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What is Clematis?

Clematis are vining, quick-growing garden plants with big, often eight-petaled flowers. Their name, in Greek, means “twig” or “tendril,” and these prolific climbers certainly live up to their moniker! Some varieties of clematis are called “leather flowers” for their shiny, thick petals; bell-shaped clematis have been called “vase vine.” Clematis feature pink, purple, blue, or white flowers, and some varieties have double blooms.

Clematis are woody vining plants — not twiners like morning glory or vegetable vines — and they’re hardy in most U.S. gardening zones. Clematis vines grow quickly after their first couple of seasons, and can be used to cover trellises, fences or walls with the right support.

Where and when to plant Clematis

Clematis should be planted in the spring, to allow the plants to take hold before the harsh summer months. These plants like a lot of sun, but also prefer “cool roots” — tons of light directly on the base of the plants may stunt their growth. For optimal growing, plant clematis in a location that receives morning sun or lots of indirect sun. These plants require well-draining soil, so choose a location that isn’t full of clay or compacted earth, or till your soil with peat or loam to improve drainage.

How to grow Clematis

Clematis need something to “grab onto,” or they will stop growing — these climbers love to climb! Place a trellis — preferably one with thin spokes — or netting made of thin line near the clematis when planting, check on the sturdiness of that structure throughout the life of your clematis.  Your clematis will wrap leaf tendrils around its supports, and these plants have been known to pull down trellises.

For the first year, clematis do require a little work. These vines will not grow quickly for their first season, but still require weekly watering and monthly fertilization with a balanced fertilizer. It’ll be well-worth it: after a season, these plants will provide ongoing, colourful blooms for years!

How to care for Clematis plants

After they’ve been established, Clematis plants are very easy to care for: they just need occasional watering and monthly fertilization after the first year. However, you can expect your clematis to need some pruning. Some clematis varieties bloom on “old wood,” meaning that you can’t cut the plant all the way down each spring if you want to see flowers. Some are “new wood” bloomers, which means you can prune all the way to the ground. Regardless, we recommend waiting until spring rolls around and seeing how much of the wood is “dead-dead:” then, only prune wood that isn’t going to green up again, along with any branches that you want to remove for the purposes of shape.

Where to buy Clematis

Clematis need several years of growth before you can truly divide and replant these plants. Luckily, Clematis are available from Breck’s in a wide variety of cultivars!

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