Crav­ing clema­tis

Ontario Gardener Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Dorothy Dob­bie

There are gar­den­ers who hes­i­tate to plant clema­tis, fear­ing that, like hot­house flow­ers, they may re­quire too much knowl­edge or care. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth – they are ac­tu­ally quite ro­bust and no one can deny their beauty.

They are also long lived! Clema­tis has been known to stay bloom­ingly healthy un­til age 80-plus!

Clema­tis, un­like most other vines, of­fers us an end­less se­lec­tion of stun­ning bloom from spring right through fall. We tend to think of the large flow­ered types or per­haps the shy lit­tle wild clema­tis that pro­duce those stun­ning seed heads after bloom­ing, but va­ri­eties come with large, showy, sin­gle flow­ers to stun­ning dou­bles, elfin caps, bells and even flow­ers with ex­ag­ger­ated cen­tres that look like spi­ders cling­ing to petals. They can have as few as four del­i­cate petals to many mul­ti­ples of petals and the colours range from white to bril­liant red, from true blue to bright pur­ple. There are even some yel­lows in the mix and a few have bi-coloured petals.

De­sign ideas

Of­ten grown in miserly clumps on a ver­ti­cal trel­lis, we too sel­dom take ad­van­tage of the de­sign pos­si­bil­i­ties for these vines. Cre­ative gar­den­ers might grow them through the branches of a tree ( C. mon­tana is par­tic­u­larly good at this) or a shrub. Plant mul­ti­ple vines in a row to al­low them clam­ber over the length of a fence or wall. In­ter­plant them with an­other vine or even a climb­ing rose.

Plant­ing and feed­ing

Con­trary to what many be­lieve, clema­tis is not fussy and is rel­a­tively easy to grow if you fol­low a cou­ple of sim­ple rules.

• Clema­tis needs its roots to be cool and moist. You can ac­com­plish this by plant­ing a shrub in front of the vine to keep the sun off the root zone, by mulching or even shad­ing the area with a large rock.

• Plant clema­tis deeply, with at least six to eight inches of stem below grade. This will help keep the roots cool. For max­i­mum safety, pre­pare a plant­ing hole 18 inches deep and wide then fill the bot­tom with com­post cov­ered by soil and a hand­ful of bone meal. The stem needs to be ma­ture (not green) when buried to this depth.

• Clema­tis, for the most part, en­joys a good feed­ing in early spring just when the new shoots be­gin to grow. Use a gen­eral pur­pose, gran­u­lar fer­til­izer and dig it into the soil in the root zone. You can mulch with com­post or ma­nure, be­ing sure to stay away from the stems. Wa­ter in well. Con­tinue feed­ing weekly with a wa­ter sol­u­ble fer­til­izer in the usual way un­til bloom­ing.


An­other won­der­ful thing about clema­tis is that many va­ri­eties are tol­er­ant of part to full shade and, in­deed, some need shade to max­i­mize their colour po­ten­tial. The sun-lovers gen­er­ally re­quire four to six hours of good light ev­ery day. Morn­ing sun­light is ideal.


For most clema­tis, prun­ing is un­nec­es­sary. In colder zones, the plant will freeze off any­way and re-grow from the ground up or from wher­ever it was pro­tected un­der the snow.

Clema­tis is cat­e­go­rized into three groups ac­cord­ing to bloom­ing time and whether it blooms on old wood, new and old wood or just new wood.

• Group I blooms in early spring on old wood. Its buds were set the pre­vi­ous fall.

• Group II blooms in late spring early sum­mer again on old wood. They are re­peat bloomers and will pro­duce more blos­soms in late sum­mer or fall on new wood.

• Group III is the hardi­est for some of the colder cli­mates. This type blooms on new wood pro­duced in the same sea­son and pro­duces its flow­ers in sum­mer or even fall. This type will com­pletely die back over win­ter and can be pruned back to 12 inches with­out dam­age.

Over the past num­ber of years many more va­ri­eties are be­ing grown in the colder re­gions, but if you want to try the large-flow­ered, ten­der mon­tanas (Zone 6) de­tach them from their sup­port, lay vines on the ground and cover them with straw or some other warm win­ter pro­tec­tion to pre­serve the ten­der stems.

Con­tainer grow­ing

Clema­tis can do well in con­tain­ers un­der the right con­di­tions.

Choose a large, deep con­tainer, larger than 18 inches wide and 18 inches deep, so you can deep-plant your clema­tis. The pot should be heavy enough to sup­port a trel­lis and you will want to avoid metal or any­thing that heats up. Re­mem­ber, cool roots are im­por­tant and so is mois­ture. One-part coir to six parts soil is a good pot­ting medium to keep the mois­ture in, but clema­tis also re­quire good drainage, so don’t overdo the coir and make sure you have a nice layer of stone on the bot­tom or feet on the con­tainer to keep the pot out of the wa­ter that drains through.

In the cold­est cli­mates, place the con­tainer un­der some ev­er­greens or wher­ever a heavy snow col­lects and thaws lat­est for ad­di­tional in­su­la­tion.

What bugs clema­tis

Clema­tis is a plant blessed with few prob­lems, which is an­other rea­son to love it. Oc­ca­sion­ally, it will be at­tacked by mildew and there is a con­di­tion called clema­tis wilt that some­times fells stems of young plants, but all you do is cut off the af­fected stem.

Other than that, slugs and ear­wigs are their in­sect en­e­mies and that’s about it.

Close-up of a clema­tis blos­som.

Clema­tis ' Alpine Willy'.

Clema­tis 'Nelly Moser'.

Clema­tis 'Ville de Lyon'.

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