Gardening Tips

Take charge of your clematis! Grow-how tips for March


I can’t help feeling excited now March is here! colour and life are returning all around us, and the songbirds are revving up their glorious spring voices.  

And what they’re telling us is to get a move on!  The gardening jobs are multiplying rapidly, from pruning clematis and blackcurrants to tidying ferns, starting off shallots and dividing aconites, it’s all go, go, go…

When we 3Growbags were swanning around a Garden Press Event last week, I was very taken with a gorgeous new clematis variety from Raymond Evison which looks like a Group 2, but you can prune like a Group 3. Read on and find out what I’m babbling on about.

Me getting rather over-excited about the new Guernsey ‘Flute’ clematis to be launched at Chelsea this year

Clematis-pruning is one of those subjects that can send shivers down the spine of many a garden-owner – What time of year to do it? How much to cut off? And most of all, what happens if I do it wrong, or not at all?

So here’s my take on it.  First of all, an unpruned clematis will still flower.  It might be on many fewer stems and generally just at the top while possibly looking a little miserable, but it will be okay.

Second, in my experience it’s very hard to kill a clematis by OVER-pruning it. Eelworms, Clematis Wilt or slugs can all do a lot more damage than your secateurs I believe.  By chopping at the wrong time or too severely, you’ll be cutting off that year’s flowers which would be unfortunate, but it’s not terminal.

Right. Find out what GROUP your clematis is in.  If it’s not on the label, then google the name and get the info that way. There are three main groups: 

Group 1: includes all the lovely winter- and spring-flowerers e.g. montana,cirrhosa, alpina,  macropetala etc.  If you’ve inherited a clematis that flowers before June, it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s one of these.  DON’T touch these now, or bang goes all your blossom for this year.  After they’ve flowered, they just need a bit of a tidy-up frankly, but I tend to be more brutal with the evergreen C.  armandii, which can get a bit out of hand in this garden.

Honeysuckle and Clematis montana
Here is Clematis montana in a glorious mix with honeysuckle covering a fence between neighbours – don’t prune this spring-flowerer now!

Group 2: comprises the (mostly) large-flowered early summer-flowering types, like ‘Nelly Moser’, ‘Dr Ruppel’, ‘The President’ etc.   Because they, like the Group Ones, produce their first flowers on last year’s growth, what you should do now for them is to follow each stem down to a fat green bud (or a pair of them) and cut it off at a slant. I find these Group 2-ers the fiddliest, but the rewards are great if you can be bothered to do it properly. Take away the dead old stems above it.  Once the early flowers have faded, take them off and you may well get a welcome second flush of flowers with this group of clematis.

Clematis ‘Prince Charles’ is a Group 2 – prune accordingly

Group 3: The later summer-flowerers are my favourites – viticella, tangutica, texensis etc. These plants tend to have smaller flowers than the Group Twos, but they are SO generous with them (look at the lovely C. ‘Etoile Violette’ in the feature pic this week!) , and because they only flower on the current year’s growth, you can be much bolder with your spring pruning. What I really mean is: they are EASY-PEASY!  Just cut everything off that’s above 1ft (30 cms.) tall – to a green bud if you can find one, but I don’t even bother with that much. 

I am pretty brutal with my later flowering Group 3s – they thrive on it!

In a nutshell: Flower before June – lightly prune; Flower from July – let the stems fly!

One last clematis tip: please be very careful when you are tying in the new stems – they are heartbreakingly brittle.

  • The pretty little winter aconites have finished flowering so why not dig up the clumps while they are ‘in the green’ and divide them to increase your spread or give away to friends? I’m doing just that in the video link at the bottom recorded a couple of years ago.
Cheery little winter aconites can be divided now
  • Ferns of all kinds can look distinctly …meh, at the end of winter, so give then a good spring clean now, trimming back all the old browned leaves, and leaving a promising ‘knuckle’ of new growth at the centre of each plant.
Trim off the old tatty leaves of your ferns now
  • It’s time to start off onion and shallot sets in modules in a cold greenhouse or cool windowsill. They will develop roots which will deter the songbirds from pulling them out of the ground for nesting material, once you plant them out into the garden in a few weeks’ time!
shallots in a tray
Start your shallots in modules to cheat the birds!
  • I had some utterly delicious blackcurrant jam at a friend’s house last week and it reminded me to remind you to check your blackcurrant bushes now, and take out a few of the oldest , less productive, stems to encourage new ones to take their place. Do this every year and you will be able to create a steady supply of newer well-fruited stems.
Prune out the oldest fruited stems of blackcurrant bushes

Here is the link to my video about how to divide winter aconites.

And this is the link to a report on the fabulous day we spent at the big Garden Press Event last week.

There are cherry trees and then there’s this one. By the end of this month it will be full-on ‘stunning’ and in the Autumn, a good going ‘ah!’. It’s rightly popular and it’s Louise Sims’ Great Plant this Month – but what is it? 

Whether you’re young or nicely matured, you should look after your knees, you’re going to need them for a while, so this pretty bee print garden kneeler is a must. Click here to see it in our shop

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

4 replies on “Take charge of your clematis! Grow-how tips for March”

From Raymond Evison himself! We were helping him at Chelsea and asked about pruning Clematis. He said ‘grab a handful and cut, all types, don’t worry about numbers!!!

Oh that’s great, Angela! Who knew that Raymond Evison, the ‘god’ of clematis, was as relaxed about the pruning techniques! I am rather envious about the casual way you say that you were helping him at Chelsea – that must have been an exciting and interesting time. I am just going out into the garden (now the rain has -almost- stopped) and do exactly what he says………… All the best, Elaine

I have always understood that Prince Charles is group 3 for pruning and he certainly seems to do really well being chopped right back!!

Hi Nicki, you’re right! I’ve just checked and although its old label said it was a Group 2, most companies list it as a Group 3. To be honest, I’ve got so many clematis, I tend to treat all of the non-spring ones with a very firm hand anyway; I don’t really have time to do much else. Thank you so much for writing in – I hope your clematis do really well for you this year; they will surely have enjoyed all the rain at least! All the best, Elaine

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