are shaded by other plants or structures, but the flowers are in the sun.

Mulching around the plants will also help to keep the soil moisture from evaporating (which helps with that water requirement of Clematis care).

Clematis 'Mrs N Thompson'
Clematis ‘Mrs N Thompson’

What Kind Of Fertilizer To Use On Clematis?

With all of those big blooms, Clematis needs a lot of nutrients from the soil. Fertilizing in the spring and the fall will help to keep them healthy and blooming.

I like to use organic fertilizer for my Clematis. In the spring, I sprinkle alfalfa pellets around the base of the plant and water them until they get mushy.  Then in the fall, I add a layer of compost around the plant which also adds to the organic matter in the soil.

If you prefer to use store-bought fertilizer, use one with less Nitrogen and more Phosphorus (eg. a 10-30-20 mixture) in the spring to promote blooms. In the fall, add an evenly balanced fertilizer (eg. 10-10-10 or 20-20-20).

Next up is learning how to prune your clematis.  It’s really not as complicated as it seems!

Clematis Care: Pruning Clematis

how to prune Clematis for the best blooms

Pruning Clematis vines often seems like the most complicated part of Clematis care since different types should be pruned at different times.

The trick is to find out what type of Clematis you have so that you know when and how to prune it.

Clematis plants are generally divided into 3 groups, not very creatively named – group 1, group 2 and group 3. The group that your vine falls in determines its pruning procedures.

Tip: If you’re not sure which group your Clematis belongs to, try looking it up on Fine Gardening’s website.

Otherwise, use the description of each of the groups below to try to figure out where your plant belongs.

Pruning Group 1

Clematis Pruning Group 1 - Clematis Armandii "Apple Blossom" Photo courtesy of theworldofplants.wordpress.com

Clematis Pruning Group 1 – Clematis Armandii “Apple Blossom” Photo courtesy of theworldofplants.wordpress.com

Group 1 – Early flowering vines with bell-shaped or small saucer-shaped blooms.

Group 1 clematis bloom on last year’s shoots in early spring.

They should be pruned after they have bloomed to remove dead or damaged stems, and shorten the stems (if necessary), but do not need extensive annual pruning.

Pruning Group 2

Clematis Pruning Group 2 - Clematis 'Franziska Marie'
Clematis Pruning Group 2 – Clematis ‘Franziska Marie’

Group 2 – Early to mid-season flowering vines with large flowers.

Group 2 clematis bloom both on last year’s growth and this year’s new shoots in late spring and summer.

Pruning should be done in early spring to trim stems just above strong buds (and to remove any dead or damaged stems).  Do not cut all the way back or you will reduce the number of flowers that you will see.

Clematis Pruning Group 2 - Clematis 'Nelly Moser'
Clematis Pruning Group 2 – Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’

Pruning Group 3

Clematis Pruning Group 3 - Clematis viticella 'Venosa Violacea'
Clematis Pruning Group 3 – Clematis viticella ‘Venosa Violacea’

Group 3 – Late-season flowering vines with large flowers

Group 3 clematis bloom on this year’s growth in summer or autumn.

To prune, cut the vines back to within 8 inches of the ground in early spring before new growth starts.

Clematis Pruning Group 3 - Clematis texensis 'Duchess of Albany'
Clematis Pruning Group 3 – Clematis texensis ‘Duchess of Albany’

Pruning Clematis – Others

Clematis "Indigo Saphire"
Clematis “Indigo Saphire”

With the popularity of clematis, new varieties are being introduced all the time.  So watch for ones that do not fall into any of the traditional pruning groups.

The “Indigo Saphire” pictured above only grows to 3 feet tall and requires no pruning at all.

Clematis integrifolia ‘Rooguchi’
Clematis integrifolia ‘Rooguchi’

The “Rooguchi” pictured above is a late spring bloomer that is not a true climber and should be cut all the way down to the ground in the spring.

Clematis Purpurea Plena Elegans
Clematis Purpurea Plena Elegans

The Clematis “Purpurea Plena Elegans” blooms on both old and new wood and benefits from pruning 1/3 of the branches each year so that the entire plant has been pruned every three years.

