A Guide to Growing and Caring for Clematis

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You’ve probably spotted this plant sprawling over fences and running up the side of houses. Its striking flowers and elegant vining habit make it instantly recognizable. Growing clematis is as easy as can be and oh so rewarding.

In fact, once you start growing clematis, I bet you won’t be able to stop with just one. By the time you know it, you’ll be searching for new varieties to try!

This guide gives you a headstart into the exciting world of this plant, including varieties, how to plant them, and pests and diseases to watch for. Let’s dig in!

A Bit About Clematis

A Guide to Growing and Caring for Clematis

The extensive options when it comes to clematis (Clematis spp.) can make it overwhelming to choose one for growing in your space. If you are just starting with this type of plant, it’s hard to know which one is best for your garden.

For example, what color would you like? Do you want large, eye-catching flowers? Or, do you prefer flowers with a subtle, delicate look? There is a clematis to suit any taste.

Clematis climbing plants are divided into three separate groups. Group one blooms in the spring and has small flowers. Group two is the most common type, with big flowers during spring and summer. Finally, group three blooms in summer and fall.

To keep it simple and to help you decide on the best type of clematis to grow on your property, here are some great options:

Elizabeth

Clematis montana was. rubens ‘Elizabeth’ produces stunning pale, pink petals that give off a fragrant vanilla scent. You can expect the air to smell sweet and fruity during spring and summer when the petals on ‘Elizabeth’ bloom.

It grows ten feet tall in Zones 6-9 and is a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Award of Merit winner.

Jackmanii

Introduced in 1862, Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ is a hybrid that features dark purple flowers that appear from July to September. It’s excellent for growing against walls and fences and reaches 12 feet tall.

Hardy in Zones 4-11, it’s another RHS Award of Merit winner and a beloved classic that has become one of the most popular options out there.

Golden Tiara

Clematis ‘Golden Tiara’ has large yellow petals and fluffy seedheads that will sprinkle magic into your garden. It’s common to find birds building their nests in the branches and butterflies visiting the blossoms.

If you’re looking to attract some wildlife into your space, ‘Golden Tiara’ is a good option to encourage animal visitors. It’s a late summer bloomer suitable for Zones 4-9 and grows up to 25 feet tall.

Comtesse de Bouchaud

One of the most popular and easy to care for clematises, it’s an RHS Award of Garden Merit winner that blooms in early to late summer with massive pink and lavender blossoms. The petals have ruffled edges that add to the elegant look.

moonlight

With pale white and lavender flowers with ruffled petals, ‘Claire de Lune’ is a beauty with large, showy flowers. Grow in Zones 4-9.

A Guide to Growing and Caring for Clematis

How to Plant Clematis

For most clematis plants, the best conditions are in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9, though you can find options that grow outside these Zones.

Clematis plants must have full sun to partial shade exposure. If you want flowers, and of course you do, you should avoid shady locations as this will stunt their growth and prevent them from producing a big display.

All clematis plants need enough space to grow as they mature. As climbing clematis will latch onto surrounding areas, you want to ensure they have the right amount of space to explore and not smother other plants nearby.

The space you need depends on the cultivar, but most grow at least 10 feet tall and often just as wide.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to start clematis from seed. It takes a lot of time, may require cold stratification, and isn’t reliable. Stick to purchasing plants at your local nursery.

Preparing the Soil

The next phase of the planting stage is preparing the soil for the rootball. The ideal time for planting clematis is in the spring or mid-autumn. You need well-draining, moisture-retentive soil.

If you don’t already have this, mix compost or well-rotted manure into the ground to improve drainage and water retention (and add extra nutrients).

After selecting the area and preparing the soil, you can put the clematis into the ground. Dig a hole that is about a third wider and deeper than the container the plant comes in. This helps give the roots plenty of space to expand.

Place the top of the root ball so it’s 2-3 inches below the soil. Remove any branches or leaves that are now at or below soil level. Fill back in around the root ball.

Container Growing

A Guide to Growing and Caring for Clematis

If you want to try growing clematis in a container, you can!

The first step is finding a pot that is at least 18 inches deep and wide. Similar to planting in the ground, the soil needs to be moisture-retentive. Most potting soils fit the bill.

To ensure the roots keep cool, you can place a top layer of pebbles in the container.

Don’t place the container too close to a brick or cement wall, as this will cause the soil to dry quickly and might burn the plant. There should be at least one foot between the pot and the wall.

