Create Your Garden

Clematis: How to Grow and Care with Success

Clematis alpina, Clematis macropetala, Clematis Montana, Clematis viticella, Clematis terniflora, Clematis texensis

Clematis, Perennial Vine, Clematis alpina, Clematis macropetala, Clematis Montana, Clematis viticella, Clematis terniflora, Clematis texensis

What is Clematis?

Clematis is a genus of climbing, twining, or trailing plants in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, consisting of over 380 species and numerous cultivars. These perennial plants are native to various parts of the world, including Asia and North America. Clematis is prized for its showy, diverse, and often fragrant flowers, making it a popular choice for gardens and landscapes.

Flowers: The flowers come in a wide range of colors, shapes, and sizes, from small, bell-shaped blooms to large, star-like flowers. Colors include white, pink, purple, red, blue, and bicolor combinations.

Blooming season: The flowering period depends on the species and cultivar, but generally, clematis bloom from late spring to fall. Some species, like Sweet Autumn Clematis, are known for their fragrant flowers, which emit a sweet scent in the fall months. Learn more about clematis and their blooming seasons.

Height: This vine varies greatly in size, with some species and cultivars growing only a few feet tall while others can reach heights of 20 feet (6 meters) or more. The plants climb using their leaf stalks, which wrap around supporting structures such as trellises, arbors, fences, or other plants.

Hardiness: The plants are hardy in USDA zones 4-11, depending on the species and cultivar.

Landscape uses: Clematis plants are versatile and can be used in various garden settings, including vertical gardens, mixed borders, containers, and as ground covers. They can also be trained to climb over arbors, pergolas, fences, or walls, providing a stunning visual display and adding height to the garden.

Toxicity: Some parts, particularly the foliage, can be toxic if ingested, causing irritation and discomfort. It is essential to keep pets and children away from these plants to avoid accidental ingestion.

Guide Information

Hardiness 4 - 11
Plant Type Climbers, Shrubs
Genus Clematis
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy
Tolerance Deer, Rabbit
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds
Landscaping Ideas Wall-Side Borders, Ground Covers, Patio And Containers, Arbors, Pergolas, Trellises, Beds And Borders, Banks And Slopes
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Coastal Garden, Informal and Cottage
Clematis ‘Alaina’ (Early Large-Flowered Clematis)
Clematis ‘Apple Blossom’ (Evergreen Group)
Clematis ‘Bees’ Jubilee’ (Early Large-Flowered Clematis)

Why Should I Grow Clematis?

There are several reasons to consider growing this beautiful climber in your garden:

Stunning flowers: Clematis plants are prized for their showy, vibrant flowers that come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. The blooms add visual interest and beauty to your garden throughout the flowering season.

Extended blooming period: Depending on the species and cultivar, they can bloom from late spring to fall, providing color and interest in your garden for an extended period. Some varieties even have repeat blooming habits.

Fragrance: Some species, like Sweet Autumn Clematis, are known for their fragrant flowers, which can add a delightful scent to your garden, particularly during the fall months.

Vertical interest: Clematis is a climbing plant, which makes it perfect for adding height and vertical interest to your garden. By growing them on trellises, arbors, pergolas, fences, or walls, you can maximize the use of vertical space and create dynamic garden displays.

Versatility: Clematis can be incorporated into various garden settings, including mixed borders, containers, and ground covers. They can be combined with other climbing plants, shrubs, or perennials to create stunning plant compositions.

Easy to grow: While the plants have some specific care requirements, such as pruning and providing support, they are generally easy to grow and maintain once established. With proper care, they can provide years of enjoyment and beauty in your garden.

Pollinator attraction: The flowers attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies, helping support local ecosystems and pollinator populations. By planting clematis, you contribute to a healthier environment and create a more dynamic, lively garden space.

Deer and rabbit resistance: Clematis plants are generally resistant to deer and rabbits, making them a suitable choice for gardens in areas where these animals are prevalent. While not entirely immune to browsing, this vine is less likely to be targeted when other preferred food sources are available.