Having said all of that, there have been many times that I have neglected to prune my clematis vines when I was supposed to and they have still bloomed.  They also seem to die back down to the ground occasionally but usually come back (just watch for the new shoots so you don’t accidentally break them off).


My Favorite (And Not So Favorite) Clematis Varieties

best clematis varieties

Having grown a lot of different varieties of Clematis, I’ve come up with a few of my favorites, and a couple you might want to stay away from.

Toughest Clematis – ‘Venosa Violacea’

Toughest Clematis - Clematis 'Venosa Violacea'
Toughest Clematis – Clematis ‘Venosa Violacea’

Pruning Group: 3

Clematis ‘Venosa Violacae’ is a Victorian era French heirloom variety that has been around since 1893. And there’s a reason why it is still popular today!

It blooms from spring until fall, doesn’t seem to be phased by the heat, and even handles getting a little dry better than most Clematis.

Tip: If you want to find a Clematis that’s right for your garden, or maybe are trying to identify one you already have, you can enter the colors in this Clematis web search tool and it will give you a list of varieties that match along with their pictures.

Biggest Show – ‘Josephine’

The different stages of Clematis 'Josephine'
The different stages of Clematis ‘Josephine’

Pruning Group: 2

If you’re looking for a Clematis that has big beautiful, multi-petal blooms, Josephine may be your girl!  She starts out like the picture above with dark pink single petals around the outside of a fluffy light pink center.

As the flower matures, the outside petals fall off and leave a flower that is a big fluff ball.

Best Double Clematis – ‘Franziska Marie’

Best Double Clematis - Clematis 'Franziska Marie'
Best Double Clematis – Clematis ‘Franziska Marie’

Pruning Group: 2

Clematis ‘Franziska Marie’ has big double purple blooms that last all summer long. The early blooms come out on old wood, and the later blooms grow on new wood, so even if it gets cut off by accident, you will still get some beautiful flowers!

Best Blue Clematis – ‘Alice Fisk’

Best Blue Clematis - Clematis 'Alice Fisk'
Best Blue Clematis – Clematis ‘Alice Fisk’

Pruning Group: 2

Clematis ‘Alice Fisk’ has huge, eight-inch, periwinkle blue flowers that really stand out against the green foliage. It grows through the arbor at the back of my yard and I can see the blooms clearly from the house.

Best Fuchsia Clematis – ‘Princess Diana’

Best Fuchsia Clematis - Clematis 'Princess Diana'
Best Fuchsia Clematis – Clematis ‘Princess Diana’

Pruning Group: 3

If you’re looking for a bright pink Clematis, ‘Princess Diana’ may be perfect. Although the flowers aren’t as big as some of the other Clematis varieties, it blooms profusely and the bright color makes up for its size.

Best Striped Clematis – ‘Beth Currie’

Best striped Clematis - Clematis 'Beth Currie'
Best striped Clematis – Clematis ‘Beth Currie’

Pruning Group: 2

Clematis ‘Beth Currie’ has purple and pink striped flowers that really stand out in the garden.  I like to plant mine with pink roses which complement the colors.

Most Aggressive – Clematis integrifolia ‘Rooguchi’

Most aggressive Clematis - Clematis integrifolia 'Rooguchi'
Most aggressive Clematis – Clematis integrifolia ‘Rooguchi’

Pruning Group: Other

Clematis integrifolia ‘Rooguchi’ has really pretty purple blue flowers and blooms profusely. The big difference is that the plant is more like a bush than a vine. And it can easily choke out other smaller plants. So while I still have this in my garden, I would recommend planting it in a location where it has lots of room to spread out.

Most Invasive – Autumn Clematis

Most invasive Clematis - Autumn Clematis
Most invasive Clematis – Autumn Clematis

There’s only one Clematis that I absolutely will not plant in my garden again, and that’s the Autumn Clematis (Clematis ternifolia). I had one growing beside an arbor in my yard and it never really did much (ie. I thought it had died) so I kind of forgot about it.

Until I saw it joining the Kudzu and Japanese Honeysuckle that are growing rampant over the trees in the ravine behind my house.

Then I looked it up and found it on the South Carolina invasive plants list…so I learned this lesson the hard way.  Click HERE if you want to find out more about invasive plants.

Now I’m off to see if I can find variety #26 to add to my garden 🙂  And hopefully, you’ve found some inspiration for growing your own beautiful Clematis.