Support Your Clematis

A Guide to Growing and Caring for Clematis

When your clematis begins to grow, it will need something to hold onto. If your clematis doesn’t have the right support system in place, it will stop growing upright and will crawl along the ground, which is not ideal if you want to have a colorful display in your garden.

This plant wraps its stems around the support, so you need something sturdy. A metal or wood trellis, obelisk, fence, or cage is perfect. You can also grow against a wall but you’ll have to affix the plant to the wall at first to help it along.

The best options for fastening a vine are twine, coated wire, or rope.

Caring for Clematis

A Guide to Growing and Caring for Clematis

As already mentioned, the clematis species will determine the minimum temperature your plant will be comfortable in. Winter hardy clematis plants can survive up to -30℉, so you can keep them in pretty cool regions. Others aren’t so cold-hardy.

Obviously, you’ll also have to give your clematis water if you don’t receive an adequate amount from Mother Nature. They need a lot of water to stay healthy and don’t do well in dry soil.

When you first plant your clematis, you should water them regularly. The soil should always feel moist but not soggy.

Adding extra water is usually essential during the warmer seasons to keep the soil moist. Once you’ve passed the initial stages of growth, the top inch or two of soil can dry out between waterings.

A good schedule would be once a week, but you can always test the soil with your finger and water more frequently if necessary. When watering clematis in containers, you might need to pay extra attention to your watering schedule.

Plants tend to dry out quicker in containers, so it’s vital that you test the soil every so often.

In addition, you can also add organic mulch to the soil surface to help retain water.

There’s some debate about whether clematis roots need to stay cool. Some people say yes and others say it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t hurt to provide some extra mulch to keep the roots cool, and you can plant them near other plants like roses to provide root shade.

Just don’t let nearby plants shade the leaves and upper parts of the plant or you won’t see any blossoms.

Feeding

Fertilizer is an excellent addition to your clematis growing routine if you want to ensure that the flowers are as big and beautiful as possible. Use a flower-specific fertilizer around the base of the plant in late winter or early spring each year.

Alternately, you can side dress twice per year with well-rotted manure or compost.

Pruning

A Guide to Growing and Caring for Clematis

Clematis need to be pruned according to their group.

Group one plants don’t need to be pruned at all, though you can give them a little trim after blooming.

Group two plants should be pruned in the late winter or early spring. You can cut back a few stems close to the ground above the first bud to encourage new and bushier growth down lower and prevent leggy growth. For the rest of the stems, just trim them back a good foot or two, ending just above a bud.

Group three plants need to be pruned hard. Cut them back two feet or so above the ground.

Common Pests and Diseases

Like many plants, clematis plants have unique diseases to worry about that can affect their overall health and ruin beautiful displays of flowers.

Clematis Slime Flux

This disease is one of the most common diseases that infect these plants.

This type of sickness is a bacterial problem that leads to wilting, foul smells, and destruction of your plant. The common signs of clematis slime flux are:

  • Yellow, wilting foliage
  • A thick, foul-smelling substance leaking from the plant
  • Stems that die

Even though there is no cure for this disease, carefully caring techniques can help prevent your plant from getting sick. Try to avoid any damage to the plant, which allows the bacteria in. This includes pest feeding, frost damage, or mechanical damage.

You should prune infected stems and destroy them to try and save the plant. In many cases, however, it’s fatal.

Clematis Wilt

This fungus disease is caused by the fungus Calophoma clematidina (syn Phoma clematidina, Ascochyta clematidina), which can be devastating for your clematis. You can notice this disease through leaf spots and discolored stems that turn black.

For prevention, add mulch to this soil. If your plant becomes ill with this disease, remove the infected stems and separate it from other plants, if possible. Unfortunately, there is no chemical treatment, so prevention is the only solution.

To prevent it, plant in full sun and appropriately spaced for the specific species or cultivar. Keep the area free of plant debris, and always try to keep your plants healthy so they can resist this disease.

Aphids

Aphids are tiny creatures and they’re difficult to spot unless they appear in large numbers. They leave behind a sticky substance as they move around the plant, which is often the first thing people notice.

To learn how to identify and treat these pests, head to our guide.

Earwigs

A Guide to Growing and Caring for Clematis

Earwigs are brown insects that feed on flowering plants, which is why they love clematis.

The best cure is to check on your plants as much as possible to see if you can spot these insects. Otherwise, you can also use an organic insecticide on your plant to remove these pests. For more details, visit our earwig guide.

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