University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
you looking for an easy perennial vine that can grow in various
a range of flower colors in both singles and doubles, and that
provides a long
flowering show in spring or summer? If
so, then consider the versatile clematis.
there are many other common names for clematis, the most common is
bower.” Perhaps this was named for Queen
Elizabeth I of England, the “virgin queen”, as during her reign is
popular species was brought to England from Spain. Yet some say
this name was used before her
time, and instead comes from the German legend that this vine
and Jesus during their flight to Egypt.
The word “bower” would fit this legend, as it comes from an old
word for dwelling, currently referring to a shady, leafy recess.
The word “clematis” is from the Greek word
for a climbing vine.
is often called the “queen of the vines” as the flowers are so
singles or doubles, and from one to five or more inches across.
Some bloom early in the season, some later in
summer. In warmer climates, or with
some, they may bloom again in fall. Flower colors range from deep
shades of blue, mauve, pink, red, yellow, cream, white, and
bi-colors. Generally they are flat, but a few are
lantern-shaped. What we call the flower
petals are actually and botanically modified sepals called “tepals”.
there are many species and cultivars (cultivated varieties),
hundreds, that vary in their growing needs, most that you commonly
hardy in USDA zones 4 (an average low of
-20 to -30 degrees F in winter) through 7, or even warmer. Although
some tolerate more shade (Jackmanii,
Henryii, and Nelly Moser for instance), most need sites with at
least six hours
of full sun.
their tops like part to full sun, a key to growing clematis well is
their roots cool. Remember the old
saying, “tops in the sun, feet in the shade.”
This can be done by planting in the shade of a small perennial or
(the vines will grow above it), or mulching.
Watering during hot spells cools the soil too.
soil for clematis is a well-drained loam, with a neutral to slightly
acidic pH. Water weekly during the first season, if
there isn’t sufficient rain, and in subsequent years during
droughts. Fertilize plants after planting with a plant
starter fertilizer, or liquid seaweed or fish emulsion. In
subsequent years, fertilize in spring with
a granular organic fertilizer according to directions. Also each
spring, add a shovel-full or two of
compost around plants.
key, that you often see in catalogs and references, to getting the
from your clematis is proper pruning.
Many references list cultivars in three pruning groups or
depending on whether vines flower on stems from the previous season
both old and new stems (group 2), or just on current season’s growth
3). This is important in the sense that
if you prune group 1 for instance in spring before bloom, you’ll be
this year’s blooms.
getting too confused as to what to prune when, just keep a couple
mind. Prune any dead wood off in spring,
back to above new growth or emerging buds.
Since best flowering is on newer stems, for older plants remove any
stems in spring that are 4 years old or more—those that are thick
you need to reduce the size of the plant (they often get 10 feet or
or keep it more bushy and stimulate more flowers (such as group 2),
spring or early summer after bloom back to
about one to two feet of growth. For
those that bloom later in the season (group 3), prune these back in
spring when you see new growth. Don’t worry about getting the
pruning wrong or
making a mistake, as clematis are forgiving and at most you might
you are growing clematis as a groundcover (such as the ground
they are best grown on some sort of support.
As they attach themselves to supports by means of short leaf stems,
supports shouldn’t be too wide—generally under a half inch.
Thin-wire ornamental trellises work, if tall
enough. Otherwise you can just use a
fine-thread netting such as used for peas, wide-mesh fencing, twine,
line, or even twigs. By using these you
can grow clematis on sides of walls or around lamp posts, or let
them ramble up
clematis may take a few years to reach maturity and full blooming
it’s best to start with plants from nurseries already a couple years
old. Choose ones in quart or preferably gallon
pots. Work plenty of compost into the
soil prior to planting. Then, be careful
when planting as stems can be broken easily.
Make a wide planting hole, and plant slightly deeper (2 to 3 inches)
than they were in the pot. You can plant potted vines any time
and early fall.
growing clematis in containers, unless you’re doing so in a mild
will need to be brought in over winter into a non-freezing location,
cool garage. Since containers should be
large—at least 18 inches high and wide— you may consider casters on
to move these large and heavy pots more easily.
Don’t use garden soil, but rather a potting mix, such as one
a large percent of peat moss. Use more compact varieties for pots.
several different varieties almost guarantees you a continuous sweep
from spring to the first hard frost. You may find several species
and quite a
few hybrids bred from them, some being classics dating back to the
1800’s. Early flowering (pruning category 1) include the
single Nelly Moser (pale pink with carmine midstripe), 'Duchess of
Edinburgh' (white with yellow stamens), or the double
Belle of Woking (silvery mauve).
ones flowering later in the season on current year’s growth (pruning
are 'Ernst Markham' (red with gold stamens), Perle d’Azur (single
with purple midstripes), ‘Hagley Hybrid’ (single pink), ‘Jackmanii’
purple single), or ‘Comtesse de Bouchaud’ (single rose pink).
there are those that often bloom early and late, on both old and new
(pruning category 2). ‘Lincoln Star’ is an
attractive bi-color with raspberry flowers edged white. 'Elsa
Spath' is a prolific bloomer, producing
lots of lovely single blue-purple flowers. In this same group,
mid-summer into fall with lantern-shaped yellow flowers is the
known as Golden Tiara. It is followed by
attractive silvery, fluffy seedheads. Another Chinese species that
lantern-shaped flowers, but lavender-blue, is the downy clematis.
It blooms in early spring, and often again in
Keep the basics of growing
clematis in mind—at least half day of sun, cool roots, well-drained
proper support—and you should be rewarded with many years of blooms.