Growing Clematis

Clematis ‘Pink Perfection’

Clematis ‘Pink Perfection’

Clematis is currently growing up mailboxes, trellis, gutters, telephone poles, fences and even boxwoods, and roses. It’s a flowering vine that is easy to grow, super showy and requires little to no maintenance from the gardener. Here's the how-to on this showy vine. Starting with the pronunciation. Merriam Webster can have the last word on it. Although, even dictionaries differ, so game on for however you want to pronounce it. Click here to listen.

Choosing Your Clematis

Clematis are divided into three groups, based primarily on bloom time. Just like knowing which hydrangea you have is key to taking care of them, knowing which clematis you're growing is key to taking care of it, as well. If you plan to mix the clematis, choose from the same grouping. That allows for ease of pruning.

Fine Gardening has an extensive list of each group. Click here to pursue through and find your's. If you;re already growing clematis and don't know the name, watch for a couple of seasons to see when your clematis vines blooms—that’s the tell all.

Don’t allow this grouping concept to overwhelm you. it’s no different than understanding that most spring flowering shrubs bloom on old wood (azaleas, rhododendron, weigela) and summer shrubs bloom on new wood (Hydrangea Limelight) and so forth. To keep it simple, watch to see if most of the new growth is on last year’s vine. If so, prune lightly and shape. If most of the new growth comes from the bottom of the plant, you can cut back to 12”-18”. Below are the groupings.

Clematis Jackmanii flowers on old and new wood, putting it in group 2 and 3. This means pruning lightly right after blooming and every few years, pruning it to the ground for rejuvenation. When pruning hard in fall or early winter, expect blooms to be reduced until the plant has time to reestablish.

Clematis Jackmanii flowers on old and new wood, putting it in group 2 and 3. This means pruning lightly right after blooming and every few years, pruning it to the ground for rejuvenation. When pruning hard in fall or early winter, expect blooms to be reduced until the plant has time to reestablish.

Clematis Groupings

Clematis are grouped by number or A,B.and C and pruned according to type. This is the biggest thing ther gardener needs to know about their clematis vine, which group it is in.

Type One: Blooms early spring on old wood (last season's wood). These are generally the armandii, montana, alpina. If your clematis is blooming early spring you'll prune right after blooming so you do not lose your blooms for next season. Typically, they require damaged stem removal or thinning every few years and that's it.

Type Two: Generally bloom in late spring. These are the 'Nelly Moser', 'Henyrii' and other large flowered clematis. They bloom on old and new wood. Prune late winter or early spring when buds begin to swell. Cut just above the buds. 

Type Three: Bloom late summer and only on new wood. 'Duchess of Albany' is an example and these can be cut to the ground in spring where they'll sprout back from the crown. 

When you make your clematis purchase, the tag should tell you which group your flowering vine is in. If it does not, be sure to keep the tag for identification and refer to the website above for how to prune.

For step-by-step instructions on pruning, read Lee Reich, master pruner of all plants, how-to here.

Clematis ‘Niobe’ is a good one to pair with ‘Jackmanii’ since their pruning needs are the same. It blooms on old and new wood. When pruning these two together, it is easier to prune without the need to separate them first.

Clematis ‘Niobe’ is a good one to pair with ‘Jackmanii’ since their pruning needs are the same. It blooms on old and new wood. When pruning these two together, it is easier to prune without the need to separate them first.

You’ll Need a Trellis or a Shrub

Clematis use their leaf stems to climb. The stems coil around the nearest object like a pea vine but the leaf stems are short so they can only wrap around something that is up to a 1/4” wide. If clematis stems can’t find anything to grow onto, the end stops growing and dies back. If you’re clematis has gotten bushy and top-heavy, tie up those stems in early spring as clematis vines are actually brittle and break easily. Use a wire mesh to aid in climbing when placing near a mailbox, pole, and fence. Use a simple trellis to lean against walls or grow in containers.

Shrubs are a good way to provide support, too, especially for clematis that is in group 3 (grows on new wood), making pruning simple when it’s time to prune the boxwooods, simply cut the clematis back to 12”-18” as well. The dark green of the boxwoods make a lovely backdrop for the bright flowers of the clematis. Or mix with climbing roses for a show-stopping scene.

A wire cage works as a trellis for clematis. It' doesn’t have to be a decorative trellis, but can be very simple so long as the clematis can climb.

A wire cage works as a trellis for clematis. It' doesn’t have to be a decorative trellis, but can be very simple so long as the clematis can climb.

Planting Clematis

  • Sun to part-shade is stated, though most clematis flower more prolifically in full sun.

  • Plant with the roots of clematis in a cool, shade-y spot (the shade of near-by shrubs does the job) or if that isn’t possible, be sure to mulch the roots well to help keep cool.

  • The soil should drain well as clematis do not like wet feet.

  • Clematis do not want to be moved, so think of this spot as permanent.

  • Use a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) once monthly during the growing season .

Hostas and other perennials are good protection for the roots of clematis.

Hostas and other perennials are good protection for the roots of clematis.

It may sound confusing but clematis bloom for years with only a little bit of care. Many people often ask for the plant that is one and done (meaning little to no maintenance). For those of us who love the flowers but not the maintenance, clematis fits the bill.

Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach and blog writer.

B.B.Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.