Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
May, 2004
Regional Report

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Clematis 'Hagley Hybrid' has rosy mauve flowers up to 4 inches across on vines growing 6 to 7 feet.

Vining Splendor

Clematis are in their spring glory now, scrambling up trellises, over arbors, and through trees; blooming in glorious shades of violet, lavender, pink, red, and white. Those with yellow flowers won't be far behind.

Many gardeners struggle to get their clematis to grow and bloom. But over the years I've found that clematis are amazingly resilient plants -- not hard to keep alive, but sometimes troublesome to reach their full potential. The keys to success aren't that difficult. Hopefully, some of the following suggestions will bring you the clematis of your dreams.

Getting Started
Quite by accident, I've found out that what I thought was a failing on my part last year was actually a good thing to do. After buying clematis in small pots, I failed to get them planted. Eventually, I planted them into gallon pots. It turns out that's what clematis like. Clematis are slow to establish and do better with having their root systems confined for a while. Even if you buy clematis in larger containers, it's not a bad idea to set them into the ground, pot and all, until fall. Then, lift the pots, remove the plants, and plant them directly into the ground. This method also gives you a chance to move the clematis easily in case you find a better site.

Choosing a Site and Planting
Clematis do best in a location with a half day of sun or a spot with filtered sun. The adage of "leaves in the sun, roots in the shade" is accomplished with mulch or underplantings of perennials or annuals that self-sow. Clematis send out feeder roots near the soil surface so it's best not to disturb the soil any more than is absolutely necessary.

A moist but well-drained, humus-rich soil is best. If needed, enrich the soil with compost. Set the plant so the crown is buried at least 2 inches below the soil surface. After planting, cut back the plant to several inches. If it's already blooming, wait until the flowers fade, then cut it back. This step is important as it encourages rooting and additional stems from the base.

More Care
Water as needed to keep the ground evenly moist. For newly planted clematis, wait until there is new growth before feeding with a low-nitrogen fertilizer, such as 4-6-6 or 5-10-10, following manufacturer's directions. With established clematis, fertilize in early spring and again in early summer, using a similar low-nitrogen fertilizer.

Pruning is a bit complicated because the recommendations depend on the type of clematis and when it blooms. The American Clematis Society ( site provides details on how, when, and what to prune.

Clematis Woes
One of the biggest problems with clematis is not with the plant itself but with us gardeners. We're impatient. Clematis take three to four years to get fully established. Take good care of your clematis during that time, and you'll be richly rewarded.

The other major problem with clematis is clematis wilt. A plant can be hit overnight. It will look like it needs water even when the soil is moist. Sometimes the entire plant wilts, while at other times it will be just one shoot or a part of a shoot. This disease is not well understood, there are no effective cures, and it's mainly a problem with the large-flowered, spring-blooming types. Your best bet is to remove the damaged part and wait. Often, a plant will send up new shoots and, once established, it may be more resistant.

Another option for beating wilt is to grow types that seldom exhibit this problem. These include 'Jackmanii', 'Jackmanii alba', 'Etoile Violette', or any of the vitacellas.

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