Clematis are the vertical stars of the garden and there's good reason why you need to plant them as soon as spring is in the air! It's definitely Clematis time as soon as the days grow longer and the air feels a little warmer.
These versatile climbers are bursting into growth and during early spring, most begin to show new shoots. They might not be immediately noticeable, but there's always a lot going on just beneath the soil in March and April. Why is early spring the best time to plant some of these spectacular climbing plants?It's about the roots. These will become established relatively quickly in the warming temperatures, meaning you will benefit from a whole season's growth and flowers the same year. Plant as soon as possible in early spring and this will encourage Clematis to become established as the soil warms. It will then be ready to give you the full benefit of its imminent beauty. Why wait?
The needs and requirements of a Clematis are simple. It likes damp, fertile soil and won't be very happy in anything that resembles a desert. This isn't difficult and can be achieved by adding organic matter into the hole before planting, then giving everything a good soak. Unlike trees, which can suffer high mortality rates as a result of deep planting, some Clematis like to be planted quite deeply. This applies particularly to the large flowered cultivars that flower on new growth. In Clematis terms this is Pruning Group 3. Deep planting, maybe with a couple of leaf nodes below the soil level, will encourage lots of stems to be produced, which means more of those large and luscious flowers.
The species are those which occur naturally, having not been crossed with other species or hybrids. They tend to have have smaller, nodding bell-shaped flowers rather than the large and showy hybrids. Having quite a different, fibrous root system, these don't require the deep planting treatment. But all of them appreciate their roots to be in the shade and this can be achieved by using pebbles, mulch or shade-giving materials around the roots on top of the soil.
If you want your climbers to scramble up pergolas, trellises or trees, make sure you plant in areas of soil that allow rainfall to reach the roots. Avoid planting too close to the base of structures such as walls, or other plants. They will struggle to find enough moisture if they are in competition. Instead, plant about 70cm or so from the tree or structure and train your climber using a cane until it reaches the point where you wish it to climb.
You can plant smaller varieties in pots but use a large container which is at least 45cms in diameter. Root space is vital, and it will need to be fed and watered regularly for prolific blooming. All newly planted Clematis need to be watered regularly until they establish good root systems. A feed is also valuable, choosing a fertiliser specifically to promote flower production and health which will help flower growth.
It is really not complicated and once you get to know your Clematis you will soon understand why it needs pruning at a certain time. There are three main groups: Group 1: They are early flowering and it stands to reason that the winter and spring flowers appear on last year's or older growth. These don not need pruning, except to tidy up damaged stems. These are the species type plants.
Group 2: Prune to a pair of healthy shoots and trim away any weak or damaged stems. They should also be pruned again after the first flush of flowers, taking the stems down to the next healthy buds. This will encourage further blooms later in the summer. Alternatively, plants in this group can be left unpruned, then pruned as per Group 3 every three or four years.
Group 3: These Clematis really do need to be cut back hard in February. This is because they are late-flowering plants that can end up a congested tangle. Cutting back to a strong pair of buds about 30cm from the ground at the beginning of the growing season will encourage lots of fresh new growth. The plant will flower on this new growth later in the year.
It's perfectly possible to include a Clematis in your garden that will give you blooms and seed head interest for every month of the year! Here is just a few suggestions:
C. cirrhosa Jingle Bells, an evergreen with glossy foliage and dangly bell-liked white flowers.
C. montana such as the beautiful pink Tetrarose, the pale pink, scented Odorata or the bold Giant Star. Some of the earlier flowering cultivars such as Clematis Piilu, for example, with its pink flowers, each petal having a dark pink central band, is smothered in blooms like just about no other during early summer.
The big and the beautiful cultivars literally hundreds to choose from. C. Polish Spirit, for example, is perhaps one of the easiest Clematis to grow and it rewards with deep purple-blue flowers with deep red anthers.
September through to January:
Flowers AND seed heads extend the season magnificently and varieties such as C. orientalis Bill MacKenzie have bright and beautiful yellow nodding blooms, followed by the most amazing fluffy seed heads which will stay on the plant all winter. C. cirrhosa Freckles is an evergreen beauty with speckled red and white flowers so unusual to see colour in early winter.
So... there's a Clematis for every garden and for all seasons. Get at least one planted before March is over and you can look forward to a colourful summer.!