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Clematis Care: 4 Things You Should Know

Clematis care can be as simple or as complicated as you wish to make it, depending on where you live and the relative hardiness of a given variety in your area. These vining plants require at least three and usually four types of care if they are to thrive. The varieties of care are cool and moist (but not wet) roots, sun on the stems and leaves, something to climb, and, of course, well-prepared soil.

There are at least 200 varieties of this plant available to growers in the United States. A few of these varieties are native to North America, but most are native to Europe or Asia. You can find both evergreen and deciduous types plus a few varieties that will remain evergreen in warmer climates, can thrive in cooler climates, but will shed their leaves as winter approaches. Not all of the different varieties of climbing vines bloom at the same time, which can sometimes make it worthwhile to have several different varieties growing in a large garden area. The majority bloom only once a year, with some of them blooming during the spring and others in the summer or fall. The blossoms themselves are almost as varied as the plant. Some are large and some are small. They come in bright reds, purples, pinks, yellows and whites. A few varieties feature bi-colored blossoms with stripes, others have fringes that contrast with the blossom’s primary colour.

Requirements for Success

Assuming you have a sunny location to place one of these plants, the soil is relatively rich and definitely well trained, and you have a trellis or some other arrangement for the vines to climb, you are set to go. There are a few other important clematis care details, however, some of which can make the difference of how tall it will grow, how profusely it will bloom, or even life or death to your plant.

Spring Hill Nurseries’ Step-by-Step Gardening series presents a video on how to care for Clematis.

Care of the Roots –It has already been mentioned that the roots need to be kept cool and moist but not wet. Most varieties of this plant have an extensive but somewhat shallow root system, so you’ll need to give the plant a little room to grow without having to compete with too many other plants. Very often the roots nearest the stem or stems of the plant are partially or totally exposed. These exposed roots need to be protected from the hot sun or they can get sunburned and possibly affect the health of the plant as a whole. Placing mulch consisting of material that will not collect an excessive amount of water on top of the roots is good. The mulch should not come into direct contact with the stems. Some gardeners place light, flat rocks around the base of the plant to shelter the roots from the sun without crushing them.

Staking and Support – Newly planted vines should be staked unless they are planted directly under a trellis and are able to climb the trellis on their own. If you don’t have a trellis or don’t wish to install one, these plants will grow up around a post or along a section of fence with the help of wire, string, or a few strategically placed cup hooks. Once a vine has reached something it can hang onto, it will usually hold on fiercely while stretching to reach the next supportive hold.

Soil Preparation – A good practice to follow when first planting a clematis vine is to throw a handful or two of lime into the planting hole. Some nurseries stock small bags of specially prepared clematis lime for this purpose. Regular garden soils, even those of questionable quality, can be mixed with sand, bark, and aged compost to make an excellent starter soil. These vines do need occasional fertilising, and application of compost or aged manure around the plant every spring is also advisable.

Pruning – There is no one way to prune these climbing vines. Proper pruning procedure of Clematis depends upon the particular variety. Some need to be pruned back to the ground every fall to perform at their best during the following growing season. Some other varieties will grow if pruned back to the ground, but will not produce blossoms since they are varieties that produce blossoms on the previous year’s growth. Some of these climbing vines need only be pruned to remove weak, diseased, or dead branches or to control their height or spread. A few varieties can become invasive if not kept under control. If you plant one of these varieties, you may constantly find new plants emerging quite a few feet from the parent plant, as sprouting can occur wherever the roots are allowed to go.

A One-Time Haircut

If there is such a thing as a common pruning procedure, it is one of pruning the plant back to about a foot or so above the ground following the first year of growth. While some varieties can be pruned back entirely, many varieties that don’t require a great deal of pruning will benefit from this first haircut by forming stronger root systems and more shoots the following year. These will in turn produce more branches and more blooms later in the season.

Pruning Categories

In summary, clematis care is mostly the same for all varieties. The exception is how they are pruned. Insofar as pruning is concerned, each of the 200 or more varieties will fall within one of three categories:

  • Those varieties that produce blooms on the previous year’s growth: these are varieties you generally won’t need to or won’t want to prune too severely, if at all.
  • Those varieties that produce blooms on the previous season’s growth and yield a second set of blooms on the new growth: these plants will still produce blooms if cut back, but will produce more blooms and two sets of blooms if pruned only lightly.
  • Those varieties that are pruned back to the ground at the end of every season: these, of course, only set blossoms on new growth. The varieties in this category are by and large the most vigorous of the different varieties and tend to require the least care. Unless they are able to grow evergreen varieties, most gardeners prefer plants that can be cut back in the fall, as they are not all that attractive to look at during the winter months and will tend to become unruly in appearance if new growth is permitted to grow on old growth.

Finally, if you insist on giving your plant constant care and attention, which some believe a plant appreciates, you can spend a little time pinching back some of the new buds that have started to take off. This practice will often cause the plant to form additional branches, making it bushier, with a wider spread, and blooming more profusely. With adequate care, one of these climbing vines can be a regular feature in your garden for many years.

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