These blooming vines are a great way to add color to your garden.
EVERY GARDEN NEEDS a few Clematis vines meandering about. The flowers come in an amazing array of colors and sizes, and because they blossom at different times, it’s possible to have Clematis in bloom anytime from spring until fall.
The key to growing Clematis is to know whether the variety is an aggressive grower, and its flowering time. Most Clematis that bloom only in spring are aggressive growers that can shade out the foliage on a tree or shrub, so are best suited to grow up a wall, fence or trellis. Because Clematis can’t cling to a wall, attach bird netting or something similar that the tendrils can grab.
One of the most popular spring bloomers is Clematis Montana. This strong grower from the Himalayas can grow more than 30 feet high, and produces masses of small, fragrant white or pink blossoms in May. Another popular spring bloomer is Clematis armandii, an evergreen species covered with fragrant, snow-white flowers in April. As is true of all spring-blooming Clematis, the flowers occur on previous seasons’ growth.
Pruning should be done right after blooms fade, and limited to cutting out only weak or dead vines. Leave the remaining vines on the structure. They produce next spring’s display, and hard pruning, especially after the beginning of June, will result in a drastically reduced flower display the following spring.
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A second type of Clematis produces a flush of flowers in May and June, and then follows up with a lighter blooming in August or September. These are best allowed to climb on a fence or up a trellis because usually the only pruning required is to remove dead or weak branches, followed by light thinning of the remaining branches to create an open framework of vines.
Some well-known repeat bloomers include ‘Nelly Moser’, with 9-inch-wide pastel mauve-pink and carmine flowers; the ‘Duchess of Edinburgh’, sporting 5-inch-wide snow-white double flowers; and my new favorite, ‘Rebecca’, a real stunner with bright-red, 6-inch-flowers centered with creamy yellow anthers, which blooms heavily in May, June and again in August.
Clematis varieties best grown up a rose or into a tree are the ones that bloom on the current season’s growth. These Clematis bloom as the vines grow, allowing them to create dazzling combinations all summer long, intertwined with repeat flowering roses. A big advantage to these Clematis is that they can be cut back to two buds from the ground anytime after the foliage dies back in late fall or winter, allowing removal of vines that would be in the way during spring pruning on trees or roses.
There are hundreds of varieties of beautiful summer-blooming Clematis. A favorite combination in my garden is ‘Gypsy Queen’, featuring 5-inch-wide, velvety purple flowers, paired with the ruffled double apricot-orange blossoms of ‘Westerland’ rose. Another gorgeous combo is ‘Jackmanii’, sporting 7-inch violet-purple flowers in combination with ‘New Dawn’, with double-flowered 4-inch, blush-pink, sweetly fragrant flowers.
Finally, an exceptional group of vigorous-growing Clematis that perform wonderfully growing up into roses is the vitacellas. The 2- to 3-inch flowers are smaller than most other varieties of Clematis, but they bloom their hearts out from early summer to fall in shades of white, blue, violet, pink and red. Clematis in the vitacella group are also highly resistant to Clematis blight, a fungus disease that causes the vines of many larger-flowering varieties to die back to the ground right before they bloom, year after year.
Colorful vitacellas include ‘Etoile Violette’, sporting masses of nodding, dark-purple single flowers centered with cream stamens; ‘Venosa Violacea’, with vivid violet, white-striped flowers; and ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans’, with elegant double, rosy-red flowers.
Clematis do best in well-drained soil, located where the roots are shaded by surrounding plants, but the vines grow up into sunshine. Spring bloomers need to be fertilized only once per year, in April, with a mix of alfalfa meal and organic flower food. Keep repeat and summer bloomers actively flowering by feeding them with the above recipe every six weeks starting in April. By the way, those spectacular Clematis flowers are loaded with nectar, and hummingbirds love them just as much as we do!