Gardening with an Eye to the Future: Growing Clematis

Gardeners these days are spoiled.  You can go to several available nurseries from Wal-Mart to Calloways and pick from a wide assortment of plants all just waiting to be planted in that special spot just in time to burst into bloom a week later like you are a master gardener with a thumb so green it makes a leprechaun blush.  But some things are worth the wait.  Clematis is one of those.

Clematis is a gentle, unassuming vine that is not invasive, won’t choke the life out of anything it starts to climb, and unlike wisteria, won’t pull the gutters off your roof.  The blooms in the spring (or fall depending on the cultivar) are spectacular.  They can be single-petaled like these dinner-plate sized beauties or breathtaking multiples like the white Duchess of Edinburgh Clematis below.  The thing is that Clematis are tricky.  Here is what I have learned about them:

1. Roots in the shade, head in the sun.  Clematis bloom in full sun but their roots like to stay cool.  That’s why they are considered to be ideal companions for roses since the evergreen leaves of the roses will shade the base of the clematis and hide the bare vines in the winter.  I don’t mind the bare vines so I like to showcase these beauties on an old wrought iron gate or trellis.  Just be sure to mulch well and even though they are rated zones 5-10 (depending on the cultivar) they appreciate more shade in the South.

2. Be patient.  Clematis are slow starters.  It will take a few years before the vine is strong enough to bear a respectable number of blossoms.

3. The bigger the bloom, the fewer the flowers.  But oh what flowers there will be!  Consider mixing small blossomed cultivars that break out in thousands of blooms to the giant beauties with only 10-30 dinner plate sized blooms.

4. Once established, Clematis are not picky about fertilizer or dry spells (I am not talking about desert conditions though)  Since they are usually companion plants to other flowering shrubs and perennials, they will adapt to the watering and fertilizer schedules of whatever is growing there as well.

5.  NEVER, and this is key; NEVER EVER disturb the vines or transplant them unless absolutely necessary.  This is never mentioned in anything online or in print that I have read about Clematis but here is what I know: Clematis vines are very fragile and tend to snap with any pressure.  Has anyone else had this experience?  It can take years to recover from an accidental trampling or even a well-meaning relocation.  (Though this is not true for Sweet Autumn Clematis which is more viney and evergreen and blooms in the fall.)

Below are some pics of some of my Clematis vines which are anywhere from 2-6 years old.  Enjoy.

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