First- Don't worry! Clematis are not as hard to grow as you may think. They are easier to prune than you think, too! Follow the simple guide below to help you get started and to tell you about some really neat ways to turn your Clematis Vines into beautiful features in your garden!
For Beginners- Nothing is more satisfying than seeing your efforts pay off with a plant covered in flowers year after year! Clematis can be a part of any size garden and they live for very many years. However, you may have heard that they are difficult to grow. You may have heard that they require complex pruning to bloom each year. Let me assure you that you don't need to be intimidated by this beautiful vine. Most varieties are vigorous, hardy and easy to grow. There are a few finicky varieties in the Large Flowered Types, but you can start today with some very rewarding varieties listed here: Clematis viticella Polish Spirit is our favorite of this type. It blooms heavily in summer with rich purple flowers similar to Clematis Jackmanii (the most famous variety in the world). Just plant, mulch and water as you would other plants in your garden and prune it back to about two feet each spring. Clematis montana Rubens is a wonderful vine in flower as well as in foliage! Each spring the vine is covered in rich pink flowers with an unmistakable vanilla scent. The leaves emerge with a bronzy-purple color and mature to a deep green. This one is even easier than the others to grow. Don't bother to prune it at all except when you want to shape it up a bit. So, there you have three great varieties that bloom in three different seasons and have three different colors! Why not try all three? Don't think you have the room? If you have an old fence or mailbox you'd like to spruce up, you've got the room. You can also combine them with your other garden plants. Read the section below on Training for more great ways to use your Clematis vines!
Planting- Since Clematis live up to 50 years or more, you should take the time to plant each one carefully. Water the pot well before planting. This is an important step for any planting. Once you have selected a location, dig a hole at least twice as big as the pot and twice as deep. In areas with poor drainage, consider a larger hole or mounding up from the ground a bit. Mix some of the soil from the hole with a good topsoil and compost if you wish. The exact proportions will vary by your soil conditions. Backfill some of the hole with this mix. Remove the clematis from its pot by first pushing up on the bottom of the pot and then sliding it out sideways into your other hand. Never pull on the vine or its training stake to remove it. If it doesn't slide out easily, you may roll it gently one half turn on the ground while pushing down (be gentle) to loosen the sides. Clematis roots naturally run deep, so you will notice that most of the roots are in the lower half of the pot. You may gently tease some of the roots away from the sides but be gentle.
Place the clematis on the backfill and look at the soil line of the plant and the ground. The clematis should be about two inches lower than the ground. This keeps the roots cooler and provides buds below ground if the vine should suffer a disease or infestation and you need to cut it back. Every clematis we sell has buds below the soil line, but we'd like you to plant deeply for extra protection. Fill the rest of the hole and over the top of the pot's soil line with the mix you made earlier. Don't cart the extra away until after you water the plant thoroughly. Sometimes the settling soil can leave the vine exposed. After all filling and watering are done, you should mulch your clematis carefully. This can be done with composted pine bark or other mulches, but you can also use stones. This is important because clematis need ample moisture to grow their best and mulch can help the soil retain moisture. Also, be sure to go back and water new plantings regularly during the first growing season. This will help them get off to a great start!
Some clematis will establish very quickly and flower within a year of planting. Others take a little longer, but they're worth the wait!
Training- Some folks think of mailboxes and lampposts when they consider Clematis. These are two great ways to feature your vines. However, over the centuries gardeners have found dozens of beautiful ways to add Clematis to their gardens. A trellis is certainly a way to get a Clematis to cover up a bare wall or an unsightly view, but they can just as easily be trained into a shrub! Try a summer flowering variety like Clematis Comtesse de Bouchaud to add life to a forsythia whose spring show has long since faded. Or try combining complimentary colors like Clematis Candida and red roses! You can even mix different colors of Clematis together for a great show or to extend flowering season. No matter where you grow them all they need is a little guidance and the occasional twist-tie secured loosely until the vine grabs on by itself.
Some types of Clematis aren't vines at all and can find a good home in your perennial border. Clematis integrifolia is a cute perennial with lovely blue flowers that would look great anywhere. Clematis heracleifolia is a stout, almost shrub-like perennial that also flowers blue and has leaves with a great texture. Clematis mandschurica is a rare cousin to Sweet Autumn Clematis that is a perennial with the same starry white flowers as its bigger relative. But don't leave the perennial bed yet! The British are known to allow even the vining types into the border. They let them (sometimes with a little guidance) scramble around the perennials like streamers filling in the open spots. Clematis Nelly Moser would be excellent for a partly shady perennial combination. You can even use Clematis as a ground cover!
