How to Care for Clematis During the Winter Season
Clematis are relatively cold-hardy, with most growing in USDA zones 4 to either 8 or 9. They require little winter care—unless your area is expecting a hard freeze and the clematis vines have already put out new growth, in which case you will want to provide some protection from the cold.
The most common winter task for clematis (Clematis, spp.) is pruning—but only if your clematis is classified as a member of Pruning Group 3, which is the type that blooms only on new growth.
Clematis Pruning Groups
Any credible source providing information on clematis vines will detail how to prune clematis based on the three clematis pruning groups. The type of clematis you have specifically dictates its pruning schedule, which is key to proper care. Here’s a summary:
Pruning Group I
This group is the easiest to prune because it needs almost no pruning! These are usually early bloomers with flowers that grow only on old wood; if you do prune these, you may be pruning off the wood on which next year’s flowers will appear. If a clematis in this group begins to look scraggly or like a tangled thicket, prune off messy branches or cut it back only after it has flowered, usually in spring.
Pruning Group 2
As the “2” in this group's name suggests, this group of clematis can bloom twice during the growing season, which complicates its pruning schedule somewhat. The first bloom will be in spring on old, woody stems produced last year, while the second will be in summer on the current season’s growth.
Similar to those in group 1, prune off dead or damaged growth right after the spring flowering period.
Pruning Group 3
By far the easiest clematis plants to prune, vines in group 3 bloom only on new wood, usually flowering in spring or early summer, although some can flower into late summer.
In late winter or early spring—but before new shoots appear—prune these stems all the way back to the base of the plant.
Winter Protection for Clematis in Cold Climates
Like other tender perennials, clematis may need protection in the winter months from hard freezes if it has already produced new growth or if you expect the temperature to dip below those in a given clematis’ growing zone. Again, most clematis are hardy down to zone 4, which means that if your area is expecting temperatures below -20 to -30°F, your clematis will need protection.
A container-grown clematis is particularly susceptible to cold damage because plants growing in containers can require warmer temps than those in the ground, typically two full zones warmer than a landscape-grown plant.
To provide protection, pile mulch around the base of the clematis to protect the roots. Then, wrap the branches and stems in a protective covering, such as burlap, plastic packaging material, straw, leaves, or sheets and blankets. You can use a structure such as a tomato cage or other type of wire cage around the vine and then drape the sheet or burlap over the cage.
When the weather warms, be sure to remove any piled mulch or material from the base of the plant to avoid conditions conducive to root rot.
- Keep clematis well-watered until the plants die back naturally in late fall. Plants that have suffered no drought stress are more likely to overwinter successfully.
I garden in the Pacific North west, previously Hawaii where I had an avocado orchard. I have a Master Gardeners certificate here in Eugene, Oregon.