CLEMATIS PLANTING, CARE & USES OF CLEMATIS
Preparation is all. I know it's tedious, but all the effort you put into preparing the ground for your clematis will be worth while. When your clematis arrives home it will be fine in its pot for a short time ( provided you remember to water it ) while you prepare its new home.
- Dig a nice decent sized hole, at least twice the depth of the pot and at least 2 feet away from a wall and at least 3 ft away from a tree trunk.
- Put well rotted compost and/or manure in the bottom of the hole along with some grit for drainage and a few handfuls of bonemeal ( or similar ) fertilizer. You can use a thin layer of peat as a buffer between the manure and the plant.
- Soak the plant for 30 minutes or so, then carefully tip out of the pot. If it is a hybrid, carefully spread the roots a little. If it's a species, try to disturb the roots as little as possible.
- Plant deeper than the original container - not necessarily 2 or 3 inches deeper, but as much as it takes to get at least one other set of leaf nodes below the ground. We have done this since the plant was a cutting, and it has been potted on at least three times since then. Do it once more!
- If your soil is poor, fill in the hole with John Innes No 3 and because clematis like a cool root run ( hedgerow plants ) add paving slabs or pebbles, low growing shrubs or a deep mulch. They can tolerate quite high extremes of heat, but they don't like getting thirsty, so what you are really doing is retaining moisture. They are members of the ranunculus family, along with buttercups, hellebores, delphiniums, anemones and the like so although they like plenty to drink ( a large established plant can drink a gallon a day in hot weather ) they will not be happy in waterlogged situations - their roots will rot. In dryer places, planting an open ended pipe with your clematis, filling it with stones you will be able to pour liquid feed and water straight to where the plant needs it most - the roots, avoiding too much evaporation on a hot day.
- Try not to expect too much of your clematis in its first year - or even its second. Patience is a great virtue in a gardener, and instant gardening is best left for television programmes. Take time to concentrate on creating a strong plant, pruning hard in the first year after planting ( See NEW PLANTS in Pruning Advice) even if it means sacrificing a few flowers. It's worth it in the long run. It is my experience that large flowered hybrids occasionally take a year off, dead to all appearances, but flower strong and better the following year. Don't be in too much of a hurry to dig a plant up - they can be awkward but are so beautiful they are worth the extra trouble.
PLANTING IN CONTAINERS
There has been much interest recently in growing clematis in containers. It's perfectly possible and looks absolutely marvelous but much depends on the variety chosen and this will also decree the length of time it can remain in the container without becoming root bound. A 30ft montana in a 12 inch pot is not going to last long whereas a short growing hybrid, is going to do significantly better. If you are choosing a plant for display purposes ( as a specimen plant for instance ) as opposed to putting it in a pot because there is no soil for it to go in, your choices may be different.
- Pot on gradually. A 2 litre pot into a half barrel will only become waterlogged and miserable. Pot on in 2 inch increments until the plant is big enough to cope with a larger home.
- Use John Innes No 3 ( formulated for container grown plants with slow release fertiliser ) mixed with grit to add drainage and stability against wind.
- For a specimen plant, choose a shorter growing variety, generally a large flowered hybrid though some of the species such as alpina's, macropetala's (amongst others) are very successful. Pinch each growing tip out to encourage a bushy well branched plant - shape is important. You will need to let a few shoots grow taller to give good proportion.
- Choose an attractive structure for your plant to grow up. A willow wigwam or something similar always looks nice, and tie in the new growth as it appears. (see 'USES OF CLEMATIS' for other ideas).
- The plant is reliant on your for food and water - the roots are contained and cannot get into the ground to find sustenance. Liquid feed once a week in the growing season, stopping when buds begin to form. After first flush of flowering, feed again to encourage strong growth and a second flush in the autumn.
- Cover the soil with a thick layer of grit to discourage snails and to retain moisture. This has the disadvantage of hiding whether the soil is too dry but will also discourage the dreaded vine weevil.
- When flowers start to become smaller, leaf and growth is thinner, it is time to re-pot. Turn out during the dormant season and either pot into a larger container, plant into the garden and start again, or reduce the rootball with a suitable implement (mind fingers) and re-pot.
- If plant looks sad for no apparent reason, check for vine weevils!
- In winter, move pot to a cold greenhouse, shed or the lee of the house - somewhere where constant rain and inclement weather will not waterlog the plant and rot the roots.
