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Past Articles Library | An Arbor Favorite-The Clematis

The clematis is a relatively new plant in the horticulture scene.  Up to the 1850s, there was not much interest in this plant.  Then, plant breeding brought about a more marketable plant and this breeding continued through the 1890s.  In the 1880s, interest in this plant began to die.  Plant breeders were beginning to run out of ideas that in the past had set this plant apart and plant disease was taking its toll on the remaining plants.

Today, interest in the clematis is resurfacing.  Hybrids have been developed that are more “wilt” resistant, very hardy, and produce smaller but more abundant flowers.

The term “clematis” comes from the Greek word meaning vine.  It belongs to a genus that includes 250 species, which can be described as woody, deciduous, climbing plants but some can also be described as evergreen and herbaceous.

The clematis can be divided into three groups.  Group A is classified as early-flowering clematis.  Group B contains the large-flowered hybrids while Group C houses the late-flowering clematis.

Today, we have available to the gardening community many clematises that are hardy to USDA zone 3.

 Clematis Care

Prior to purchasing your clematis, a little “garden work” will need to occur.  The garden space where you plan on planting your clematis will need to be worked.  For every clematis you plan to plant, you will need to prepare a three-foot square space of garden.  To this space, you will need to amend the soil down two feet with compost and/or seasoned manure.

Once this has been completed, it is time to purchase your clematis.  This plant can be found in seed catalogues and nurseries.  Many are container grown because they do not do well if their roots are disturbed.

When purchasing your clematis, make sure the container it is in is full of roots, it is multi-stemmed and the stem and leaves are dark green, and the plant is in general good health.

This plant can also be purchased in bare-root form but if it is purchased this way only plant it while it is still dormant or in the early spring.

To begin the planting process of a container grown clematis, starts with the hole.  Dig the hole so that the container can fit inside.  Once that is done, cut the clematis back until it is only 12 inches in height and then remove the plant from the container.  Place the clematis in the hole so that the crown is one to two inches below the soil level and then back fill.  Water in and adjust soil level as needed.

If you are planting a bare-rooted clematis, prepare the soil as above and soak the plant in water for one hour. Then continue with the above process.

Once it is planted, place a chicken wire or hardware cloth protective collar around the plant.  This will protect it from animals, mowers, and trimmers.

Clematis plants like a cool soil so consider adding a living ground cover, underplant with perennials and/or cover the soil surface with mulch.

Once this is done, it is time to add the trellising material.  Clematis will grow up really anything.  Stonewalls and fencing are two of the most unusual ways of supporting a clematis while a simple trellis is the most common.  Arbors and pergolas are used for the largest and more aggressively growing clematises. 

Pruning is another chore that will need to be done but before you can do it correctly one will need to know what type of clematis they have planted.  Early-flowering clematis requires no new growth to flower.  In doing so, this type of clematis needs to be pruned right after they bloom.  Large-flowered clematis flower on last year’s growth.  Prune this type of clematis in February or March.  Late-flowering clematis needs to be pruned back to a height of two to three feet in February or March.

Knowing your clematis variety and following the above planting steps will help you have a long and healthy relationship with this climbing favorite.


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When to Water

If you can, it is always best to water early in the morning. This allows the plant's leaves and flowers to dry off as the day warms up.

If you water at night, the plant stays wet for hours in the cool, which are prime conditions for fungi and other problems to set in.

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