How to Grow Clematis. How I successfully grow beautiful clematis though I don’t always follow the rules.
I am going to begin this post with a disclaimer..there are tons of differing opinions and experiences on how to grow clematis. What I relate here, for the most part, is from my personal experience. Reading about gardens and watching gardening shows is something I do a lot of. The education is wonderful but many times it does not fit my region and conditions, so experience has been my best teacher.
I live in USDA Zone 8, have cold, snowy winters and dry summers (no rain or humidity) with temps up to the 90’s. Gardeners in other areas may grow them differently and be equally successful but this post is about how I grow clematis that reward me every year with plenty of blooms.
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There are 3 requirements for healthy growing clematis.
1. Sun on their stems and leaves (at least 6 hours or more)
2. Cool roots and steady moisture but not overly wet (some dispute the claim that Clematis prefer cool roots)
3. Support for climbing
Getting Started Growing Clematis
Good soil is always the best way to get started.
Soil health is the best thing you can do for any plant in your garden. To see how I got my start click on over to Lazy Gals Garden Guide. Amending your soil with compost is one of the best ways to build your gardens health. I avoid chemical fertilizers, they are not conducive to good soil and there is no need if you keep your soil rich and well amended. This is not a one time deal, you don’t just add compost when you are getting started, you will be adding it frequently.
Belle of Woking Clematis
You can buy clematis as bare-root or in a pot, either way prepare your planting hole well. Loosen up the soil deeper and wider than you will plant. Do your best, the roots of these plants are vigorous and will run deep, giving them a head start by loosening up the area around them will go a long way in getting this plant on a running start.
Plant the clematis about 3 to 4 inches deeper than the crown of the plant. This will help if the clematis gets struck with wilt or a fungus that causes the entire vine to die back. Having the crown under the soil allows you to cut it completely back and it will grow new shoots that are fungus/disease free. Be sure to clean up and burn any of the vines, leaves etc you cut off, you don’t want that fungus hanging around.
No matter the pruning group, when you first plant your clematis you should prune back the growth to 18 to 24 inches the first growing season. Pruning it back ensures good root development which is crucial to a healthier clematis and more shoots coming up from the base. More shoots, more flowers.
Caring for Clematis
There are differing views on growing other plants close to the clematis base to shade its roots, some say it robs the needed nutrients for optimum bloom from the clematis and others have no issue with it.
Personally, I have some growing with roses, at least within a foot or so and shorter growing flowers shading the roots of both, I have had no problem with the clematis being vigorous and bloom happily. I can only say that is because of healthy, rich soil that I regularly add compost too. I also have clematis growing on their own with a deep mulch to keep their roots moist and cool. Clematis like moist, well draining soil not soggy soil so keep them watered if you don’t get summer rains, (we don’t).
We have contended with deep drought for several years, my clematis did okay with a lot less watering, they just did not bloom as prolifically.
They like the sun, the ones I grow that do the best get nearly 6 hours of sun a day. Late afternoon shade helps the colors on darker versions stay vibrant, hot sun tends to fade them out, but they are still beautiful just less showy.
Be sure and provide support, something for the clematis to climb, a sturdy trellis, arbor or post. A healthy clematis will smother it with beautiful blooms in no time.
There are 3 groups of Clematis.
Group 1 blooms the earliest in Spring and has the small flowers. Here is one that is on my list to acquire, Pamela Jackman. I don’t have any growing now to show you but I do have some on my list to add to my garden. Exactly when in Spring these bloom depends on your region, some areas it blooms in late winter as well.
Group 2 bloom in Spring and early Summer, they are the large, showy flowered ones we all love. They bloom on both old and new wood. Many I have are in this group. Some will re-bloom but the first bloom of the season is the best.
Group 3 Summer blooming and they will bloom on into Fall for masses of color all season. Add a few of these to your collection and you will have gorgeous clematis until frost.
They are also known as A,B & C and an easy little way to remember pruning advice for the different ones is here
Pruning group A (or 1)
A is for After bloom
Includes: Species that bloom in early spring, such as C. montana, C. armandii, or C. macropetala.
When and how to prune: Don’t prune until after the flowers are finished. Flower buds were formed the previous year, so if you prune before they flower, that means no flowers for you that year.
Pruning Group B (or 2)
B is for Before bloom
Includes: Species that bloom in late spring/early summer, including most large-flowered types.
When and how to prune: In spring, cut back to a set of live buds, about a third down from the top. Hard-prune (to about 12 inches) for the first two years after planting to develop a strong root system.
Pruning Group C (or 3)
C is for Cut back hard
Includes: Species that bloom in summer/early fall: C. viticella, C. tangutica, C. virginiana, C. texensis, C. crispa.
When and how to prune: In early spring, cut every stem to 12 to 18 inches or so.
Warsaw Nike is one of my Group 3 clematis and it is a power house bloomer and so is Pistachio above.
There are some scented varieties I would love to get and have Summer Love by Proven Winners on my list.
This double one called Franziska Maria below is one of my favorites, it blooms and blooms, then if I make sure to dead head and feed it after blooming it will put on another good show of blooms. Be aware that if you plant a double that the first year it will most likely have single flowers, the doubles develop on old wood so the following year you will get the doubles.
If you can plant all three groups in your garden you will have clematis blooms for months and months. It is advised to plant like groups together so pruning will be easier. The pruning of clematis is going to get an entire post to itself, then I can try and photograph what I do for pruning. It is not as confusing as it can seem. CLICK HERE for my Spring Pruning of Clematis.
Clematis are considered heavy feeders. As I stated before, start with healthy well fed soil, every Fall I add a few inches of chicken manure mixed with compost all around my flowering plants, it sits all winter at their feet, no I have no trouble with it burning my plants as they are all dormant by then.
In Summer I do supplement feed my clematis with fish emulsion (stinky but effective) or foliage feeding (I am using Spray and Grow combined with the fertilizer though you can just get the Spray and Grow alone). Since I plant mine next to other heavy feeders like roses I know that they all will get enough nutrients to pump out the blooms for me.
Other gardeners have reported that they don’t feed them at all and still get good results.
For those of you that live in a warmer winter region I have had a few readers that successfully grow clematis and get it to bloom by burying a plastic flower pot beside it and putting ice in the pot to chill the roots, one reader said she does it for about two weeks long and she gets beautiful blooms. (clematis need some winter chill to bloom successfully, I have not had to try this as we get cold winters but I thought I would pass that on for those of you who live in warmer regions)
You can also grow many of these in pots on your porch, patio or deck, some varieties have been bred especially for container gardens. What is not to love about Clematis?
Until then…..Happy Gardening!
Other posts you may enjoy
How to Prune Clematis for Top to Bottom Bloom(this happens in Fall)
How to Spring Prune your Clematis
Propagate Clematis by Layering
Build an Easy Garden Obelisk (for your Clematis to climb)