The clematis, a flower-filled climbing vine, is also called the Queen of the Vines for a reason. Once it’s established in your landscape—climbing up a trellis, running along a fence rail, covering an arch or other garden feature—it draws all eyes to it. And while clematis has a reputation as a royal pain to grow, it can be easy if you learn a few simple tricks.
Types and Varieties of Clematis
There are 250 species in the genus clematis and 2,500 cultivars or hybrids. Naturally occurring species, from which hybrid varieties are created, are not always vines and have flowers that are more bell-shaped and drooping. Hybrid varieties, with large, flat-faced blooms, are the primary vines we know and love.
Hybrid clematis can grow eight to twelve feet high and vine up to thirty feet. Clematis flowers range in color from white to darkest purple with all shades of red, yellow, blue and multi-colored options too. Their bloom time is also varied. You can find spring-flowering, summer-flowering, fall-flowering, as well as vines that bloom over to two and even three seasons.
To grow clematis:
- Plant in spring or fall. Keep your clematis well-watered if you plant it in summer.
- You need soil that retains moisture but is not swampy.
- Choose a location in full sun or partial shade (3-6 hours of direct sun).
- Apply mulch each year (clematis prefer cool feet).
Other than that, plant them as you would any garden vine.
Taking care of your clematis is not much different than taking care of any flowering vine. Your clematis will thrive if you give it:
- Fertilizer: Clematis are heavy feeders. Add compost around the base of the plant in late winter. Take care to leave some space between the compost and the stem. Or use a commercial fertilizer (5-10-10) applied according to the instructions on the package in early spring.
- Extra care the first year: As with most perennial plants (that come back every year) make sure your clematis is well-watered until it’s established.
- Patience: Most clematis vines take two to three years to get going, so don’t give up on them in their first season.
- A support structure: Clematis, once established, are vigorous vines. Clematis vines can fall and damage themselves if not trained onto some sort of sturdy support. Support clematis with a trellis, fence, tree or other garden feature.
Clematis need regular pruning to encourage growth, suppress disease and to keep them blooming. When and how you prune depends on whether your clematis blooms on old growth, new growth or both.
- Prune clematis that flower in the spring (on last year’s growth) every year after flowering.
- Cut back clematis that flower in late summer or fall (on this year’s growth) to about one foot from the ground in late winter.
- Clematis that flower twice, in the late spring (on old growth) and late summer (on new growth), need to be pruned twice. Cut back some of the stems in late winter. Trim the rest of the stems after the first bloom, always clipping above a healthy bud.
Landscape Design Ideas Using Clematis
Once you get the hang of growing clematis, there are so many wonderful uses for this garden show horse:
- Plant at the base of a fence or bottom of a mailbox and let it climb and spread.
- Place under a trellis or other vertical feature as a centerpiece of your garden display.
- Weave the vine through a rose (or other) bush or up a nearby tree.
- Train it to climb over a privacy screen or fence hiding trash cans or the HVAC equipment.
- Allow the vine to sprawl on the ground as a ground cover.
Most clematis need very little training to climb, as they have tendrils that attach to anything nearby. In the first year of the plant’s life, you may have to secure it with a loose knot of string to help it along. After that, you need only gently encourage the vine to grow where you wish.
Clematis are a star, but don’t let them dazzle you into overlooking other wonderful flowering vines. We have suggestions for flowering vines that also bring fragrance into your outdoor spaces.