Clematis is a deciduous climbing vine, often with spectacular blooms and lush foliage, that is both hardy and long lived. It is available in small, scented varieties or the larger, but unscented, varieties. Both have attractive, feathery seed pods when blooming is finished. Interestingly, this member of the buttercup (Rananculaceae) family is actually composed of sepals, not true petals.
There are many different varieties of clematis, which are not difficult to grow if you meet their basic requirements. Despite a reputation for being finicky, their needs are quite simple: rich, well-drained soil on the limey side and plenty of sun.
Clematis grows in many regions from Zone 3–8 in the US, though not uniformly well everywhere. It grows moderately fast, but not usually so fast that you'll see rapid, abundant growth in a single season.
It likes sun and does best in locations where it receives at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. Clematis tolerates a little shade well, especially in the afternoon so the base of the plant and its roots aren't baked in the sun. The afternoon shade extends bloom time by preventing the sun from bleaching out the flowers and losing color, which is especially noticeable with darker blossoms. Locations with southern exposures with afternoon shade and eastern exposures with full sun up to early afternoon are usually conducive to a happy vine.
Soil should be rich, loamy, and well drained. Clematis are typically heavy feeders, especially when plants are becoming established, so mulching with compost once in the spring and again in the fall should keep plants vigorous and healthy. For new transplants, amend soil with bone meal and plenty of well-rotted manure or leaf compost.
Clematis like cool roots so plan a means to shade the ground over their roots. You can add cover plantings or additional mulch. Cultivation should be shallow so as to avoid damaging the roots.
Keep your plant moist, but not wet. Mulching with compost ensures that the plant will stay cool, moist, and well nourished.
If your plant looks a little peckish, you can fertilize with a light feeding of a well-balanced fertilizer and see if that gives it the boost it needs.
Different varieties of clematis do best when appropriately supported. They will climb trellises, walls, and fences so plan support structures when you plant. The best support depends on the eventual weight of the plant, so research your variety.
It's generally a good rule of thumb to take out dead or diseased growth whenever you notice it. Other pruning depends on the type of plant and when it blooms.
Prune for shape. Some gardeners cut back every few years to strengthen the plant and maintain that this is all the care that's required.
Be careful to avoid splitting the wood. Make clean pruning cuts near eye or leaf bud with sharp shears.
Planting clematis often requires a bit more care and thought than many other plants. Start with an older, well-rooted plant. Prepare the soil and amend as necessary. Plant in the desired location in the autumn after all growth and flowering is completed.
If you don't know the soil pH, purchase a soil test kit at the nursery and test the soil before you put your clematis in. This provides a good opportunity to add amendments to alter pH and improve drainage if necessary.
Bury the crown about 2–3 inches below the soil surface. Use very sharp shears to prune stems back to the largest low eye or pair of buds. This forces root development and makes a stronger plant.
Consider how you want to train your clematis. They get quite long and will overtake other plantings and shrubs, which can produce a cottage effect or look unkempt. It all depends on your landscape style. If you want an arbor or trellis, build your structure first so as to avoid disturbing your clematis's root system. If you are using an arbor or trellis, set the structure so you can plant your clematis on the north side where it will be cool and moist. The vine will grow through the structure then to take advantage of the sun. This arrangement makes for a happy clematis.
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