Clematis ‘Bourbon’ (Early Large-Flowered Clematis)
Clematis ‘Cezanne’ (Early Large-Flowered Clematis)
Clematis ‘Crystal Fountain’ (Early Large-Flowered Clematis)

Is Clematis an Invasive Plant?

Some species, like Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis paniculata), can become invasive in certain regions, out-competing native plants and negatively impacting local ecosystems.

Before planting clematis, check with your local extension office to ensure the species or cultivar is not invasive in your area.

If you love the spectacular beauty of Sweet Autumn Clematis, find here beautiful native plant alternatives.

Main Clematis Types

Clematis plants can be grouped into three main types based on their pruning and flowering habits:

Type 1 – Early-flowering species and cultivars: These clematis plants bloom in late winter or early spring, producing flowers on the previous year’s growth. They require minimal pruning, typically only to remove dead or damaged stems and maintain their shape. Some popular examples of Type 1 clematis include Clematis alpina, Clematis macropetala, and Clematis Montana.

Type 2 – Large-flowered hybrids: Type 2 clematis plants bloom in late spring to early summer on the previous year’s growth and often have a second flush of flowers on the new growth later in the summer. These plants require light pruning to promote flowering and maintain a balanced shape. Some well-known large-flowered hybrids include Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’, Clematis ‘Henryi’, and Clematis ‘Niobe’.

Type 3 – Late-flowering species and cultivars: These clematis plants flower in midsummer to fall, producing blooms on the current season’s growth. They require more extensive pruning in late winter or early spring, as they develop flowers on new growth. Pruning back to a pair of strong buds encourages vigorous growth and abundant blooms. Examples of Type 3 clematis include Clematis viticella, Clematis terniflora (Sweet Autumn Clematis), and Clematis texensis.

There are many species and cultivars of clematis: Find which one could be yours.

Understanding the main types of clematis and their pruning requirements is crucial for successful growth and flowering. By choosing the right type for your garden and providing proper care, you can enjoy the spectacular display of clematis blooms throughout the season.

Clematis ‘Diamantina’ (Early Large-Flowered Clematis)
Clematis ‘Doctor Ruppel’ (Early Large-Flowered Clematis)
Clematis ‘Elizabeth’ (Montana Group)

When to plant Clematis

  • The best time to plant clematis is during the cooler months of spring or fall. This allows the plants to establish their root systems before the hot summer weather or the cold winter temperatures arrive.

Where to plant Clematis

  • Sunlight: Clematis should be planted in a location that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day. However, they also benefit from having their roots shaded and cool. You can achieve this by planting them near a fence, wall, or among other plants with a low, dense growth habit.
  • Soil: Clematis prefers well-draining soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH (6.5-7.5).
  • Support: Ensure the planting site has proper support structures like a trellis, arbor, or pergola for the clematis to climb.

How to plant Clematis

  • Prepare the planting hole: Dig a hole that is about twice as wide and deep as the container the clematis came in. If the soil is heavy clay, consider amending it with compost or well-rotted manure to improve drainage and fertility.
  • Position the plant: Gently remove the clematis from its container, taking care not to damage the roots. Position the plant in the hole so that the top of the root ball is about 2-3 inches (5-7 cm) below the soil surface. This helps promote the growth of additional shoots and a stronger root system.
  • Provide support: Place a support structure, like a trellis or stake, near the clematis so it can start climbing immediately. Gently guide the plant towards the support, being cautious not to break the delicate stems.
  • Backfill and water: Fill in the hole with soil, gently firming it around the root ball. Water the plant thoroughly to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets.
  • Mulch and protect: Apply a layer of mulch around the base of the plant to help retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weeds. Ensure the mulch doesn’t touch the plant’s stems to prevent rot.
Clematis ‘Empress’ (Early Large-Flowered Clematis)
Clematis ‘Etoile Violette’ (Viticella Group)
Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’ (Early Large-Flowered Clematis)

Landscaping with Clematis

Landscaping with clematis can create a stunning visual impact in your garden, especially when combined with other plants like roses and carefully selected companions. Here are some tips and ideas for incorporating clematis into your landscape:

Climbing structures: Use clematis to add vertical interest by planting them near structures like trellises, arbors, pergolas, or fences. Their climbing habit can provide privacy, create garden rooms, or serve as a focal point in the landscape.

