The Q&A Archives: Nelly Moser Clematis

Question: I planted two Nelly Moser clematis last spring. They have coneflowers and hibiscus to cover their roots and they are mulched. They grew about 5 inches. Now they are coming up again and I would like to see them grow and blossom. They have eastern exposure with the roof blocking the sun from noon or so. What have I done wrong? What type of trellis should they have? I did not provide much of one last year, just stakes.

Answer: Looks like you are on the right track with your clematis, but let's review what Nelly's needs are. All clematis need humus-rich, well-drained soil. Their root systems will have a lot of growth to maintain each year. Under these circumstances, sufficient water and good drainage is very important. You have done well to mulch their roots to maintain moisture. Garden books talk of "shading their roots," which is evidently why you planted the coneflowers and hibiscus. Normally "shading the roots" is done with a several large rocks placed 6 inches or so from the stem. The mulch works just as well. I would want to be sure that the coneflowers and hibiscus are not so close to the clematis as to be robbing the plant of its needed moisture rather than just shading its roots. Once clematis is established, remember that the roots reach right up to the surface and spread far beyond the stem. Disturb the area as little as possible; another good reason for rocks or mulch in a large area around the plant.

I hope they have enough sun where they are planted. Generally clematis takes full sun, and by giving yours only morning sun, you may not get full bloom. However what you give up in quantity you may gain in quality since Nelly Moser can fade out in the hot sun of mid summer. If however your coneflower and hibiscus bloom well there, it should be sufficient.

Traditionally clematis is trained onto a trellis, but there is also a trend in the more natural gardens to allow them to 'flow' over other perennials, or around a rose or other shrub. I saw this done last summer in England at Great Dixter, Christopher Lloyd's wonderful garden. The choice is yours as to what style you enjoy. I have them doing both in my garden!

Different varieties of clematis have different pruning needs. Nelly Moser falls into the Class 2 pruning group that bears flowers in late spring and early summer on side shoots arising from the previous year's growth, as well as in mid- and late summer at the tips of the current year's shoots. Therefore, in early spring, shorten all vines just to the where the first pair of strong buds are visible.

After you get your Nelly Mosers established, you'll want to try more of the wonderful clematis available!

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