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pinching out clematis

pinklarapinklara Posts: 27
I have a few new clematis, which were planted last autumn. One autumn-flowering one has been rather ill-fated; it got its only stem nibbled through by a hare, then grew a new single stem back which was going well and got to about a metre high before suddenly wilting and completely dying. A new stem has now come up, that is about 12 inches high right now and is growing fast. My other one, a winter-flowering clematis is doing very well, and is about a metre high, but again only has one stem. I realised that I probably left it too long, but should I pinch out or prune them to try to get more stems? I am very nervous to do it -  neither seem to have any buds where the two leaves come out from the stem. If I pinch off the top, will it branch out from the leaf pair below that, or do they only grow new stems from the ground? Here is my winter one (you can't see the top, but it just gets more and more gangly):

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  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 31,523
    Sorry - but no clematis is going to thrive there amongst all that grass.
    You need to find out which varieties you have and what the pruning regime is, then apply that.
    Having said that, all clematis can be cut back to promote new growth, especially from below ground. They also need a cleared space to grow in, with suitable food, water and care, until established.
    They also need a support to grow on, and tree guards if you have hares and rabbits. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....


  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 21,064
    I agree.  Clear away all that grass to leave the soil completely clear around them - at least 30cm either side and in front of the stems then give a good, deep drink of 10litres poured slowly so it soaks in and then a mulch of well-rotted manure and a tree guard.

    Keep them watered till the autumn rains set in and then, next spring, apply a generous dollop of specialist clematis feed and another deep mulch of well-rotted manure and a goo drink.  Keep them watered in any hot or dry spells next year as this well help them get their roots down deep.  It can take a year or 3 for a clematis to settle in and start producing new stems.

    Make sure there are enough tensioned wires to support the plants when they do take off, ideally at 30cm intervals horizontally across that wall.  keep an eye on them and train in new stems as they appear and before they get tangled. 


    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • pinklarapinklara Posts: 27
    Thank you! I think the photo looks slightly worse than it is with the grass - it does have a bare patch cleared round the plant that you can see when you part it, but I would say only 30cm in diameter rather than 30cm in every direction, so I went out this evening and cleared more round it. The previously-hared one has a tree guard on now, but I need to do the other one too. I'll also do the watering and manure as you suggest. I've been trying to keep them well watered and fed but I don't think I have ever given 10L of water, so perhaps they are parched!

    Unfortunately I have lost the names of the varieties, all I remember is when they are supposed to flower :( but, I am still rather confused about pruning. What I have read seems to agree that regardless of the variety, you need to prune in the plant's first year to produce more stems, and most guides I have read say cut down to a viable bud at a leaf joint. But, I can't see any buds at any of my leaf joints, which is why I am nervous to try. Should I just wait and let them grow as they like until they are happy enough to make new shoots from the base? Or should I be expecting buds at the leaf joints that I should prune down to? They are growing at an astonishing pace, but just one tall stem!

    Thank you for your advice :)
  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 31,523
    Cut them all to about  eighteen inches - at a joint. New stems will be produced from below ground. If you know when they flower, you can make a rough guess at the pruning type - early flowering ones, ie spring to early summer, need nothing to very little, just a tidy up if needed [when mature] . Anything which flowers from summer onwards will be pruned back hard to good leaf joints or buds in spring. 
    Clematis take several years to become mature plants, regardless of variety and habit. If they're 2 yr old plants, or older, when planted, they'll take another couple of years to look like the real plant, assuming they have adequate care. Anything younger than that should be grown on for a year so that they have a better chance of thriving. 

    Clear a proper border for them, and feed, water [properly]  and add a mulch. 
    You're risking cutting the stems all off anyway when you try to cut the grass, if you don't clear that away. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....


  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 21,064
    Clematis have thick, fleshy roots that like to get down deep which is why they need generous watering - so they can get down and stay down where they can get the moisture and nutrients they need for all the growth they will produce up top.   Healthy roots also produce more new shoots which is how the plant thickens up - from the base rather than for the stems themselves tho they do branch.

    Your current priority is to get the roots nourished so the plants can mature so removing competition, deep watering and mulching and feeding as indicated above are the ways to go plus protection from marauding rabbits and hares.    After winter, remove all dead stems affected by frosts or winds and tie in new growth to the supports.   

    The winter flowering one shouldn't need any pruning except to remove any dead material and keep it in bounds when it gets bigger.   The autumn flowering one will flower on new stems and can be cut back to a pair of buds in February or March for the next couple of years depending on how hard your winter has been.   When it gets bigger and stronger in a year or 3, you 'll be able just to cut the whole plant back knowing its root system is strong enough to produce all new stems each year. 
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • pinklarapinklara Posts: 27
    Thank you that is really helpful. I had got myself quite confused about it. I had been keeping the grass long round the edge of the patch I had cleared because I had read that they liked their roots kept shady, but it is probably doing more harm than good, especially as we had such a dry spring. I've got some manure to mulch them, and hopefully in time some stems will come from the ground. I bravely went for the chop this morning and gave them eleventy-million gallons of water which they probably sorely needed  :) thank you!
  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 21,064
    The shady roots thing is a myth.  What they need is moisture and nutrients and that ends not to happen in poor, dry soils, hence the myth.

    Good luck with yours.  Watch out for slugs and snails next spring.  Fresh young clematis buds and shoots are their idea of caviar.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • pinklarapinklara Posts: 27
    thanks! Oh yes, I can imagine the slugs and snails are very keen on them. Well, I will either post a photo of some beautiful healthy flowering clems in a few years if they work out, or I shall never speak of them again and resort to some ornamental ivies  :p
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