Secrets to a Prime-Time Vine
Clematis in Many Forms
If you’ve never grown clematis (say KLEM-uh-tis), you’ll be surprised by the diversity of this plant. There are vigorous climbers and ground-hugging sprawlers. Some clematis have blooms as big as dinner plates, while others feature delicate bell-shaped flowers that look like fairy hats. Some are even evergreen, like Armand clematis (Clematis armandii) whose foliage is more significant than its flower. If grown correctly clematis add romance and color to the garden, but in our climate, they can be temperamental. Which is why we turned to clematis expert Lyndy Broder for her secrets to success with this favorite vine.
The container pictured holds ‘H. F. Young’ clematis (Group II), ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia, torenia, and variegated ivy.
Blooms for All Seasons
Lyndy’s passion for clematis began with the desire to add more blue to her garden. Sure, hydrangeas, agapanthus, irises, and balloon flowers happily find homes within her borders, but Lyndy found herself drawn to the romantic rambler 10 years ago. Today, this Stockbridge, Georgia, gardener is a leading international authority on clematis.
“Because there are early-, mid-, and late-blooming clematis, I have something flowering almost year-round,” she says. “One of my favorites is ‘Arabella’ (pictured), which makes a wonderful ground cover.”
- Create shade. Although "shady roots, sunny vines" is a good rule of thumb, when it comes to clematis such as the Alabama leather flower (pictured), Lyndy says to "create your own shade by mulching or planting on the shaded side of a shrub."
- Don't plant too deep. Ignore advice to plant clematis deep in the ground. "In the South... heavy clay can cause roots to rot," Lyndy says. Plant in well-drained soil - the crown (where the roots join the stem) should be just aboveground. And always amend the soil with plenty of organic matter.
More of Lyndy's Tips
- Fertilize. Begin fertilizing in spring when new growth emerges and repeat once a month, stopping in fall. "I use organic fertilizer―anything labeled for roses or tomatoes is fine," Lyndy says. When planting them alone or in containers, Lyndy suggests staking them and tying the stems with twine for support.
- Hide the mess. Lyndy suggests that to prevent late-summer messiness from blooms, you should plant them near a shrub or tree; as leaves brown and fall off, they’re less noticeable. "I love the look of clematis rambling over shrubs, up trees, and even as a ground cover," she adds.
Pruning: Group I Clematis
Clematis are divided into three groups that reflect bloom and pruning times. Group I includes early (spring) bloomers, such as this Armand clematis. These are extremely vigorous and bloom on old wood (the prior year’s shoots). Flowers are usually small and generally white. This group requires little pruning: Remove dead wood and then shape where necessary right after flowering.
Pruning: Group II Clematis
Early and midseason bloomers that often repeat fall into Group II, like these ‘Yaichi’ clematis. Group II predominately flower on old wood, but some varieties will also flower on new wood (shoots that emerge that year). The group features larger flowers and requires more pruning than Group I. Once leaves begin to open, remove dead wood and shape.
Pruning: Group III Clematis
Group III blooms, such as the sweet autumn clematis Lyndy is chopping pruning (pictured on left), are late (summer and fall) bloomers and are the best for the South. Floriferous and showy, they take the heat of the day and tolerate warm nights. This group blooms only on new wood. They also require the most pruning, but it is the easiest: Cut back all of the previous year’s stems to within 8 inches of the ground as Lyndy does with her must-have pruners, Felco #2s.
Note: If you are unsure which group you have, try this: Cut three to five stems back so that they are 2 feet long. Cut the rest back to 12 inches.