I.Cl.S. - Planting Clematis

If you haven't tried clematis before, or if you have tried and been disappointed, here are some suggestions. Following them should produce a plant with a healthy attitude.

Brewster Rogerson, USA

Unpacking your Clematis

Packaged clematis, including those from most mail-order sources, are commonly less than two years old and not very strongly rooted. Usually it is better to grow one of these on for a few months in a 1- or 2- gallon pot than to put it straight into the ground. Young clematis do not object to having their root systems confined for a while, whereas if they are abandoned in a big hole at that tender age they may have trouble getting established.

Even if your clematis is a better-rooted specimen in the standard gallon pot, you might consider burying it pot and all in the planting hole, lifting it in the Fall when it has done all it can for the year, removing the pot, and setting the plant back in. This lets the root system develop undisturbed, and also gives you a chance to move the clematis to another site, if you've had second thoughts. (Bear in mind that potted clematis may come with the stake fastened to the pot. No matter when you elect to take out the plant, remove the staple first!)

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Choosing a Suitable Site

If possible choose a site with half a day of sun or (rather than in a hot spot) filtered sun. Most clematis, especially the summer-flowering ones, like good light on their tops and a cool, rather moist area for their roots. The striped hybrids are no exception, but they fade quickly in strong sun, so it's better to give them an eastern exposure or the filtering effect of branches high overhead.

Choose a spot where the soil won't be frequently broken up by replanting. Clematis may send out feeder roots quite near the surface. If you want to surround the base with lower-growing plants, choose perennials, or annuals that self-seed. Some gardeners may prefer to use gravel or a bark mulch.

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Planting, Pruning and Support

Dig a 2-foot cube for the hole. Put some coarse material at the bottom to promote drainage. Then fill in with soil, amended with peatmoss and fine bark or pumice if your soil tends to clay. Set the plant in so that the crown is buried at least 2" beneath the surface, even deeper if the site is relatively exposed to winter winds.

[Editor's note: The above advice regarding planting deep applies to large-flowered clematis and Viticellas.
Atragenes (Alpinas, Macropetelas and Koreanas), New Zealand/evergreen types, Cirrhosas, Tanguticas, Montanas, Heracleifolias and Integrifolias should not be planted deeply.]

When all is in place, prune each stem back to a low pair of buds, or, if the plant is already exhibiting flower buds and you can't stand to remove them, let it have its first show of flowers and THEN cut it far back. This is an important step; it fosters growth and branching.

New Clematis after planting Prune to lowest pair of buds Plant once prunned

Give the plant a shrub, tree, trellis, or fence to climb on. The stems must have support unless you want them to sprawl. The 'bush' types sprawl attractively, but usually look better with some staking if there are no foliage plants close by for them to ramble into.

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Watering and Feeding

Keep the ground moist, but don't feed until there are signs of new growth. Then give a low-number fertilizer-something like 5-10-10 or a rose food, or (if the plant seems to need a quick pick-me-up) a foliar feeding with half-strength 20-20-20 or a comparable preparation followed in a week or so by the 5-10-10. Easy on the nitrogen: it stimulates topgrowth, and at the beginning root growth is more important.

Later feeding depends partly on what else is growing nearby, but in general the Spring-flowering sorts do best if given a booster shot soon after they finish blooming and are trimmed back.

If the summer varieties give out temporarily in late summer, they can be cut back partway and fed for renewed bloom.

Brewster Rogerson, USA

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@ K.Woolfenden
All information contained at this site is personal to Ken Woolfenden and
does not represent the official view of the International Clematis Society.