Native to England, the popular member of Ranunculaceae or the buttercup family, clematis is a genus of about 300 flowering creepers. Cultivars of this vine have been developed to suit most climatic conditions so that no one is left out when it comes to celebrating the beauty of these flowers. What a clematis vine offers is variety in flower colors, form, patterns, designs, foliage, and varied plant height.
Clematis Vine and Flowers
Most species of the clematis family are vigorous climbers, with a few odd exceptions that grow to be herbaceous. The flowers in this genus can be single or double with thin petals that could be wide, rounded, pointed, crinkled, crimped, or even twisted. They come in vibrant colors like red, blue, pink, yellow, white, purple, etc. They have diverse patterns of center bars and stripes, with shades of colors that are contradicting at times, highlighting the designs and patterns. The flowers could be bell or pitcher-shaped, with sizes ranging from an inch to about 10-12 inches. Some varieties have stamens while some do not. The form of your clematis, i.e., shrubby or herbaceous, deciduous or evergreen, and annual or biennial, depends upon the cultivar/hybrid you grow. Showy sepals of clematis resemble petals, but they are not the actual flower. The true flowers are the ones clustered in hundreds at the center, with the colorful sepals surrounding them, giving an appearance of a large single flower. Clematis is primarily grouped into three categories:
- Early Bloomers: These will generally bloom in April and May from buds produced on the previous season's growth. This variety includes C. alpina, C. macropetala, C. montana, C. armandii, C. chrysocoma, etc.
- Flowering Hybrids: Late summer flowers bloom on new growth, and once again on short stems from the previous season's growth in mid-June. Hybrid species include Vyvyan Pennell, Duchess of Edinburgh, Pink Champagne, Nelly Moser, etc.
- Late Bloomers: The flowers in this category bloom in July and through autumn on the present/current season's growth. The species C. tangutica, C. flammula, C. viticella, C. paniculata, C. maximowicziana, etc., and hybrids like Ville de Lyon, Inspiration, Royal Velours, and Duchess of Albany fall into this category.
Maintenance and Care
The first step towards having these beauties in your landscape is to get them. One can find a variety of them from local plant nurseries or propagate them through cuttings. A note here though: clematis propagation is not easy, and collecting the right cutting requires an experienced and practiced hand. Primarily, inter-nodal cuttings are used in early summer. Use a hormone rooting powder before pushing them into the ground. Ensure adequate moisture and humidity for their rooting to start and establish. One can also propagate them through their fluffy seed tails.
Clematis require full or partial sunlight to grow best and the flower colors to come true, although it is best to keep them out of harsh sunlight. They prefer fertile and well-drained soil, comprising peat moss, organic manure, and/or compost. Dig a hole about 6 inches deeper than the root ball as the plant's stems and foliage should be in sun and the roots, including the root ball, deep in the soil since it prefers a cool environment. Back-fill the soil and round off 4-5 inches of it around the plant to create a well-like place. Water well immediately, ensuring that the root ball is soaked well. A young vine will need frequent, but not excess, watering throughout its first year. The roots are not very good at competing with the roots of other plants, so choose a spot where you have plants with non-invasive and shallow root systems.
As most clematis are climbers, they will need support. The trellis or wall climber you choose as support should be thin, as they climb using their delicate twining petioles. Make sure the wire you use is free of rust. One can build a garden trellis at home too. A young clematis can be shaped and trained better than an established one. Do not crowd too many vine shoots towards one side, as it will fall to the ground due to concentration of weight there. The first year will see very little activity in foliage growth as the concentration is more on root growth. Once that is done, by the second year the clematis vine or shrub will grow vigorously and bloom too. Feed it annually before the flowering commences with a 3:1:2 or 4:1:2 ratio specific fertilizer. Once the vine or shrub is about 5-6 years old, it will not need much fertilizing and organic compost will suffice. Winter care includes pruning and protecting the vine from extreme cold. Although the roots prefer a cool environment, too much chill in the soil is damaging to them. Mulch around them before the onset of winter and remove it before the setting of spring.
Pruning is primarily done to remove old blooms and make way for a better profusion next season. It should be done annually, depending on the specific variety as mentioned above. Early bloomers should be pruned back as soon as the bloom gets over, before the end of July. Flowering hybrids can be pruned in February or March, and the cuts should be no more than a few inches from the stem tips. Late bloomers can be pruned in February or March by cutting each deadhead flower stem to a height of about two to three feet. Prune all dead and old wood. For a vine that has become too tangled, you can change its shape by giving it a hard prune in its specific pruning season.
The clematis is susceptible to Ascochyta clematidina, mildew, aphids, earwigs, slugs, etc., which can be gotten rid of with a little care that involves pruning and a regular spray of germicide. Like all flowering climbers, a blooming clematis can be planted using two to three different varieties (species) for one to enjoy a continuous bloom.