Do you have a tip for Clematis care or a favorite Clematis variety?  Tell us in the section below.

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Clematis Care: How To Grow Clematis With Big Beautiful Blooms

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Clematis Care: How To Grow Clematis With Big Beautiful Blooms

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41 Responses

    • Hi Sharon…the bloom time varies quite a bit depending on the variety, but most of them bloom for 3 to 4 weeks. I also find a lot of them last longer when it’s not too hot, so some of it will depend on where you live.

  • I also live in South Carolina, Summerville to be exact, the clematis I have is group 2, I think, it blooms on old wood but very sparse, and then I get new branches coming up too, I’m so confused, a neighbor down the street told me not to prune at all, I have mulch around the roots to keep it cool, and the top is in some light morning sun and late evening sun but it looks so pathetic, I’m from Alaska where we can’t grow them at all because of the short summers, it has new sprouts popping out just about year round, and then we get cold again and they die off, but as soon as we have unusual warm Temps they sprout leaves but no flowers, help please if you can I’m confused.

    • Hi Brenda…In my area (Greenville), I find Clematis blooms really well in the spring and the fall (and often the same plant will bloom twice). But most of them look really pathetic in the summer…I think it’s just too hot. Since yours is blooming on old wood, youor neighbor’s suggestion of not pruning it could also help (to be honest, I rarely prune any of my Clematis unless they are growing somewhere I don’t want them). You can also try sprinkling compost, organic rose fertilizer, bone meal or alfalfa pellets (ie. rabbit or deer food) around the bottom of it. General fertilizers (like Miracle Gro or Osmocote) have too much Nitrogen, which produces a lot of leaves but not flowers so I wouldn’t use those. Clematis are so beautiful when they are blooming…I hope this works!

    • Hi Julie…I suspect it’s either too hot, too dry or needs some Clematis fertilizer.

      Clematis like to have cool roots, so if you think it is too hot, you can try spreading some mulch around the bottom of the plant or planting a low growing perennial in front of it to keep the sun off. The mulch will also help to keep the soil from drying out too fast.

      Having said that, I live in an area where the summers are really hot and humid…most of my Clematis look like they are having a hard time in the summer, but they always bounce back once it starts to cool down in the fall.

      Those big, beautiful Clematis blooms do require a lot of nutrients from the soil. You can try using a Clematis fertilizer (should not be too high in Nitrogen). Or if you want to go the organic route, sprinkle alfalfa pellets around the base of the plant and water them until they turn mushy.

      If you are still having problems, you can also cut it back, pretty close to the ground and let it re-grow.

      Hope this helps!

  • Maybe try grass clippings around the bases of the plants. I have two of my plants in a garden bed around an old stump. One is in direct sun, the other in part sun, and they both seem to do equally well. I actually have never pruned my plants, unless cutting off a newly rooted vine. Love your pictures and advice!

    • Thanks, Michelle! I have to admit, I don’t usually get around to pruning mine either and they seem to do fine 🙂 But I think I do get more blooms when I actually do prune them properly.

    • Hi Karen…according to the Rutgers University Deer Resistance list, Clematis falls into the “Occasionally Severely Damaged” category. So not the absolute worst (which would be the Frequently Severely Damaged category), but not great either. So I think you’re right…if you have a deer problem, there are probably better options…

  • I’m in Essex UK not to far from London, I find I’m not getting large blooms & some clematis disappeared completely :o(

    • Hi Jacqueline…I’m sorry to hear you are having problems with your Clematis. Most of the time when I have issues with them, it’s because they are either getting too much or not enough water. But they usually are pretty hard to kill (the ones that have disappeared may surprise you and re-grow later.) If you haven’t tried fertilizing them, that could be another option that would help the size of the blooms (use a fertilizer that is lower in Nitrogen so you don’t just get more leaves). You can also take a look at the Royal Horticultural Society website…they have some suggestions on other Clematis problems you might have. Good luck with them!

  • I’m having problems with the leaves turning yellow all of a sudden. Never did before and I’m not doing anything different. Any thoughts on what the problem could be and how to correct it? Thanks for any help you can give me.

