The Frozen North Pruning System:
How to Prune Clematis in Cold Climates
The Number One thing you need to know:
No One has Ever Killed a Clematis by Making a Pruning Mistake!
Please note: These recommendations and dates are for gardeners
in the Frozen North. Those of you who live in the Tropics, perhaps
south of New England, need to take our recommendations with a grain of salt!
Pruning causes gardeners more anxiety than any other aspect of growing clematis - and it is NOT necessary! Forget what you may have read or heard elsewhere. Most published works on clematis are written by folks who garden in warmer climates than ours, with longer growing seasons and milder winters. We have tested our pruning recommendations for a number of years on a wide variety of clematis and THEY WORK!!
Clematis 'Betty Corning' before and after pruning.
Under the Frozen North Pruning System, there are only two pruning treatments.
Which one should you use? That depends on when your clematis flowers.
Don't Bother! - Clematis that begin to bloom in May or early June should not be pruned; Mother Nature will do the pruning for you. Our long, harsh winters will cause some winter kill on the top growth. We recommend pruning out this winter kill after the leaves start to grow in the spring. The amount of winter kill will, of course, depend on how cold the winter is; some winters, some clematis may die back to the ground. This is OK - feed and water them well and they will regrow and bloom for you!
Full Prune - Clematis that don't begin to bloom until late June or later should be severely cut back in late winter or early spring. This is a great cure for cabin fever! In late March or early April, pick a warm day and sharpen your pruning shears. Cut all the stems on your Full Prune clematis at anywhere from 6 to 12 inches above the ground. The stems you have removed should be quite brittle and will easily pull off their support. This may sound drastic but in fact it is quick and easy to do. If you're like us, it will take you longer to find the pruners than it will to prune a couple of mature plants! And, no, you will not kill the plant - it will thank you by blooming more profusely than ever!
And here's a final, Deep, Dark Secret: If life gets in the way or you forget or make a mistake or somehow don't prune your clematis correctly this spring, so what? Your clematis may not bloom quite when you expect it to or for as long, but it won't hurt you or the plant. We don't recommend making the same mistake too many years in a row, but the occasional slip-up is not the end of the world!