Combining with roses: Pairing clematis with roses creates a romantic, cottage-garden feel. Choose clematis and rose varieties with similar growing requirements and complementary colors. Plant the clematis about 12-18 inches (30-45 cm) away from the rose, allowing them to grow together and cover the support structure. This combination can also help extend the bloom season, as many clematis varieties bloom before or after the roses.

Companion plants: When choosing companion plants for clematis, consider plants that have similar growing requirements, provide contrasting or complementary colors, and offer different bloom times or textures. Some excellent companion plants for clematis include:

Perennials: Salvia, peonies, delphiniums, daylilies, irises, and hostas.

Shrubs: Hydrangeas, lilacs, and viburnums.

Annuals: Sweet peas, morning glories, and climbing nasturtiums.

Ground cover: Plant clematis with low-growing ground cover plants to keep their roots cool and shaded, which is essential for their success. Suitable ground cover plants include creeping thyme, sedum, and ajuga.

Container gardens: If you have limited garden space or want to add clematis to a patio or balcony, consider planting them in large containers with a support structure like a trellis or obelisk. This allows you to enjoy their beauty in small spaces and move them around as needed.

Mixed borders: Incorporate clematis into mixed borders with a variety of perennials, shrubs, and grasses. This approach creates an attractive, layered look that offers visual interest throughout the year.

Espalier: Train clematis plants to grow flat against a wall or fence in an espalier form. This technique can be an eye-catching focal point and is especially suitable for small gardens.

When landscaping with clematis, consider their growing requirements, including sunlight, soil, and support structures. By combining them with roses and other companion plants, you can create a lush, vibrant, and visually appealing garden space that showcases the beauty of these versatile climbers.

 

Clematis ‘Henryi’ (Early Large-Flowered Clematis)
Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ (Late Large-Flowered Clematis)
Clematis ‘Josephine’ (Early Large-Flowered Clematis)

Clematis Care

Caring for clematis plants involves several key aspects to ensure healthy growth and abundant flowering. Here are some essential steps for proper care:

  • Watering: Clematis plants prefer consistently moist but well-draining soil. During the first growing season, water regularly to establish a strong root system. In subsequent years, water as needed, especially during periods of drought or hot weather. Avoid overwatering, as this can lead to root rot.
  • Fertilizing: Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in early spring to promote vigorous growth and flowering. You can also top-dress with compost or well-rotted manure to improve soil fertility. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers, as they can encourage excessive foliage growth at the expense of flowers.
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the plant to help retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weeds. Keep the mulch away from the plant’s stems to prevent rot.
  • Supporting: Provide a sturdy support structure, such as a trellis, arbor, or pergola, for your clematis to climb. Gently guide the plant towards the support, being cautious not to break the delicate stems.
  • Winter protection: In colder climates, provide winter protection for your plants by applying a thick layer of mulch around the base of the plant in late fall. This helps insulate the roots from freezing temperatures. You can also wrap the stems of less hardy varieties with burlap or frost cloth to protect them from extreme cold.

How to Prune Clematis

Pruning clematis correctly is crucial for maintaining the plant’s health and encouraging abundant flowering. As mentioned earlier, clematis plants are divided into three main types based on their flowering habits. Each type has specific pruning requirements:

Type 1 – Early-flowering species and cultivars

Type 1 clematis bloom on shoots produced in the previous summer: No regular pruning is required. Just clean them up after flowering.

