Add clematis to your garden

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Vines can add color, dimension, privacy and beauty to a garden space.

Clematis, one of the most decorative of all flowering vines, offer many choices when you consider flower form, bloom time and vine height. There are many different varieties of flower form, color, bloom season, and plant height. Here are some things to consider:

Growing conditions

Clematis like to have “their heads in the sun and their feet in the shade.” This means that though the plant’s stems, foliage and flowers should be in the sun, the roots of the plant like a cool, moist environment. You can create this by planting low groundcover plants or perennials around the base of the clematis that have shallow, noninvasive roots.

Consider a spot with about six hours of sun in well drained soil; avoid wet spots or clematis will not survive. Soil in the planting area should be prepared to a depth of about 18 inches and 12 to 15 inches wide. Adding compost will help improve aeration and drainage.

Plant clematis with the crown one to two inches below the soil surface. You will need support for the vines; however, these supports should be thin since the vines climb by twining the bases of the leaves around a support. They cannot grasp thick branches or heavy trellising.

Water deeply during dry periods; be sure to water regularly for the first year you plant. Fertilize in the spring or as you plant; do not fertilize while the plant is flowering.

Blooming & Pruning

Clematis are divided into three groups based on the recommended pruning methods used for each. The pruning method that is used depends mainly on the time of the year the plant flowers.

Early bloom varieties bloom in late spring from buds produced the previous year. Prune these back as soon as possible after blooming.

Mid-season bloomers are large-flowered cultivars that bloom on short stems from the previous season’s growth. These varieties also tend to rebloom later in the summer on new growth. This group of clematis require light pruning to remove dead or weak stems; then cut back remaining stems to the topmost pair of large, plump green buds. Do this in early spring once you see growth on the plant.

Finally, late blooming clematis bloom on the last 2 to 3 feet of the current season’s growth. These plants can be cut back to height of 2 to 3 feet in the spring. Plant tags will provide pruning information. However, if you did not keep the tag or are unsure of what group your plant is in, then watch it for a year to see when it blooms.

Potential problems

There is a major fungal issue that can impact clematis called clematis wilt. The whole plant or part of the vine collapses and within a few days the stem and leaves turn black and die. Cut off and destroy affected parts. New growth should appear later. Severely damaged vines need to be removed. Plants in the first year of growth are more susceptible then established vines. In New York State, there is one variety of clematis on the invasive species list: sweet autumn clematis. It is not recommended to plant this variety since it can grow aggressively and reseed freely.

Clematis vines are spectacular plants when in full bloom. However, be aware of the plant’s growth rate. An old saying says “the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap”. Growth is slow for these vines as the plant builds its root system; it will probably take three years before you see the full impact of the plant. Be patient; once established, clematis are strong plants.

Are you interested in learning more about gardening, while enjoying shared tips, tricks, and camaraderie with other gardeners? Consider participating in the master gardener volunteer training in 2022! Come and visit the Extension Parker F. Scripture Botanical Gardens an educational component of the Oneida County Master Gardener Volunteer. For more information call us or visit our website cceoneida.com, phone 315-736-3394, Ext 100. Be sure to like us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/cceoneida) and check out our YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/user/cceoneida) for great gardening talks.

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