How to Save a Withering Clematis

Expert advice on how to combat clematis wilt in your garden.


Clematis in bloom

Hardy clematis can sometimes fall victim to a fungus.


By Ann Wied, Brookfield, Wisconsin

Have you had difficulty with clematis blooming beautifully at the beginning of spring, but seeing leaves start to turn brown  or black, despite fertilizing?

If so, clematis wilt, a fungal disease, could be to blame, especially if you’re seeing the plant wilt and the entire stem die. Sometimes spots appear on leaves or stems just before the wilt. Clematis wilt can occur at any time, but usually happens just as flower buds begin to open.

Plants usually recover from clematis wilt the next year, if you prune out and destroy the wilted brown leaf and stem portions in late fall. Otherwise, the fungus can overwinter and then re-infect new spring growth.

Other possibilities that could be causing the difficulty: drought, overwatering, overfertilizing or a combination of those factors. Be sure to mulch the plants and keep the soil moist, especially in very hot weather, but avoid overwatering. Also be careful not to overfertilize


About our expert: Ann Wied is consumer horticulture educator for the UW-Extension in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. She teaches gardeners through workshops, hands-on gardening programs and presentations. Ann has a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and agricultural journalism.

Nancy E Edwards 1 August 11, 2013 at 2:37 pm

My plant has bloomed . . . should I trim the excess off after they have bloomed? Will they bloom all summer into the fall?


sharon 2 August 12, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Clematis plants fall into three major pruning categories depending on whether they flower on old wood (previous year’s growth) or new wood (current year’s growth). Not knowing what kind of clematis you have makes it difficult for me to give you pruning recommendations or tell you if your clematis will bloom again this year. Here is some pruning information for the three groups:
Category #1 Does your clematis flower during winter or early to late spring on old wood (last year’s growth) ? If so, your clematis does not require any major pruning. If however, your plants have outgrown their space or need tidying up, you can do some pruning after flowering has ended.
Catgegory #2 Some clematis have two flushs of flowers. The first appears early summer on old growth (wood last year’s growth); the second flush appears during late summer on new growth (current year’s wood). Clematis in this group does not need major pruning, but prune out all dead or weak stems in late spring.
Category #3 Clematis flowers on current year’s growth after early summer. This type is often referred to as midsummer or late-flowering clematis. These plants need annual pruning in late winter or early spring. Rule of thumb is to cut back all the old stems to the lowest pair of live buds.

There are many varieties of clematis. If you know the cultivar or variety that you have, that can also help you to get additional information on your specific plant. If you are not sure of the cultivar or variety or what group your clematis falls into, do not prune or only do minimal pruning this year and make notes next year when and where it flowers (on last year’s growth or the current year’s growth). That will help your determine when and how much to prune.


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