Type 2 – Large-flowered hybrids

Type 2 clematis should be pruned in late winter or early spring before new growth starts and after the first flush of flowers in early summer.

Prune in late winter or early spring: Remove dead or weak stems before growth begins. Check individual stems from the top down until you reach a pair of healthy buds, and prune just above them, removing the spindly or damaged growth above. Avoid heavy pruning, or flowers will be lost

Then prune again after the first flush of flowers: To encourage a second flush of flowers later in the season, prune back some stems by cutting to large buds or a strong side shoot immediately below the blooms. Top-heavy or overgrown plants can be gradually reduced over two to three seasons by pruning back harder after the first flush of flowers. They are unlikely to produce a second flush of flowers but should flower again the following year, in late spring or early summer

Alternatively, leave clematis in this group unpruned, and then hard prune them to 30-90cm (1–3ft) from the base every three or four years in late winter (as for pruning group three). In the first year after renovation, they will only flower once.

Type 3 – Late-flowering species and cultivars

Type 3 clematis bloom on the current year’s shoots. They should be pruned in late winter or early spring and require ‘hard pruning’. Simply cut back the stems to a pair of strong buds about 1ft. (30 cm) above ground level before growth begins in early spring.

Clematis ‘Multi Blue’ (Early Large-Flowered Clematis)
Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’ (Early Large-Flowered Clematis)
Clematis ‘Niobe’ (Early Large-Flowered Clematis)

How to Propagate

There are several methods to propagate clematis, including through seeds, cuttings, and layering. Here’s a brief overview of each technique:

Propagation from seeds:

  • Collect seeds from mature clematis plants after the seedheads have dried.
  • Sow the seeds in a well-draining seed-starting mix and cover them lightly with the mix.
  • Keep the soil consistently moist and maintain a temperature of 65-70°F (18-21°C) for germination, which can take several weeks or even months for some species.
  • Once the seedlings have developed a few sets of true leaves, transplant them into individual pots, and continue to grow them until they are large enough to plant in their permanent location.

Keep in mind that clematis grown from seeds may not be true to the parent plant, especially for hybrid varieties.

Propagation from cuttings:

  • Take softwood cuttings in late spring or early summer or semi-hardwood cuttings in late summer or early fall.
  • Choose healthy, non-flowering stems and make a cut about 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) long just below a leaf node.
  • Remove the leaves from the lower half of the cutting and dip the cut end in rooting hormone.
  • Plant the cuttings in a well-draining potting mix and cover the pot with a plastic bag or place it in a propagator to maintain humidity.
  • Keep the cuttings in a warm, bright location out of direct sunlight and water as needed to maintain consistent moisture.
  • After 4-6 weeks, check for root development by gently tugging on the cutting. If it resists, roots have formed.
  • Once the cuttings have established roots, transplant them into individual pots, and continue to grow them until they are ready to plant in their permanent location.

Propagation by layering:

  • Choose a healthy, flexible stem from the parent plant that can be bent down to the ground.
  • In early spring or fall, make a small, upward-slanting cut halfway through the stem about 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) from the tip.
  • Apply rooting hormone to the cut surface and secure the wounded section in a shallow trench in the soil, leaving the tip exposed.
  • Cover the wounded area with soil and secure it with a U-shaped pin or small stone.
  • Water the layered section well and continue to care for the parent plant as usual.
  • After about a year, the stem should have formed roots. Cut the rooted section from the parent plant and carefully transplant it to its new location.
Clematis ‘Pink Fantasy’ (Late Large-Flowered Clematis)
Clematis ‘Polish Spirit’ (Late Large-Flowered Clematis)
Clematis ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans’ (Viticella Group)

Pests and Diseases

Clematis plants can be affected by a variety of pests and diseases. Here are some common issues and how to manage them:

Clematis wilt: This is a fungal disease that causes the sudden wilting and collapse of stems, often accompanied by blackened foliage. To manage clematis wilt, promptly remove and dispose of any affected stems, cutting back to healthy tissue. Keep the plant well-watered and maintain good air circulation around the plant to minimize the risk of infection.

