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Pruning Climbers Results in Colorful Patio Walls

Climbers stand on other plants’ shoulders to reach the light, then hog as much of it as they can. As a result, they may grow up out of sight, leaving their trailing bare stems behind — not ideal in a small garden. An easy remedy is to cut them back severely, either in late winter, as for many late-summer- or fall-flowering clematis, or every few years, as for honeysuckle. Climbers that flower early in the year and bloom on stems made the previous year should be trimmed after flowering.

Right Tool for the Job: Pruning 9 photos

When to Prune Climbers

Different types of climbers require pruning at different times of year — often depending on when they flower and whether the flowers appear on new or old stems.

Clematis fall into three main groups: those that flower in late winter or spring; those that flower in early summer; and the later-flowering types that bloom from midsummer to fall. For the best flowers, each should be pruned in a different way. 

Clematis Variety Bears Large White Blooms
The clematis 'Sieboldiana' bears large white flowers with dramatic, spikey centers from late spring to fall.

Some woody climbers, including Actinidia, Parthenocissus and Wisteria, should be pruned in winter when dormant, like many trees and shrubs, although Wisteria needs further pruning in summer for the best results.

  • Early-flowering clematis (including Clematis montana, C. armandii, C. cirrhosa, and C. macropetala) need little pruning. After flowering, give them a light trim, cutting back too-long or unproductive stems to a healthy bud. Renovation is possible for old, straggly plants: Cut back all stems almost to the ground, but do not repeat this for at least three years.
  • Early to midsummer flowering clematis can be left to their own devices, unless the plant needs restricting, when a trim after flowering will help. For renovation of old, tangled plants, cut back to buds near soil level in late winter. You may either lose that year’s flowers, or the plant may flower later in the summer as a result.
  • Late-flowering clematis, which do not flower until late summer or fall, are pruned in late winter or early spring when the buds are starting to swell. Prune them down to a pair of plump, healthy buds about 12 in (30 cm) from the base. Alternatively, if you are dealing with a vigorous type, it can be cut down to the ground.
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