- You could put two or even three varieties in the same pot for contrasting flower colour or shape. Just remember extra food and water along with the necessity to re-pot sooner. Of course you could always treat them as a temporary display - almost like bedding plants. They'd certainly last longer and cost not much more than a bunch of flowers.
PLANTING THROUGH TREES
- Choose your tree carefully. A montana will almost certainly kill its host, eventually.
- I'm sure someone out there has done it successfully, but we don't advise trees like Sycamore, Ash, Mighty Oaks etc. as good hosts. Too much competition.
- Choose tougher species clematis rather than hybrids which can't cope.
- Plant to the north ( shady ) side and out on the edge of the canopy. You won't be able to get a spade into the ground too near the trunk and even if you could, it would be too dry.
- Plant well ( see Planting Instructions ) and train clematis into the tree by means of canes or ropes.
- Remember the tree will be taking all the moisture and nutrients from the ground - it's up to you to compensate.
HOW FAR APART CAN I PLANT TWO VARIETIES ?
Generally speaking, large flowered hybrids can be planted 4 - 5 feet apart though they can be planted in the same hole if you want the flowers to mingle. However, if you do this, choose varieties with the same pruning code, otherwise problems will arise at pruning time! Shorter varieties can be used to mask the legginess of taller growing plants. Viticella's look especially well when planted together like this.
I would use the guidelines for height regarding other types... and your common sense. Two montana's very close together may attain monstrous proportions in an alarmingly short space of time!
Very important - clematis are voracious feeders. When you consider the amount of growth and flowers we expect from a plant, how could it be any different ? Perversely though, too much food is just as bad as too little ! You will find that large flowered hybrids need more dinner than, say, an orientalis or a montana which will probably get all it needs even in comparatively poor soil.
- Work a good general purpose fertilizer gently around the plant in late February, being careful of that fragile stem. Bonemeal (phosphate) is excellent. Mulch with garden compost.
- Liquid feed (tomato fertilizer is as good as anything ) once a week/10days during the growing season. Stop when buds form - if you continue you will shorten the flowering time. Rose fertilizer is also fine - something with potash.
- A mulch of good garden compost in the Autumn.
MOVING A LARGE PLANT
Best done in the late autumn/winter/early spring ( when dormant ) though the bigger the plant the lower the chances of success. However, if you've decided that this is the course of action you must take, it will doubtless be for A Very Good Reason and in all probability you've nothing to lose. It works best for large flowered hybrids.
- Take down the top growth, ( whether it's a hard pruning variety or not) to just above a strong set of buds. Try not to cut into very ancient gnarled growth but wherever possible take it down to about 2ft high.
- Make a framework of bamboo to support longer stems.
- Dig the plant out, leaving plenty of room around the stem ( in case there are new shoots under the ground ) and keeping as much root system as possible. Haul it out of the ground onto a sack/polythene sheet and move to new site. If you are planting straight away, have the new site prepared. If it is traveling any distance to a new home, retain moisture and protect the root ball as much as possible with extra sacking.
- Follow instructions for planting a smaller plant, ( except that the hole needs to be proportionately larger of course ). Plant deep again and make sure you water and feed especially well, particularly during the following spring and summer.
Personally, I wouldn't bother trying to move a vast montana, a tangutica type, or indeed any fairly rapid growing species. They tend to be fibrous rooted and object to being messed with, so it would be easier and less bother all round just to buy another plant !
USES OF CLEMATIS
We tend to think of clematis as climbers - that is, going upwards. They cannot cling, like an ivy, so will need supports for this, be it trellis, wires or other 'host' plants. However, what goes up can also come down, and so envisage them tumbling down banks, walls and rockeries, meandering amongst the borders, swaged along ropes and up poles, as features in the borders up formal obelisks or informal willow structures.
Herbaceous varieties cannot cling at all so need the support of another plant or they can be left to ramble as ground cover. Most especially grow them with other plants - roses and clematis are the best possible combination, but they can also do sterling work in brightening up shrubs with a short flowering season. There is a chart, Plants For Particular Places, which suggests varieties of clematis that are suitable for particular places such as north walls, containers, conservatories and also gives a list of good scented and cut-flower varieties.
This article was originally published on the web at ukclematis.co.uk, however that website is defunct at January 2009. The copyright is with the original owners of ukclematis.co.uk.