There are plenty of ways to grow Clematis on structures in your yard. Try training a Clematis Ernest Markham up each side of your front door. Sweet Autumn Clematis would provide summer shade overhead on a lattice over your back door. The old fence would brighten right up with a Clematis montana Grandiflora draped over it. Imagine your plain old bushes with a splash of red Clematis Madame Julia Correvon or your dogwood brought back to life in late summer with white flowered Clematis vitalba.
Many of the Large Flowered Types make great container plants as well. Try Clematis Dr Ruppel in a big pot on your patio or deck. You can plant small annuals around the base of the pot, too! Clematis General Sikorski's blue flowers look great combined with white flowered impatiens or petunias. Just remember to use a large container, mulch your Clematis and be sure to remember to water it regularly.
The possibilities are only limited by your imagination! Look around your yard with these ideas in mind and I'm sure you'll find lots of ways to use the "Queen of Climbers".
Pests- Clematis can get many of the same pest infestations as your other garden plants. Light infestations of insects and mildews can be treated with sprays suggested by your local garden center. A heavy infestation may be best treated by hard pruning of your vine. Landfill or burn the pruned parts. Do not throw them into the back corner of your yard or compost them. Slugs can be a problem on young vines at times. Encourage toads to live in your garden by providing them with cover or set a low jar of beer a couple of feet from your vines. There are chemical baits available for them as well. Usually the problems are minor and a little care is all you need to return the vine to its full beauty. The only major disease affects the Large Flowered Types and is called Clematis Wilt. When a vine is infected, one or more stems mysteriously wilt and die. If this happens, cut several inches below the dead stem or stems with sanitized pruning shears and landfill all of the debris. If the entire vine is infected, trim it to the ground. This is one of the reasons they should be planted deeply. New buds will arise from the crown underground. If you continue to have problems with Wilt or live in an area known to be badly affected by it, consider many of the fine species like the viticellas, alpinas and montanas. They are highly resistant to Clematis Wilt.
Pruning- OK, now, don't worry! This is easier than you think. There is a very simple rule to follow when pruning your Clematis. Just use the flowers as a guide. Clematis flowering is divided into three major groups: spring (1), early summer (2) and late summer/fall (3). If you know when it flowers, you can choose when to trim it. There are also ways to make some of them change their bloom time, but that gets more complicated and I promised simplicity!
Group 1 Clematis flower in spring on buds from last year's growth. They actually don't need to be pruned at all but you may want to tidy them up from time to time. The best time to prune them is just after flowering. Shape them up or remove crowded or damaged branches. You can also guide new growth to a new position by trimming and tying branches at this time.
Group 2 Clematis begin flowering in early summer from last year's growth as well as flowering later on short canes from new growth (in most cases). These should be pruned in spring before new growth begins. Look for fat, healthy buds on sturdy branches. They usually begin 1 to 2 feet down from the top of the vine. Make your cuts just above these healthiest buds. You may notice that you are cutting away some healthy canes, but you will be giving preference to the buds that will produce the best growth and flowers for you. At this time, trim away crowded and damaged branches, too.
Group 3 Clematis flower later in summer and into fall. They form flowers on new growth each year. For the best display and neatest look, they should be pruned back hard each spring to about two feet off the ground. However, if you are training one of these into a tree or onto an overhead arbor they should be left much longer. Look for fat, healthy buds on sturdy canes and make your cut just above them. The branches may be guided and tied to new positions now also.
Herbaceous Clematis don't fit into the 3 groups mentioned above. They die back to the ground every year and all dead growth should be removed. They should be handled the same as perennials. The exception to this is Clematis heracleifolia which will die back to about 6 inches. Find the buds swelling in spring and trim just above them.
No matter which Clematis you choose, they will bring many years of beautiful blooms to your garden! Many can even be cut and used in arrangements or put in a vase. Try floating several in a shallow bowl for an interesting centerpiece. Their beauty and versatility truly make Clematis the Queen of Climbers!
On our site, Clematis are listed with updated hardiness guidelines. The American Clematis Society has made great progress recently in disproving the traditional hardiness limits used in most literature. Based in hot, Southern California, they have been successfully growing most varieties with beautiful results!
There are also many ways to extend the northern range of Clematis. Heavy mulching and/or planting in protected locations can raise the hardiness limit by a zone or more. Use a south facing wall with winter sun to create a slightly warmer climate in your yard.
So, relax and enjoy the site. And remember, anywhere we ship, there are Clematis for you!