Powdery mildew: This fungal disease appears as a white, powdery coating on leaves and stems. It can cause leaf distortion, yellowing, and premature leaf drop. To prevent and control powdery mildew, ensure adequate air circulation around the plant, avoid overhead watering, and apply fungicides as necessary.

Aphids: These small, sap-sucking insects can cause distorted growth, yellowing leaves, and a sticky residue called honeydew that encourages the growth of sooty mold. Control aphids by spraying them with a strong jet of water, applying insecticidal soap or neem oil, or introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs or lacewings.

Spider mites: These tiny pests feed on plant sap, causing stippling, yellowing, and eventual browning of leaves. Heavy infestations can lead to leaf drop and reduced vigor. Manage spider mites by spraying the plant with water to dislodge them, using insecticidal soap or horticultural oil, or introducing predatory insects like Phytoseiulus persimilis.

Slugs and Snails: Slugs and snails can chew on the leaves, creating irregular holes and damage. Control these pests by hand-picking, using slug traps or baits, or applying a barrier of diatomaceous earth or copper tape around the base of the plant.

Root rot: Poorly-drained soils can lead to root rot, a fungal disease that causes yellowing and wilting leaves, stunted growth, and eventual plant death. Prevent root rot by planting clematis in well-draining soil and avoiding overwatering.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does clematis like sun or shade?

Most clematis varieties prefer full sun or partial shade, receiving at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. However, some species and cultivars can tolerate more shade, particularly those with smaller flowers or those native to woodland environments. Ensure you know the specific sunlight requirements for your variety and plant it accordingly.

Do clematis come back every year?

Clematis plants are perennial, meaning they come back every year. Their deciduous or evergreen nature, depending on the variety, determines whether they retain their leaves or lose them in the winter. With proper care, including pruning and fertilizing, the plants can continue to grow and produce flowers year after year.

Where is the best place to plant clematis?

The ideal location for planting clematis depends on the specific variety and its sunlight requirements. Generally, choose a spot that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight daily and has well-draining, fertile soil. Additionally, the plants prefer their roots to remain cool and shaded, so plant them near a low-growing ground cover or provide mulch to keep the roots cool. Ensure there is a suitable support structure, like a trellis, arbor, or fence, for the clematis to climb.

How many years does a clematis last?

With proper care, clematis plants can live for many years, sometimes 20 years or more. Their lifespan depends on factors such as the specific variety, growing conditions, and overall care. By providing adequate water, nutrients, and protection from pests and diseases, you can ensure your plant thrives for a long time.

Click here to compare all Clematis vines

Garden Examples

A Pretty Duo with Clematis and Lilies
A Super Climbing Duo with Clematis ‘Ernest Markham’
A Super Climbing Duo with Clematis ‘The President’
A Super Climbing Duo with Clematis ‘Viola’
A Super Climbing Duo with Clematis alpina
A Super Climbing Duo with Clematis montana and Wisteria
A Super Climbing Duo with Clematis montana Grandiflora
A Super Climbing Duo with Clematis x durandii
A Super Climbing Duo with Crimson Roses and Purple Clematis
A Super Climbing Trio with Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon’
A Super Climbing Trio with Clematis and Roses
A Cheerful Border Idea with Monarda, Clematis and Artemisia
Compare All Clematis
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Explore Great Plant Combination Ideas
Clematis
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Clematis
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 4 - 11
Plant Type Climbers, Shrubs
Genus Clematis
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy
Tolerance Deer, Rabbit
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds
Landscaping Ideas Wall-Side Borders, Ground Covers, Patio And Containers, Arbors, Pergolas, Trellises, Beds And Borders, Banks And Slopes
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Coastal Garden, Informal and Cottage
Compare All Clematis
Compare Now
Explore Great Plant Combination Ideas
Clematis
Guides with
Clematis

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