    • Hi Thelma…it’s possible that there is an iron or magnesium deficiency in the soil. You can try sprinkling some iron chelate around the plant for the first issue. For magnesium, mix 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts with a gallon of water, and water the plant with it once a week for about a month. Also, if it has been hotter than usual, it could just be the heat…the plant should recover on its own once it cools down. Hope this helps!

  • Thanks Wanda for replying. I live in Oregon and we haven’t had real hot weather so far this year. My three plants started turning yellow as soon as they leaves out. As I said, in the past I didn’t have this problem. It just started in the last three to four years. I’ve been told to shade the roots more, which I did to no avail. I’ve made sure they were getting enough water. All the leaves doesn’t turn yellow, just enough to let me know something isn’t quite what it should be. Again thanks for your help. Will try the Epson Salts and the Iron remedy and see if that helps.

  • Thank you for that exelent and full information. I found out all answers to my questions reading your article. Thank you.

  • I found everything very useful.
    I live in Mississauga, Ontario. I am going to try several of your suggestions.
    Thank you.
    Barbara

    • I’m happy you found it helpful, Barbara. I am originally from Toronto so have some experience growing Clematis up there, too 🙂 The same principles apply.

  • I have a clematis but not sure what kind. I did get some blooms the first year and then it looked like it died.So I didn’t think too much of it. The branches are really thin and look dead. I pulled it up last year and behold It came back! So could you give me some advice what I should do now?

    Thank You very much. It was my husbands favorite and he is gone now and I would love to keep it growning.

    • Hi Virginia…I’m sorry to hear about your husband. The fact that your Clematis came back is a good sign 🙂 Mine do die back like that and they really do look dead. Most of the time I just leave them alone and they re-grow…a lot of the time even the dead looking branches will start to put out leaves in the spring. So I think as long as you put some mulch around the bottom of it and make sure that it is well watered, it should be fine. If you want to give the plant an added boost, you can sprinkle some compost or fertilizer around the base of it. Hope this helps!

  • Boy! The Clematis “Josephine” is a very unique and gorgeous flower! You get 3 flowers in 1 and I must find one of these!

    Thank you very much for this very informative article. I have read others that tried to explain the pruning process for each of the groups and yours is the first one that I fully understood and allowed me to identify which group my Clematis falls in (group 2).

    I currently only have one Clematis in my yard but it is my favorite plant next to my Hydrangeas. I definitely would like to add a couple more and your article also helped me to realize which ones I would enjoy the most. Thank you!

    • Thanks, Stacy! “Josephine” is one of my favorite Clematis. I love all the different flower variations it produces! I’m happy you were able to identify which type of Clematis you have…and good luck with your future additions 🙂

  • Wow, I’m just now discovering Clematis and how beautiful they are! Thank you for sharing so much information. Do you have a favorite source for buying them online? I don’t see them typically in my area even though they’ll live in my zone. Just wondering!

  • Hello I have 4 plants of clematis , I never cut them back , I also give them miracle grow they bloom all the time , keep feeding them , they also like shades . I had them for 5 years they are my favorites , have purple , blue and red I like to buy 1 more white . Do not cut them back .

  • I have several and love, love them. One is in the afternoon hot sun and the leaves at the bottom of it have dried up, yet it is blooming. My friend came by the other day and said, “Oh no, your Clematis is dying.” I said. “No, It does that.” But I never understood why. I think I understand why now. I will try the rabbit food and more water. I still have trouble understanding the pruning. I will keep trying to get it. I just got a new one from Spring Hill that is suppose to have several different phases of blooms like the Josephine. I can’t wait for it to bloom next year. I enjoyed your article.

    • Thanks, Tina! Trying to figure out what type your Clematis is so you can prune it at the right time is a little complicated. But to be honest, I often don’t get around to pruning them at all and they seem to do fine 🙂

  • My clematis has outgrown its trellis; it falls over from the weight. I would like to get a new, larger trellis but I’m afraid I will kill the plant removing the old one. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Becky…I would wait until right after it has finished blooming. Then cut it back enough that you can get the old trellis out and put the new one in. Having said that, I’ve broken some of my Clematis off pretty close to the ground (by accident) and they always come back. Yours sounds like it’s very healthy so you probably don’t have anything to worry about…it will survive.

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