Debunking Clematis Myths

Here’s an expert’s advice on how to grow clematis plants, and why these gorgeous flowering plants are known as "queen of the vines"

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There are lots of clematis myths that need debunking. That’s because clematis, known as “The Queen of the Vines,” is actually easier to grow than most people think.

Despite the profusion of flowers that a clematis plant produces, many gardeners think these wonderful plants are difficult to grow. According to clematis expert Deborah Hardwick, clematis has gotten a bad rap.

“There are so many myths about clematis, and most of them simply aren’t true,” said Hardwick. “Clematis aren’t much different than other plants in that they need to be treated with a little care to get them established in a new garden setting. But give them moist soil, light fertilizer and enough light and they will reward gardeners with a flower show that few plants can match.”

Please remember that the majority of clematis plants are vines, so to perform and look their best they need to climb up a sturdy Arbor or Trellis. A clematis in full bloom can be the perfect focal point in a garden. So, placing a Garden Bench nearby will help you admire and appreciate your beautiful clematis vine.

 

Clematis Lady Kyoto overcomes the myths that clematis plants are hard to grow
Clematis ‘Lady Kyoko’ is a new variety that won a 2020 Green Thumb Award.

Expert advice about how to grow clematis

Hardwick should know. She has 2,000 clematis plants (about 1,400 different varieties!) growing at her acreage property near Columbus, Ohio. She’s spent more than 20 years collecting, growing, studying and hybridizing clematis.

During that time, Hardwick has contributed much to the world’s knowledge about these long-lived perennials known for their dramatic and exotic-looking blooms. She has recently partnered with Spring Hill Nurseries to bring a new line of Ready-to-Grow Clematis to the marketplace—while dispelling some of the misconceptions about growing clematis in the garden.

Here are the Top 5 Myths about Clematis—and the real truth according to Hardwick. For even more information about growing clematis, read How to Fertilize Clematis (and Other Flowering Plants). This story also includes links to the best clematis fertilizers.

 

Top 5 Myths About Clematis

Clematis Myth #1: Clematis are difficult to grow

The fact is, clematis are fairly easy to grow. Yes, they need a little tender loving care (TLC) at first. But virtually all plants do. Nothing will kill a new plant faster than forgetting to water it.

“When you plant a clematis, make sure the roots stay moist during the first growing season,” said Deborah Hardwick. “I like to remove some of the growing medium around the plant’s roots and mix it with some compost-amended soil. Use that to backfill the hole so the plant roots can quickly grow into the new soil.”

 

Clematis Myth #2: Plants need their “feet in the shade” to keep the roots cool

Many “how to grow clematis” stories advise gardeners to grow small companion plants near clematis roots. The companion plants shade the soil around the clematis. Guess what? A thick layer of mulch around the clematis does a great job of keeping its roots cool.

The fact is, companion plants might harm a nearby clematis by competing for the available soil nutrients. So, mulch instead.

Clematis Nubia disproves the myth that all clematis plants are vines.
Clematis ‘Nubia’ is a beautiful compact plant that grows well in containers.

Clematis Myth #3: Pruning clematis plants incorrectly can kill them

Clematis can be pruned, but not all clematis varieties should be pruned the same way. Because of their different growing habits, one pruning style is not appropriate for all clematis varieties. Some probably shouldn’t be pruned at all, but other varieties respond to pruning by putting out a second flush of gorgeous flowers.

Hardwick has devised a red-yellow-green guide to clematis pruning. “Red” means the plant blooms only on old wood (old branches), so pruning will drastically reduce the number of flowers the plant produces. “Red” varieties include Clematis ‘Pink Swing’ and Clematis ‘Spoonerii’.

“Yellow” means it blooms best on old wood, but it can also bloom on new wood. Use caution when pruning to retain enough healthy stems from last season for best flowering. “Yellow” varieties include Clematis ‘Crystal Fountain’ and Clematis ‘Nubia’.

“Green” is a clematis that blooms on old and new wood, so prune as often or as fully as you want to promote reblooming. Clematis ‘Taiga’ and Clematis ‘The Vagabond’ are both “green” pruning varieties.

Having the right pair of sharp, quality pruners also helps to keep your clematis vines properly pruned. Excellent garden pruners are available from Fiskars, Corona and Gonicc. Check Prices and Availability on Amazon.

 

Clematis Taiga in full flower
The large bi-color purple flowers make Clematis Taiga a popular variety.

Clematis Myth #4: Clematis plants have a short flowering season 

“With many clematis varieties, you can control the length of the flowering season,” said Hardwick. “Deadheading spent flowers, pruning and proper watering can extend the blooming season.”

Another expert tip involves the varieties of clematis you plant. Different varieties bloom at different times, so if your garden includes early bloomers, spring bloomers and later bloomers, you can create a long blooming season. For example, ‘Pink Swing’ is a very early bloomer, ‘Sally’ blooms through the late spring and ‘Kaska’ is a magnificent late bloomer. “If you plant all three you’ve got a long and glorious blooming season,” said Hardwick.

clematis kaska blooms in yellow flowers in the summer
Clematis tangutica ‘Kaska’ is a beautiful summer bloomer.

Clematis Myth #5: Clematis need a certain amount of sunlight and a particular type of soil  

Not really. Clematis are quite adaptable. They can grow well when receiving full sun all the way to partial shade. Plus, they can tolerate many types of soil and pH levels.

It turns out that clematis really are easier to grow than most people think. Check out the full line of Ready to Grow Clematis chosen by Deborah Hardwick for Spring Hill Nurseries, and add some of these wonderful plants to your garden.

Want more clematis tips? Read How to Fertilize Clematis (and Other Flowering Plants).


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4 Comments
  1. LeNor Dollinger says

    Are clematis zone oriented?

    1. Randy Schultz says

      LeNor–
      Most clematis plants are cold hardy in USDA zones 4-9. That means they can survive temperatures as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit and for shorter periods of time to -30 degrees. Some clematis varieties are even cold hardy in USDA zone 3 (-30 to -40 degrees)!

  2. Jan Matz says

    Where on the stem do you deadhead on the clematis?

    1. Randy Schultz says

      Jan–

      Cut off the dead flower just above the first leaf node. That will stimulate the plant to grow another flower.

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