All about Clematis

The Clematis is a large family of hardy, deciduous and evergreen climbers. They are relatively easy to grow and maintain and can flourish in most places and can produce a variety of colours to add colour to your garden.
The Clematis comes in a huge variety of species with hundreds of variations in colour, flower size, etc.

To ensure your Clematis produces flowers and a healthy foilage some simple steps can be taken.


Plant in limey soil with plenty of leaf mould to keep the roots moist. Some people cover the base of the plants with broken pots, pebbles, decorative gravel or even small rooted plants such as heather to keep the sun from drying out the soil, which also helps keeps the roots moist.
Ideally the plants should be kept in a sunny or partially shaded area.

Because the Clematis is a climbing species you will need to ensure that you provide some method of support for the vines to grow. This can be as simple as some canes, a wall, a trellis or even a tree.
  • If planting near a tree ensure that you plant at the outer edge of the root system to allow the Clematis to grow up and around the tree.
  • If planting in a pot then place the supporting cane in the centre of the root system (be careful not to damge the roots as they can be extremely delicate, especially on young plants). Plant with the top edge of the root system being approx. 5cm below the top edge of the soil surface. Ideally the pots should not be plastic as the root system will get too hot in summer and too cold in winter. The pots should have a diameter of no less than 30cm and a height of 40cm minimum.
  • If planting against a wall place the root system approx. 40cm away from the wall to allow access to water. Insert a cane into the centre of the root system and angle the cane towards the wall.
Some people add some form of tubing into the soil directed from the root system to the surface (be it in pots or the ground). This allows direct watering to the root system in dry conditions.
When planting add some good quality compost to the soil (Cow dung or well rotted manure can also be used). Train the initial foilage around the target support (cane, tree, etc) and water well.
The plant should initially be watered daily and fertilized weekly with a liquid fertilizer until the plant is aclimitized to the location.

To prune or not to prune? Depending on what your goal is will depend on whether or not you need to prune the plant.
If you are looking to make your plant quite bushy then during the first spring after planting, cut back all large-flowering hybrids to the lowest pair of buds, even those varieties that do not need pruning. If the plant continues up on one stem only, pinch out the growing tip once or twice during the summer. This will help to encourage bushy growth and minimise the risk of clematis wilt.

Many find the seed heads to be very attractive and leave them on until they mature and drop off naturally.
Dead-heading young plants is usually good practice in order to help them establish.
Clematis are typically categorised into 3 groups and each group can be treated slightly differently when pruning. These pruning suggestions are for established vines that have been in the ground for at least three years. Young vines should all be pruned to 12 inches in their second spring and to 18 inches in their third spring. It helps to develop more shoots, a fuller vine, and a better root system.
Group 1 - This group contains species which bloom early in the year. These clematis will develop into very large specimen plants over time. All of the Group 1 clematis bloom on growth made the previous year. They can be pruned to keep them within their alotted space, or to remove dead and unsightly foliage. Note however, if they are pruned late in the season, or before they flower in the year, you will be cutting off potential flower buds. They should be pruned right after flowering, if at all.
Group 2 - These are the large flowered hybrids. They are often divided again into two subgroups - 2a and 2b. The main difference between the two subgroups is: those in 2a normally bloom in the spring and possibly again in the autumn; those in 2b bloom mainly in the spring then intermittently all through the summer. Subgroup 2b types usually continue to grow as well as bloom as the season progresses so in the spring you might have a mass of blooms at waist height and by autumn they may be blooming overhead. The flowers of both subgroups tend to be smaller later in the season and might be more intensely or differently colored as well. All of the clematis in Group 2 bloom on 'old wood' (actually on short shoots from old wood) and should not be pruned except for deadwood pruning in early spring after the leaf buds open slightly. Note that those in subgroup 2b also bloom on new wood. The number of later flowers can be increased if the seed heads from the first flowering are removed.
Group 3 - These are the summer blooming varieties that bloom on new wood and the late bloomers. Clematis in Group 3 mainly flower on new wood produced in the current year and should be pruned back severely every year in late winter, when they are completely dormant, to about 12 - 14 inches. Leave at least two pairs of buds (4) on each stem of the plant. Most Group 3s are very fast growing and will reach their full height before blooming every summer. If you fail to prune these, they will develop long 'legs' that get woody and will be devoid of foliage and blooms.
It should be noted that with Group 2s and Group 3s you can vary both flowering height and flowering time by adjusting your pruning strategy. Since the above guidelines are based on gereral principles, once the principles are understood, you can alter your pruning to suit your needs.
For example, if you have a type which you want to flower around a second story window pruning it down to 12-14 inches each year will mean that it can never reach the heights you intend. Instead, knowing that it will grow approximately 10-12 feet each year, you can prune it back to a point which will allow it to flower at the height you need.
Also, if you are growing Group 3 types into a shrub or a tree, it is best to only prune them down to a branch that gives them an early start next spring. You would not want to prune them to 12 inches and put them into a very shady situation next spring. It will stunt them.
You can also control flowering time by either pruning later so that flowers are produced later, or not pruning some of the vines so that you may get flowers earlier. By pruning those in Group 2b as if they were Group 3 type plants, you can get a bigger display of flowers later in the year.

Clematis are quite resilient plants, and you are unlikely to kill your plant by pruning it wrong. The worst damage that is likely to happen by incorrect or untimely pruning would be the loss of flowers for one year.
It is a good idea to make a note and keep track of the name of any clematis you have or may buy so you can find out which pruning group it belongs to. The tag will usually tell you to either 'prune hard' or 'prune lightly'.

You may also see clematis listed as Group or Type A, B, or C. These letters correspond to Group 1, 2, and 3, respectively, as given above.

For a list of various species that fall into each of the above categories see also "Clematis Groups"

Problems with Clematis
With the Clematis being quite a hardy plant it is unlikely to suffer from any problems. Also as long as your plant is taken care of you are unlikely to suffer from any pest problems like to are on other plants.

The main problems that are encountered are as follows;

Yellow Leaves - The main cause of this problem is if your Clematis isn't getting the correct level of water. If you are sure that your Clematis is getting enough water, then you may be suffering from a lack of magnesium. Some tomato fertilizers contain magnesium so the easiest way to combat this is to purchase some tomato fertilizer and follow the directions with your particluar purchase. If you cannot find a tomato fertilizer containing magnesium, which in general can also be an excellent choice for fertilizing clematis, an epsom salt solution is an alternative magnesium supplement. Again, special care should be taken when using these particular products and the instructions on the particular brand you purchase should be followed, reserving your own judgement on the response you see on your plant.

Brown Leaves - Some browning of the lower leaves seems to be a normal occurrence with some cultivars of clematis and isn't anything in particular to cause worry. It usually happens in the summer after blooming time and is typically down to the heat. As long as you make sure that the plant is well watered and has a thick layer of organic mulch around its base to conserve moisture there is little more that can be done to prevent this. Just prune away the dead leaves and leave the vines alone. Many times the leaves can just be crushed and they will fall away.

Another type of browning leaves happens when the plant, or part of the plant, has suffered from 'wilt' and that portion has died. In this case the brown leaves extend to the growing tip and the vine becomes very brittle, almost black, and the axil buds are also brown or black. It takes some experience to determine whether this portion is dead. If the tip is bent and it snaps off cleanly, it is dead. Prune this down to either a living branch, live leaf axil, or to the base. The plant may be dormant for a period, but if kept well watered and fed you should see new growth shoot either later the same year, or the following year.

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