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Clematis and how to Grow them. 

Clematis are hugely popular here in the UK – and rightly so, for it is possible to have clematis on flower for most months of the year. Together with that, several of the clematis varieties have attractive seedheads that are on the plant well into the winter months – and can be quite a feature, if planted where the winter sun is behind.

They are normally seen growing up trellis or along a fence, but clematis are much more versatile than that. They have many uses - most of which are unexplored by most gardeners. For instance, have you ever thought of using clematis as a ground cover plant?

Most clematis are fully hardy here in the UK - much hardier than is generally thought. They simply need to be planted in the right place, and be treated properly!

There are many species of clematis available, but here we will concentrate on the main types in everyday use, and available from most good garden centres. Several dedicated clematis (specialists) growers exist if you wish to pursue the wider range available – There is also a Clematis Society!

Cluster of pink flowers on Clematis Ooh la laMost clematis bear masses of single blooms; some are semi double; whilst there are an increasing number of fully double clematis also finding their way into circulation. (Not my favourites!)

Clematis Ooh la La!  Image © David Hughes 2008

The colour range of clematis makes it a popular choice for many different planting schemes or individual tastes. There can also be a lot of variation in colour with the same varieties planted in different places. For instance, the pastel pink Clematis Hagley Hybrid, soon becomes bleached and fades in bright sunny positions, but is a deeper pink, holding it’s colour well, in a semi-wooded or shaded area.

We often get requests for advice form visitors in some parts of the world, who just cannot seem to grow clematis in their environment. Most of the problems seem to be in the very hot countries, but the problem is not the heat, but often because the clematis is not allowed a dormant season – owing to year round growing habitats. I think we have a long way to go here in the UK with global warming, before we have the same problem!

Scented Clematis
Most of the clematis have ‘scent’, but not particularly overwhelming - it would not be the best plant to grow for a fragrant summer evening! For that, Jasmine or even a honeysuckle would be the better option. Clematis armandii – an evergreen that flowers in February – has perhaps the best scent, but is rarely noted for that, for who goes wandering around the garden in a UK February!

Plant enough clematis in the garden, and the scent will probably waft around enough to be noticed. How many is enough? How big is your garden and how acute your sense of smell?

Where to Plant Clematis? Clematis can be planted;

  • In tubs.  Most clematis will be happy if planted in a large tub – the main requirements being a good potting compost to start the job – a mixture of soil-based and general purpose compost is best. Together with this, feeding has to be a priority - as does watering. Container grown Clematis are best fed at the beginning of each season with Osmocote Fertilizer. this long lasting 'pellet' feed will feed the Clematis throughout the whole growing season. At time of planting up the container, it would also be a good idea to use Water Retentive gel crystals. this will cut down the amount of watering required through the hot summer months, which brings us neatly to the subject of shading to roots of the clematis. Keep the pot out of direct sunshine, as the compost will heat up and harm the roots of the clematis. They prefer a cool root system. Either plant in a shaded spot, or place a plant or similar in front of the pot to prevent the sun from hitting the container.
  • Up Trellis Almost goes without saying, for Clematis are often grown on trellis - is is where they are normally seen. Bear in mind that if you are going to grow one of the more vigorous Clematis - such as Clematis montana types, which do not need to be cut down each year - then the thick, twisting stems of the plant will quite a challenge for all but the strongest of trellis. That having been said, C. montana types will probably support the trellis after a few years! the same can be said for the vigorous Clematis armandii - shown below. The flimsy diagonal trellis should be avoided for vigorous Clematis.

The foliage of Clematis armandii is very attractive and forms a dense screen
Clematis armandii foliage in Early June - Image © David Hughes 2008

Along a fence or wall - A clematis running along the top of a fence or wall, can often be spectacular as it just finds its own way along. For a wall or a fence, clematis will probably need a wire framework on which to climb. Galvanised 'vine eyes' through which you can train strong galvanised fencing wire, is ideal for this job. Also think about training one of the large flowered hybrids up through a rambling rose along a fence or wall. Instant support, and an extension of the flowering period in this area.

