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CLEMATIS:  GROWING & COLLECTING

--- Anne K Moore July 24, 2009 ---
Photos by Anne K Moore ---

Whether you pronounce it CLEM-a-tis or clem-AH-tis, this vine, with its many cultivars, should clamber all over your garden.

Wise gardener gurus have always said that these vines should have their feet in shade and their heads in the sun.  If you mulch around the roots, as any good gardener would do, the roots will have the cooler, moister conditions they need without the competition from evergreens or other plants placed almost on top of them.

Competition doesn't seem to bother them much, though.  One of the best uses is to send them up small trees or climbing rose bushes.  The vines are lightweight and not heavily foliaged, so they don't tend to smother plants they use as a trellis.

Clematis makes a good mailbox vine, since they don't get terribly tall.  Their twining habit and delicate tendrils are easily manipulated.  This calm habit can be used to advantage even on the ground.  The vines can be left to form a small mound on the edge of the foundation planting.

Here in the sunny South, the foliage on my large flowered clematis does suffer some edge browning when the summer sun hits the vines full force.  Full shade doesn't work to save foliage color, though.  Those I've tried in full shade struggle to climb and don't bloom.  A mix of morning sunshine, noontime shade, and early evening sun works best.

Clematis comes in flower types to meet everyone's criteria.  You can have large, what used to be touted as dinner plate size, flowers on once blooming or multiple blooming vines. 

Alternatively, choose the small jingle-bell species flowers, the little jewels that will rebloom.  Hang these little ones near walkways where they will surprise you and your guests with their cheery bobbing bells.

Give clematis fertile well-drained garden soil.  If you have acid soil, mix lime into the topsoil, a cup at planting and 1/2 cup each year after.  Also, add a top-dressing of compost every year.  Plant the crown about three inches below ground.  Keep the vines consistently watered.

One of the mysteries of clematis growing is when or if to prune the vines.  There are three pruning groups associated with clematis.  The pruning groups are based on when the clematis vine flowers.  A little word of warning:  Don't cut the vines off at soil level.  Many won't grow back.

Pruning Group 1:  Spring blooming clematis set flowers on old growth.  Lightly prune them about a month after the flowers go by.  Only prune them to keep them in shape, heading back the side branches.  Leave the main stems.  Montana is in this group (zones 6-9).

Pruning Group 2:  Rebloomers should only have light pruning done in late fall or early spring since they set flowers on both old and new wood.  Just pinch or prune to keep them in bounds.  'Nelly Moser', 'Will Goodwin', and 'Henrii' are in this pruning group (Zones 4-9).

Pruning Group 3:  These are both the large flowered types and the little bells.  Summer and fall blooming clematis will blossom on new spring growth.  Prune them in early spring as the buds begin to swell.  Cut back to within six to twelve inches of the ground, leaving at least two to three sets of strong leaf buds.  The big purple flowered 'Jackmanii' and the little bell Integrifolia is in this group (Zones 4-9).


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