Clematis is a vigorous climbing plant of the same family as anemones, buttercups and peonies. The most popular climber, there are many clematis in gorgeous colours to choose between. Some are showy, large flowered hybrids whilst others are small, dangling bells; some are evergreen, others not. There are three flowering groups, so with careful choice you can have a succession of flowers from early spring until late summer.
Most clematis cultivars grow well on walls and fences, happily scramble through trees and large shrubs, or look good smothering an arch. The main considerations are the height the clematis will reach, its strength of growth and how to support it. They tend to be light plants and therefore do not need strong support, but a neglected mass of tangled stems can pull away from a wall, or thick growth can stop a tree from thriving .
Try to choose the best clematis for your garden situation: for exposed areas choose one the really hardy alpina or macropetala clematis. Where it’s important to have evergreen foliage, go for one of the glossy-leaved Clematis armandii, but they do like a sheltered spot. A large area to cover? Consider Clematis Montana, which will give you a fantastic burst of colour in late spring. A smaller area? You are spoiled for choice – ask a member of our team which clematis cultivars they recommend, and be prepared to fall for more than one!
Clematis can be planted from October to May, in humus-rich, fertile, well-drained soil and full sun. Soak your Clematis rootball prior to planting. Place in a bucket of water until the air bubbles stop coming to the surface and then remove and plant it. Where your clematis is to grow against a wall or fence (where there may be little rain penetration), or against a tree (where it will compete for water and nutrients), plant it at least 0.3m (1ft) away, leaning in at an angle, and plant deep enough to allow plenty of room for root development. The roots of clematis like to be cool, perhaps shaded by low growing shrubs or with a stone or slab over them. If planting in a container, ensure the pot is large enough to allow the roots to expand and develop. Tie in to wires or a trellis to help direct the new growth. Apply a liquid fertiliser each year during the growing season, and water regularly during hot periods
Avoid planting clematis near trees that have very dense root systems, such as cherry and beech trees. Better to plant away from the tree and train growth onto the edge of the canopy.
Pruning: regular pruning of clematis encourages strong growth and flowering, and if left unpruned, it could turn into a tangled mass, with no leaves or flowers on the lower parts of the plant. You might want that if the clematis is growing up through a tree, so you can just leave your clematis alone.
There is a lot of fear around pruning clematis, but actually it is quite logical:
Early flowering clematis: If your clematis is a very early flowering type-such as the evergreen Cklematis armandii, macropetala, alpina or montana types-it will flower on growth made in the previous year – it needs a full growing season to make flower buds for the following year, so if you prune it too late in the year – say mid-summer – there isn’t the time in the autumn to make flower buds. So the following year you will have no flowers, but the plant will not be harmed. Prune this clematis immediately after flowering, after the risk of frost has passed. And you only have to prune it if it’s getting out of hand. If it gets straggly or has lots of old, woody stems, cut it back hard to rejuvenate it.
Mid to Early Summer Flowering Clematis: this group includes the large flowered hybrids that start to flower in May and June. This clematis flowers on stems made in the previous season, so if you cut it back hard in the spring, then you will be pruning off your flowers. Prune it if you must in February and after the first flush of flowers in early summer.
Late Summer flowering, Large Flowered Clematis: this clematis flowers on growth made in the current year, so can be pruned quite hard in February or early March. Cut out old wood and cut newer stems back to pairs of healthy buds around 30cm (12in) from the ground to invigorate the plant and prompt strong new growth.
Clematis Wilt: if your Clematis suddenly wilts, and foliage dies, not all is necessarily lost: immediately prune away all dead and dying stems back to good healthy tissue, to help the plant to recover. If your clematis was planted deeply enough, it could regenerate from just below soil level.