Up a tree!  Most Clematis are quite happy to wander up through the branches of a tree - use Montana types up through conifers and perhaps a vigorous large flowered type up through smaller trees such as Silver Birch - or Malus (Flowering Crab) even. A Clematis up through a flowering crab apple will give you the spring flowers of the crab apple, followed by the summer flowers of the clematis, and then the fruits of the crab throughout autumn and into winter. How's that for all the year interest. At planting, make sure that the Clematis is not planted too close to the trunk of the tree - 30-40cms away is ideal.

  • Along the ground! Yes - we are talking ground cover planting here! Clematis are absolutely fine wandering through a shrub border - smothering weeds as they go. Together with this, Clematis monatna types and Clematis armandii, will both perform magnificently as ground cover planting on an otherwise difficult bank!
  • In herbaceous borders. There are a few true herbaceous Clematis for herbaceous borders. Together with this, the large flowered hybrids will look superb in a herbaceous border if they are grown up a suitable frame - or even a single pole with wires, mesh or even in partnership with a climbing rose.

Planting position.  Almost without exception, all climbing clematis are quite happy growing in dappled shade, woodland settings etc. Most seem to be happiest when planted with roots in the shade, and then being allowed to grow up a framework to reach the sun.   They do not have to be planted in full sun. This will cause more problems than it will solve.

Flower colour is also best in shaded positions - especially for the paler coloured flowers on varieties such as Clematis Hagley Hybrid - mentioned earlier and seen below and Clematis vagabond.

An all-time favourite Clematis Hagley Hybrid flowers Flowers of Clematis vagabond
Clematis Hagley Hybrid  <<<           >>> Clematis Vagabond
  Images © David Hughes 2008

The beautiful Clematis Fond memories
Worthy of Mention I thought! - Clematis Fond Memories
  Images © David Hughes 2008

Clematis are normally classified into one of three distinct groups - the classification is to divide the plants into three distinct (and sometimes not distinct) flowering periods and subsequent pruning regimes. With a careful choice from within the three Clematis groups, it is possible to have Clematis in flower for virtually every month of the year.

Group 1

Are generally the early flowering species types - such as the well known Clematis montana - and its cultivars. (It is important to note that these varieties flower upon growth made in the previous year, so cutting them back in the winter - or late in the growing season - will result in loss of the flowering wood for the following season. Read the Pruning Guide )

Others within this group are from the Clematis alpina and C. macropetala cultivars. The now popular evergreen Clematis, C. armandii is also included in this group. Clematis x cartmanni, and the unusual Clematis cirrhosa. The latter will often flower at Christmas here in the UK  (Note that not all Clematis in a given group are pruned in the same manner! The Clematis pruning guide will guide you through this aspect.)

Group 2

This group of Clematis, flower early in the season through to mid-season, and include many of the large flowered hybrids which have made Clematis so popular over the years. These flower on side shoots from last seasons growth, and then also have a late flush of flower on the new shoots that develop through the season. So, generally there are two flushes of flowers with this group of Clematis - providing they are pruned correctly! All Clematis in this group are deciduous. They include ....

Clematis Barbara Dibley, C. Barbara Jackman, C. Bees Jubilee, C. Carnaby, C. Corona, C. Florida group - inc Seboldii C. Horn of Plenty, C Jackmanii albs and Rubra, C Miss Bateman, C. Mrs Cholmondeley, C. Proteus, C. Ramona, C. Richard Pennell, C. Royal Velvet, C. Snow Queen and others.

Group 3

Large Flowered Hybrids that flower later in the Summer and/or Autumn. This group of Clematis flower on growth made in the current season - from hard pruned main stems which are cut back in February/March. Late flowering species types and also the herbaceous types are included in this group. There is no need to worry about how far back to prune these - just do it in February/March!

Clematis included in this group include....

Clematis Abundance, C. Alba Luxuriens, C. Betty Corning, C. Bill Mackenzie, C. Comtesse de Bouchaud, C. Crispa, C. Ernest Markham, C. Hagley Hybrid, C. Jackmanii, C. Perle d'Azure, C. Rouge Cardinale, C. Star of India, C. Sunset, C. tangutica, C. Victoria, C. Ville de Lyon, C. viticella (of which there are many types).

Read the Pruning Guide!

Clematis wilt | Pruning Clematis | Feeding Clematis | Clematis Varieties  | Shrubs Main Section


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