Colorful Climbing Clematis
Carol Sieck
Adams County Master Gardener

This is such a favorite in my garden; needing more space I have looked up for the answer and sure enough climbers are the answer to a number of needs. They are fairly easily to take care of. There are varieties of colors and the blooms last a long time. The most versatile climber is the clematis, with the accent on the first syllable.

Support: It solves the problem of space but it does need something for its tendrils to grab. A chain link fence, a sturdy pole, or lattice work can camouflage an area. But other sources of support are various perennial plants like lilacs, forsythia, rhododendrons, weigelas, with roses being the favorite combination with this vine. Using a plant as the support can complicate the pruning that is sometimes necessary for this vine, but I didn't have a problem when my vine was intertwined with a forsythia bush. They seemed very compatible.

Size: Clematis can be purchased in two main types, small flower bloomer and large flower bloomers. I am sure you have driven past a home that has a purple or white clematis wrapping itself around a light pole , blooming like it has won the first prize in the garden. It certainly is a prize; these are the large bloomers, sometimes 8 or more inches across, the size of your dinner plates. The smaller flowers often have a sweet scent, very prolific bloomers and can also be trained to be a knee high ground cover. Both types have very long branches, up to 10 feet long; so either up or out they need support.

Colors: There are so many varieties with deep colors like purple or a very vibrant red; there are pastel shades with pink, yellows and lavenders. And there is the best recognized white, both large and small size. Such a variety and so many choices, only space and your wallet limit you.

Season/Location: Here is the best part, depending on the variety these vines can bloom from early spring to late fall; some bloom twice a season. The seed pods are very attractive, delicate round balls of thin wispy growth that remain on the vines a long time. Clematis can be placed in full sun, and other varieties like some shade. All seem to prefer to be planted deeply and with about 4 inches of compost around its base to keep it moist and protected. Although you may read that it needs its base in the shade, the compost will protect it. I cut the bottom off a plastic pot, plant the clematis deeply inside the circle of plastic, and then fill it to the top with compost. This also protects very young plants from animals.

Pruning: The nursery tag should indicate which type of clematis you bought.

There are 3 categories, sometimes labeled A, B, and C or numbered 1, 2 or 3. It you have no idea do not prune until you have watched the blooming cycle, and never prune in the fall.

  • Type A or 1: this vine does not die back in the winter, it blooms early and sprouts from last years growth. These only require a little housekeeping to maintain the shape you  want. If it is too big you can trim heavily after it blooms.
  • Type B or 2: This vine blooms on old and new growth, also called re-bloomers. You can trim gently in the spring to shape; later thin out the stems, shape up the outer sides after it blooms.
  • Type C or 3: This variety dies back in the winter, and flowers are only at the top with dead foliage and stems at its base. Because it blooms on new growth, in the spring you can cut it back to about 10 inches from the ground. Be sure to train the new growth with supports like fishing line with knots tied in it for the tentacles to hold onto. If there is a poor blooming season, trim back most of the side branches, leaving the vertical shoots/stems tall and fasten to the trellis or support. Again if you are not sure its perfectly safe to wait a year or two or three. They are very hardy after they are established. These vines seem to be very independent and resilient. Just my kind of plant.

Read other articles on shrubs and vines

Read other articles by Carol Sieck