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Plant Spotlight: Clematis

Updated on November 11, 2016
LisaRoppolo profile image

Lisa is a writer and gardener with extensive knowledge of plants and plant care. Her articles focus on easy-care tips for home gardeners.

What is a Clematis?

Clematis are a type of climbing perennial that are a part of the buttercup family, originating from the 7th century in China and Japan. There are over 300 species of Clematis and many many more to come, thanks to aggressive hybridization production. The oldest of the popular varieties, Jackmanii, dates back to 1862!

Clematis "Clare De Lune" variety
Clematis "Clare De Lune" variety | Source

Growing Tip:

Give Clematis something to climb on! Make sure it is the right kind of structure. Clematis vines can only wrap themselves around structures that are 1/2 inch thick or less. They have a hard time with thicker posts. You can always help your Clematis along by placing some extra support with gardener's twine or netting to get it established on your climbing structure.

A good example of a climbing support
A good example of a climbing support | Source

Clematis Growth and Care

Clematis can grow to a height of 10 to 20 feet depending on the variety and conditions. Clematis do best when planted near a wind break or against a structure. Heavy winds can damage their delicate leaves and stems.

Sun: Full Sun to Part Shade

Zones: It is a deciduous perennial in zones 4 through 8 and an evergreen in zones 9 and 10.

Soil Requirements: Moist, well-drained soil is preferred along with a neutral or slightly alkaline soil pH.

Bloom Time: There are 3 distinct types of Clematis. Spring types bloom in late May/Early June. Summer/Fall types bloom August/September. The third type doesn't fit the other two categories and can bloom and re-bloom throughout the season.

Bloom Colors: White, Pink, Purple, Magenta and variations of those colors. Hybrids are being constantly developed.

Bloom Types: Depending on the variety, flowers can be single or double. Petals can be rounded or pointed. Some varieties also feature bell-shaped nodding flowers.

Root Care Tip:

Clematis like their roots to be shaded. They won't grow properly without this important and often overlooked growing condition. A good way to do this is to plant something at the base to shade it.

Here is a funny story to share with you:

In the time when I was a newbie gardener, I had purchased two Clematis vines in the spring and proceeded to plant them. I followed the planting instructions on the plant tag. Nowhere on the plant tag did it say the roots needed to be shaded. They didn't do well and the following year, I thought they had completed died. Nothing was left above ground. So I proceeded to plant something else near the same spot. Lo and behold, that early summer, I had something climbing up my trellis. When they bloomed, I finally figured out that it was the Clematis I planted the year before and they bloomed beautifully. They have continued to climb and bloom reliably every year since. I've even replaced their arbor, thinking it might stunt their growth because I had to trim them back off the old arbor (that was literally falling apart might I add!) and they have recovered very well for me.

A new arbor and new growth quickly taking over
A new arbor and new growth quickly taking over | Source

Did You Know?

The name Clematis is from Ancient Greek meaning 'a climbing plant'.

Other Common Names for Clematis

  • Traveler's Joy
  • Old Man's Beard
  • Leather Flower
  • Vase Vine

Growing Tip:

Clematis vines can take several years to reach maturity. To speed this process along, pick plants from the nursery that are quart sized or bigger. These plants are usually on their second year of growth and will give you a head start.

Clematis Types Schedule

Bloom Time
Blooms on?
Pruning Needs
Type 1
Flowers in Spring
Last's years growth
Doesn't need pruning, but can clean it up after flowering
Type 2
Flowers early Summer
On both old growth and new growth
Prune in spring before it leafs out
Type 3
Flowers late Summer and early Fall
New growth
Can prune back hard in spring
All Other Types
Bloom times vary-doesn't fit into the other 3 categories
New growth
Dies completely to the ground. All dead growth can be removed
Clematis "Rhapsody" variety
Clematis "Rhapsody" variety | Source
Clematis "Samaritan Jo"
Clematis "Samaritan Jo" | Source

Pests and Disease

Most of the modern Clematis hybrids are more resistant to pests and diseases than their predecessors, however, they can still occasionally be affected by the following problems:

  • Clematis Wilt-a stem rot caused by a fungus
  • Powdery Mildew
  • Slugs and Snails
  • Aphids

The best way to combat these problems is to make sure you inspect your Clematis often to nip any problems in the bud before they become larger issues. Making sure your Clematis gets the proper sunlight and soil requirements can keep your plant healthy and able to recover better when something does happen.

Clematis "Kilian Donohue"  variety
Clematis "Kilian Donohue" variety | Source

Applications in the Garden Landscape Design

Clematis are great companions to other climbers such as climbing Roses and Honeysuckle. When your Clematis is done flowering, the Roses or Honeysuckle will fill in the spot with their blooms. If you are lucky, you will have your Roses or Honeysuckle blooming at the same time. Picking colors that contrast will give you that extra visual interest!

A combination of Clematis "Jackmanii" and a Climbing Rose in late spring.  This will go on to climb to great heights!
A combination of Clematis "Jackmanii" and a Climbing Rose in late spring. This will go on to climb to great heights! | Source
Clematis gone to seed in the Fall.  Quite visually interesting!
Clematis gone to seed in the Fall. Quite visually interesting! | Source

Did You Know?

Clematis plants can live up to 50 years or more!

Types of Climbing Structures

You can grow Clematis just about anywhere, but I find they look best and perform their best against a structure like the side of a house, barn or garage. They also do well in containers provided there are other plants at the base to shade their roots. Annuals are a perfect combination, and you can play around with bloom colors to contrast your Clematis nicely. Providing a structure is preferred, although certain varieties can be grown as a shrub.

Here are some suggested climbing structures:

  • Trellis
  • Arbor
  • Pergola
  • Lamp Post
  • Utility Pole
  • Porch Post
  • Mailbox Post

Clematis "Kilian Donohue" close-up
Clematis "Kilian Donohue" close-up | Source

Thanks for Stopping By!

Clematis make great plants. Even though I would not consider them to be care-free or maintenance-free, with little effort you can grow these pretty climbers. There are hundreds of types on the market today, so whatever your color preference or bloom time, there is a Clematis plant out there waiting for you!

Thanks for visiting my Hub and please check out my other articles here on HubPages! Feedback is welcomed and encouraged.

Happy Gardening!

© 2015 Lisa Roppolo


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