I have just uncovered a poor, sickly-looking Clematis growing up the
sidewall of my little garden and I hope someone can help me make it
The plant has just a single "stem" measuring about one-eighth of an
inch thick running about 9 feet tall. At the top of the plant there
are some flowers and new growth but the lower 9 feet are absolutely
I am afraid that I do not know what variety it is -- it was there when
I moved in 6 years ago. The location gets about half sun during the
Up until yesterday the 9 feet of stem was mostly covered by a thick
vine. I've torn that away so that the Clematis is fully exposed (a
She looks so frail though that I am concern that it will snap in two
and I'll loose the whole thing.
What should I be doing to try to a) beef up this stem and b) to
promote some foliage along the first 9 feet of stalk?
Many thanks for any suggestions you can offer.
>The location gets about half sun during the day.
I only had a couple of years of experience with
clematises so take what I say with some healthy
skepticism thrown in. My best luck with them was
to have them in full sun, with the roots well
protected (a big blob of mulch seemed to do fine).
I'm also wondering if there's not a whole lot you
can do for it this year. If it's been crowded out
by the vine (both sunwise and rootwise), it *might*
just behave like a newly planted clematis, which
generally has very slow growth for the first couple
Other than that, I can't remember a whole lot about
whether foliage returns on the lower stems after it's
lost, for whatever reason. I'm tending to think that
it doesn't, but, again, apply that skepticism. :)
Like roses, the clematis around town are blooming beautifully, and it's
obvious the growers of these gorgeous plants know exactly how and when to
prune them - always a tricky question with clematis. What's that? You've
never pruned it? You don't even know what pruning group your plant belongs
to, or even that there were pruning groups?
Sure, your plant may be blooming beautifully, but you can't just leave it
alone. You have to know when and how to prune. Your clematis must be pruned
according to the requirements of the particular group to which it belongs.
The rules may be confusing, particularly if you've lost the tag or inherited
the plant along with the house and garden and have no idea of your plant's
parentage. As a proud grower, though, you'll surely want to be able to say
to admirers, "Thank you, but it's all in the pruning, you know."
It's also in the soil and the sun and the rain, and how hungry the earwigs
are, although pruning does make a difference to how a clematis performs.
Therefore, here are the complex rules that you must commit to memory if you
are to prune yours correctly - if it flowers before the end of June, don't
prune. That's it, or at least that's the simple rule, and in most cases you'
ll get by just fine. A good rule to remember is that the earlier the
clematis flowers the less pruning it needs; the later it flowers the more
pruning it needs.
For a serious understanding of pruning, however, it's important to know
which pruning group your plant belongs to. There are three. If you aren't
sure which group you're dealing with, watch carefully where the blossoms
originate. Is it on new growth, or on last year's growth? Do the leaves come
out on the old wood, or does new growth come up from the ground each spring?
Do blossoms come on the short new growth that grows out from last year's
wood? Make a note of all these factors and you'll be able to decide where
your clematis belongs.
Pruning is not necessary (yeah!). You can do a little clipping if there are
any loose ends that need tidying up or if the plant is outgrowing its space.
Do this immediately after flowering has finished because these varieties
flower on the previous season's ripe, old, woody stems. Late pruning will
only strip them of next year's first flush of flowers. Examples of varieties
in this group are alpinas, macropetelas, montanas, armandii.
These are the large flowered hybrids that bloom in spring, and if you're
lucky, a second time in fall. These, too, bloom on old wood and also on the
previous season's growth, or rather on short shoots from old wood. So, the
only pruning that should be done is the removal of deadwood - easy, except
don't be in a hurry to do it in early spring. Dormant vines might appear
lifeless, but unlike the parrot in the infamous Monty Python sketch, they
are just resting, not dead. Many a good plant has been prematurely sent to
meet its maker, so give any new shoots the chance to pop out before you
power up the clippers.
To encourage a second blooming, clean out old wood and remove seed heads
immediately after blooming.
Examples of this group are Nelly Moser, The President, Silver moon, Asao,
H.F.Young, Liberation, Mrs Cholmondeley, Moonlight, Will Goodwin, William
These are the varieties that should be pruned hard in spring as they bloom
on brand new wood. They're fast growing and will reach their full height
every summer before flowering. Prune back to about 30cm (12in) in late
winter leaving at least two pairs of buds on each main stem of the plant. If
you spot a clematis with long naked legs and blooms at the top only, then it
's a group three plant. Do not prune in fall as it may die back to the
Examples: All late flowering large-flowered varieties such as Jackmanii,
Hagley Hybrid, Ernest Markham, Comtesse de Bouchaud and Perle d'Azure.
One more pruning tip: To encourage branching and new growth, it's a good
idea to prune back newly planted clematis to a low pair of buds. Don't
expect much from a plant in the first year or two; it's not unusual to look
pathetic until well established.
As for the soil, sun, rain, and how hungry the earwigs are, when choosing a
location for clematis in your garden, try to choose a site with a good half
day of sun. I'd say preferably morning, like roses prefer. Clematis will
grow on a full south facing wall, but the heat can get to them and the
colours of the flowers will look washed out, particularly the striped ones.
Strong filtered sun is fine, but remember also that most clematis don't do
well in shade. Dig a good, deep hole - about 60cm (24in) and at least as
wide. It should be well drained, so if the soil is claylike, amend the area
with peat moss or other organic matter. A layer of gravel in the bottom of
the hole might help, but do not create a well.
Clematis like to have their roots kept cool, slightly moist and undisturbed,
so mulch regularly or plant low growing perennials or self seeding annuals
around them to keep them shaded. Because the feeder roots of clematis are
quite near the surface, constantly replanting material nearby will cause
Clematis prefer a soil PH level in the neutral to slightly alkaline range.
It used to be recommended that a handful of horticultural lime be added to
the soil to sweeten it a little, but I'm not sure it's essential in this
area. If your soil does happen to be exceptionally dark and peaty, which
means it came from a boggy area and is acidic, then adding lime is
advisable. As for fertilizing, don't feed newly planted clematis until there
are strong signs of growth, then as it matures you can feed with a rose
Now, what can one do about those pesky earwigs that love to feed on the tips
of new buds. Traps are best, and a trap can be as simple as placing rolled
up corrugated cardboard among the foliage. Earwigs feed at night and love a
cool dark place to retreat to during the day. Shake out the rolls in the
morning and stomp anything that falls out. If you're a little squeamish, don
't bother with the shaking, just stomp the whole thing flat and replace it
with a fresh roll. Funny, isn't it? Wherever there's beauty, there's always
a lurking beast.
Garden Humour at
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