Gardening Guide to Pruning Clematis Vines

Fear of the Shears

How To Prune Clematis

Pruning Clematis isn’t nearly as scary as they say.

Clematis are almost perfect. They are in vogue in European city gardens right now, where they’re used like floral fountains flowing up garden fences from lovely decorative pots. They are romantic from bud to bloom—sometimes even to seedhead. And you can entertain such a diverse range of Clematis in one space, thanks to how vastly different they can be. You could have precious bells nodding all over a non-vining bush; dainty, early-season harbingers of spring blooming on a vine; container Clematis with flowers as intricate as sculptures; and, of course, the classic large-flowered bloom machines we all know and love.

There is just one problem with Clematis…

Overcoming the fear of pruning

Tips for Pruning Clematis

Pruning is intimidating. The same reason everyone loves Clematis—the fact that they’re so diverse—is the reason they’re so hard to prune, because there’s not just one way to prune all Clematis. On the Internet, you’ll find different guides for this “Type III” or that “Type B.” Confused Clematis gardeners receive too much inconsistent and complex advice—we just need a straight answer. For that, we’ve turned to Clematis expert Deborah Hardwick. She said, "Actually, it’s pretty simple."

It’ll all be ok

So, the first thing you have to remember about Clematis is that they’re living plants and can be found growing naturally, without the careful protection of a diligent gardener. Animals knock into them and pluck their flowers, and still they thrive. They’re designed for that. In fact, they’re designed really well for that, because Clematis love to grow and do so quickly. Many varieties can even jump back up from being pruned to the ground and put on a lovely second show. So even if you snip the wrong place or you miss something, overall, your Clematis is going to be ok. So really, the first thing you need to do is take a deep breath. You’ve got this.

Spring Hill Nurseries® EZ Pruning Guide

Ditch the drama

"DeborahSo, Deborah Hardwick’s big advice? Forget all the types and roman numerals—just think red, yellow and green.

It’s actually how we got the Spring Hill Nurseries® EZ Pruning Guide. Each Clematis fits into one of these three color categories

Any Clematis in the green group? Like traffic lights, green means go. These Clematis bloom on new vines, so pruning won’t get in the way of a gorgeous season. Also like traffic lights, the yellow category means slow. You can still prune these for a better show, just be cautious. Red, then, means no—only trim these after flowering, and only where it’s needed.

When To Prune Clematis

For each of the Clematis offered by Spring Hill Nurseries, you can see where it fits in the EZ Pruning Guide right on the product’s webpage. In general, the earlier a Clematis blooms, the more caution you should take. For example, those very early bloomers that’ll put on a show over your daffodils next spring are already growing the stems those blooms will come from, so you may cancel that year’s show if you prune too early. These are in the red category. You only trim after flowering and where it’s really needed.

Let’s go into a little detail on each category of our EZ Pruning Guide.



Clematis in the green category are very forgiving if you’re new to pruning. In fact, they’ll thank you for a good trim. They’ll thank you for a good trim. See, much of the vines from the previous year are often not viable for new growth. These Clematis will do their best work on new stems. Cut down to just above the lowest node showing growth, and watch it go. Also, if you’ve had something in the green category for a while, and it’s becoming less productive, prune it flat to the soil. That’ll help initiate some new stems and give it a fresh start.



Clematis in this category are great if you want a nice long season or want to cover all your bases. These Clematis can be pruned on old and new wood, but produce their biggest, best flowers on old woody stems. What you’ll want to do to keep them tidy and productive is to prune in spring. Snip right above the highest set of fat buds breaking growth. After the first flowering, you can also remove damaged vines and prune to make sure the vine stays in the shape and size you’d like. Tidy up with caution, and you’ll still get a great second show.



As we mentioned before, varieties in the red category bloom on old wood (last year’s growth). If you prune them when you prune your others, you’ll cut off buds. It’s ok, that doesn’t really mean your entire Clematis is done, you just won’t get the flower production you wanted this season. Clematis in the red category actually do best if you do nothing before they bloom—great news for the busy or timid gardener! Red category Clematis are very low maintenance that way. Right after the first flowering period is your window to prune back broken and damaged stems, and prune just what’s necessary for the size of vine you’d like. After that, you’ll want to leave it to develop all of those woody stems to get ready for next year.

Why we prune

Pruning isn’t overly intricate and complex. Your variety is in one of three pruning groups, based on whether it blooms on old or new wood. And if you go for the trim at the right time, you’ll have a tidier and more productive Clematis that’s shaped and sized just the way you want it. So, pick up those shears—it's worth the snip.