Pruning Climbing Plants

How to prune climbing plants ?

I know, pruning climbing plants often seems complicated, especially if you have never pruned the climber you planted three years ago, and it has now grown wild and beyond your original plans (or imagination for that matter). Well, I’m happy to be the one to tell you that pruning climbers isn’t such a complex job. In fact, it’s easy. All you need to remember is that there is always a pattern, especially when it comes to plants. It’s really about what you would you like to achieve. So think, what was your original plan? What were you wanting to achieve when you planted your climber? 

First thing first

 Identify your climber's climbing style

Before pruning climbing plants - there are 3 types of climbing styles you should be aware of:

  1. Those who need help and support to climb.(Ex Wisteria)
  2. Those who climb by themselves using their vines (Ex.Pasiflora)
  3. Those who climb by themselves using their tendrils.(Ex.Ivi)

Plus there are 2 more groups: the deciduous and the evergreens.

After identifying yours, scroll down and look for the headline that will answer your ‘pruning climbing plants’ questions.

General Pruning Guidelines 

Plan your moves

Pruning climbing plants (When) – As promised, this is easy! It doesn't matter if you want to prune hard or just cut back your climber by half or a third of its growth, please make sure your pruning plans don’t start before early spring, and mark on your calendar to be sure your latest pruning task doesn’t take place less than 6 - 8 weeks (at least) before frost. I told you there was a pattern to pruning – all you need is to understand it.

If you’re pruning climbing plants in winter you should only remove dead, broken, and rotten branches. 

Bottom line: between early spring and early fall you can basically prune as much as you like, or as much as you think your plan would like.

OK. Now let’s talk about the plants…

Pruning climbing plants that need

a little help and support

Plan your pruning –  The climber in the picture is young, and so the only thing you should prune (if at all) is the long branch laying on the floor at the end of the blue line.

As you can imagine, the owners wanted the climber to grow over of the pergola and provide shade one day in the future. Which is why I decided to plant the climber next to the wooden pillar, but rather help it climb up a special rope. Anyway, back to pruning and that low hanging branch – you can either prune it and leave a clean stem on the lower part of the plant, or you can pick it up, wrap it, and tie it to the other branches. If you decide to prune and remove it, please be sure to prune as close as you can to the stem

So, if the plan is to encourage growth that will eventually cover the top of the pergola, than pruning only the lower branches only will help you get there. Plus, in the future the trunk of the climber will take on an "antique look" which makes it look very special.

In summary – The aim of pruning climber plants, especially young climbers is usually to encourage growth. So be sure to mostly prune the lower part of the plant, and when it reaches the top of the pergola, add pruning dry leaves and flowers to your routine.

Pruning climbing plants that use their vines to climb

Plan and prune – OK, so admit, in this case, I’ve kinda’ lost it! I left the climber for a while and it basically took over everything. Although I personally like the bench, table, wild climber combination, it has lost control to the point where you can’t see a plant, it’s all just a big mess. 

How and what to prune - Actually, in this case, I think I’ll wait for spring and simply start over. I’ll prune close to the upper part of the wall, allowing enough length for a better starting point for the climber to renew its growth. Most of the work here is to UN tie the climber the other shrubs it has intertwined with, but that’s my fault, I let it grow wild. So it did! 

Pruning Spot - As​ always, it doesn't matter what size the stem is, prune close to and just above the bud (patterns again). And make sure to prune at the spot from which you would like to see new growth.

General guide line - If you have kept your climbers growth under control (not like me), you can choose 3 - 6 main stems to follow and support. Remember, the how and what are totally up to you.


My personal recommendation

My preferred pruning shears for climbing plants would be bypass pruners that can handle the woody parts. For the soft upper branches I would use small gentle shears. 

Climbing plants climb by themselves 

with the help of their tendrils

Plan and prune – Not much to say about these guys. We can assume in this case that the basic plan was to cover something, or maybe build a kind of hedge. 

How and what to prune – There are two pruning methods you can chose from here. The one is to use pruning shears, and trim the plant like a hedge. Meaning you cut off leaves but keep the shape. Or, you can use hand pruning shears to prune the stems that have stretched out and covered windows, drainage holes etc...

Pruning spot – As​ always, it doesn't matter what size the stem is, prune close to and just above the bud (patterns again). And make sure to prune at the spot from which you would like to see new growth.


Planning ahead

Planning - In this specific garden the owners wanted a complete separation from their neighbors on the left. So we planted fruits and flowers, evergreens, and plants that require little or low maintenance.

Although the passionfruit is not exactly the evergreen plant that the owner had wished for, I still recommended we use it. Knowing that in winter, while it had no leaves, the back side of the house was visited less, while in the summer it was beautiful!

Pruning -  Besides helping the passion fruit grab hold of the fence in order to climb up, the owner only pruned the lower stems.  

Providing general guidelines on 'how to prune' any kind of plant is important, but there are plants, and there is YOUR plant. So despite there being loads of information on this site, I also provide specific and personalized support. If something wasn't clear, or you're not sure of your plant's name, simply send me a picture with your question. Use the form below and I'll get back to you. In the mean time, see what others are asking.