Clematis, the “Queen of the Vines,” may be best known for its large-flowering, purple, star-shape blossoms on twining vines—but did you know that there are more than 300 species and hundreds of hybrids of this plant, with flowers in the form of saucers, bells, tubes, tulips, open bells, doubles, and semidouble? Learn more about clematis and how to get this beauty to thrive!
There is a wide variety of options, as clematis comes in many colors, flower sizes, and shapes. Some are at their best in sun and some in shade. Clematis is a popular perennial climber or trailing plant, hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 8. They’re a great choice for a fence, wall, or trellis. The trailing types sprawl along the ground to pop up amid their neighboring perennials.
Small-flowering varieties produce an abundance of blossoms that last longer than larger ones. Many varieties are scented. Some are vines, while others are shrub, or trailing types. Some are native to North America.
Certain types bloom in spring and others bloom in late summer. Select the right clematis varieties, and you could have colorful flowers blooming for every season.
Most clematis varieties need at least 6 hours of full sun. However, the sensitive roots cannot take the heat. They require a site that is, or can be, shaded and cool. Mulch, low-growing plants, and ground cover can provide relief on the roots.
Climbing clematis vines need a trellis or other support on which to grow.
When to Plant Clematis
Plant potted clematis anytime after the last spring frost and before fall’s first one.
in spring or early fall. Avoid planting in the height of summer, as the harsh sun and heat can make it difficult for the plant to get established.
How to Plant Clematis
Clematises require loose, well-draining soil, with a neutral pH. Prior to planting, mix in compost or aged manure, if necessary, plus a few handfuls of bonemeal.
Dig a planting hole that’s about 2 to 3 times the width of the root ball and a few inches deeper.
Place the plant in the hole with the crown 4 to 6 inches below the soil surface. This will encourage branching and stem development underground.
Fill in with soil, water thoroughly, and mulch to keep the roots cool and minimize weeds.
Place the climbing structure, if using.
Keep the soil moist during the first year by watering weekly. do not let the soil dry out. In colder regions, add extra mulch around the plant in late fall to protect the roots.
Once the plant is in the ground, don’t disturb or move it. .
In spring, fertilize with a liquid seaweed or fish emulsion. In subsequent years, fertilize with a balances, all-purpose (5-10-5) fertilizer.
Each spring, spread compost around the plant, but keep it away from the stems.
In spring, prune dead wood back, cutting above new, emerging buds.
On older plants, remove any stems in spring that are 4 years old or older.
Clematises belong to one of three groups, based on flower size and bloom time.
Group 1: Flowers appear in early to mid spring on last year’s growth. Minimal pruning needed, only after flowering, if desired. Examples include: C. armandii, C. alpine, C. cirrhosis, C. macropetula, and C. montana.
Group 2: Double and semidouble flowers may bloom twice: in May/June on last year’s wood, and later in the year on new shoots. Prune after spring flowers fade. Remove dead wood in late winter. Examples include hybrids: ‘Miss Bateman’, Lake Sondesborough’, ‘Nelly Moser’, ‘Henry’, ‘Marie Boisselot’, and ‘Elsa Spath’.
Group 3: Large, showy blooms in summer and autumn on current year’s growth. Prune severely in late winter/early spring, leaving two pairs of buds on each stem. Common varieties include: C. viticella, C. recta, and C. x jackmanii.
There are over 200 species and hundreds of hybrids of clematis. Flower shapes resemble saucers, bells, tulips, doubles, and semi-doubles. The small flowering varieties make up for what they lack in size by the abundance of their blossoms. They also bloom longer.
Clematis viticella ‘Betty Corning’ is a vine that produces loads of light purple, bell-like flowers all season long. It dies to the ground each winter but puts on an amazing growth spurt each spring climbing up to 10 feet high. It needs a pole or a tall shrub or tree for support.
C. heracleifoliais a shrub that dies back almost to the ground each winter. In spring it puts out new growth and by summer it reaches about 4 feet in height and width. By August it is covered with small, gorgeous, blue flowers that resemble hyacinth blossoms.
C. tangutica has bright yellow, bell-shaped flowers. It also produces showy silky seed heads. Display it against an evergreen backdrop.
‘Sweet Summer Love’ grows to about 5 feet tall and is covered with small bluish-purple flowers with white centers in mid-summer. It survives the toughest winters.
Clematis that bloom early and late, on both old and new growth include ‘Lincoln Star’, a bi-color with raspberry flowers edged with white and ‘Elsa Spath’, a prolific bloomer, producing lots of single blue-purple flowers.
Clematises can make excellent cut flowers, although vining types can be challenging because of their short stems. Use these to fill out the bottom of the arrangement. Shrubby or herbaceous types for cut flowers include C. hexapetala, C. recta, C. heracleifolia, and C. integrifolia.
Wit and Wisdom
The word clematis comes from the ancient Greek word for a climbing vine.
Many clematis varieties are scented. The most fragrant species is the tender C. armandii.
Clematis belongs to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).
The most serious disease is commonly called clematis wilt. It is a stem rot/leaf spot disease caused by a fungus. It mainly affects large-flowered clematis hybrids.