All About Clematis

all about clematis bannerall about clematis banner
By Charlie Nardozzi Garden expert, radio host, and author.

Clematis are one of the most rewarding plants a gardener can grow. Once established, this vine will grow up and present an intense amount of flowers. There are more than 300 species of clematis that hail from around the world, so there's bound to be a species and variety that's right for your yard. In fact, there may be so many that can grow where you live, the choices can seem almost daunting!

Which Clematis should you choose?

When first choosing clematis, look for types hardy for your area. The species types tend to be the ruggedest clematis, while the large-flowered hybrids may need a bit more pampering. Then select for flower color and bloom time. If you select wisely, you can have clematis blooming in your yard from spring until frost.

Consider the types of flowers you like when buying your clematis vine. The flowers can be star-like and either small or large. Colors range from pure white to deep purple. There are also species, such as 'Betty Corning', that has nodding, bell-shaped flowers. Some clematis have lantern shaped flowers, such as the yellow flowered 'Bill MacKenzie'. Others have small, dogwood-shaped flowers, such as the creamy pink 'Little Nell'.

Purple clematis blooming over fencePurple clematis blooming over fence
Clematis are known for their ability to cover a large vertical space. Be sure to give them plenty of room to grow on a trellis, using twine to extend the slats if necessary.

Bloom time is important as well. Some early-blooming clematis include purple-striped 'The President' and 'Multi Blue', with its bold stamens and sepals that leave behind visual interest after the bloom itself has faded. The Armandii types are evergreen and good choices for warmer climates. For early to midsummer blooms, look for the large flowered hybrids. This large group includes 'Niobe' (red), 'Jackmanii' (bluish-purple), 'Nelly Moser' (bicolor mauve and pink), and 'Snow Queen' (white). An advantage of these hybrids is if you're diligent about deadheading the blossoms after the first flush of flowers, you'll get a second flush later in summer.

Come fall, look for clematis varieties that provide colorful flowers, but also interesting seed heads. These can be left on the vine to add winter interest to your garden.

Some good choices include the native Virgin's bower (C. virginiana), C. jouiniana 'Mrs. Robert Brydon' (blue), and C. tangutica 'Helios' (yellow). The common Sweet Autumn Clematis ternifolia (paniculata), has very fragrant, small white flowers in profusion in fall. As it can self-sow rampantly, you'll need to be diligent about deadheading and pruning so that you can keep it in bounds.

There are also shorter, bushy types of clematis that grow only a few feet tall. These are excellent in small-space gardens or even containers. Look for shorter clematis varieties such as 'Bushy Blue Bell', 'Rosea Bush', and 'Mongolian Gold'.

A good evaluation of many northern clematis varieties for their vigor, flowering quality and disease resistance was undertaken by the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Clematis Growing Tips

Once you have selected your clematis, then it needs to be planted. Most clematis grow best with at least 6 hours of direct sun a day. The soil needs to be rich in organic matter and nutrients, but also well-drained. A healthy plant will have 6 to 8 strong stems growing from the base. Mulch to keep it cool. When planting, place the transplants a few inches deeper in the soil than they are in the pot. This will help protect the crown.

Pink-striped 'Nelly Moser' in bloom.Pink-striped 'Nelly Moser' in bloom.
Pink-striped 'Nelly Moser' in bloom.
Sweet Autumn ClematisSweet Autumn Clematis
Sweet Autumn Clematis can cover in entire arbor with ease.

Clematis need support when growing

Your clematis may need help getting attached to the trellis, arbor, pergola, lamp post or whatever structure it will grow up. Attach the clematis vines loosely to twine or to small-guage wire fixed to the larger structure. Once entangled in the structure, these smaller supports won't be needed. Be patient. Don't be surprised if your clematis vines take a few years to really start growing fast.

The old adage for vines is: “the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap”. It's best to let the roots get established in the soil the first few years to support much larger growth and flowering in the future.

  1. Purple Venosa Violacea Clematis, Clematis viticella

    Venosa Violacea Clematis dazzles with velvety purple blooms distinguished by white centers that shine like stars against the vivid petals. Plants bloom over a long period from midsum...

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    Venosa Violacea Clematis Venosa Violacea Clematis Clematis viticella
    $33.98 Sale $22.09
    Per Plant - 4" Pot
    Venosa Violacea Clematis dazzles with velvety purple blooms distinguished by white centers that shine like stars against the vivid petals. Plants bloom over a long period from midsummer to early fall attracting butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden. Perfect for climbing fences, adding height to cottage gardens and courtyards, or supported on trellises in perennial beds. (Clematis viticella)
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  2. Clematis Vine Piilu close up pink-lavender flowers - first bloom

    With a petite habit and the ability to bloom in both double and single flowers, ‘Piilu’ clematis is a wonderful vine for the deck or patio. Double ruffled lavender blooms are pro...

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    Piilu® Clematis Vine Piilu® Clematis Vine Clematis Piilu®, Clematis Little Duckling
    $33.98 Sale $22.09
    Per Plant - 4" Pot
    With a petite habit and the ability to bloom in both double and single flowers, ‘Piilu’ clematis is a wonderful vine for the deck or patio. Double ruffled lavender blooms are produced on old stems in early summer, and single flowers follow on the current season’s growth. Very hardy. Part-shade. (Clematis)
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  3. White Clematis Sweet Autumn, Clematis terniflora,

    Sweet Autumn Clematis is the famous vine for a great arbor-covering cloud of small white flowers in summer and fall. (Clematis)...

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    Sweet Autumn Clematis Vine Sweet Autumn Clematis Vine Clematis paniculata Sweet Autumn
    $33.98 Sale $22.09
    Per Plant - 4" Pot
    Sweet Autumn Clematis is the famous vine for a great arbor-covering cloud of small white flowers in summer and fall. (Clematis)
    Learn More
  4. White Clematis Snow Queen, Clematis Vine

    Snow Queen Clematis produces dramatic large, 6-8” diameter white star - like flowers with red anthers. It blooms early to mid summer. This clematis is an excellent vine for long la...

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    Snow Queen Clematis Vine Snow Queen Clematis Vine Clematis Snow Queen
    $33.98 Sale $22.09
    Per Plant - 4" Pot
    Snow Queen Clematis produces dramatic large, 6-8” diameter white star - like flowers with red anthers. It blooms early to mid summer. This clematis is an excellent vine for long lasting and spectacular blooms. Snow Queen Clematis is deer resistant, fragrant, and attracts pollinators. Plant Snow Queen and train it to grow on trellises, arbors and lampposts for showy results. (Clematis)
    Learn More
  5. Blue Clematis Multi Blue, Clematis Vine

    'Multi Blue' Clematis produces 4-6" long-lasting blue flowers with spiky thistle-like centers and delicate, pointed petals. It blooms in early summer and then again in late summer or...

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    Multi Blue Clematis Vine Multi Blue Clematis Vine Clematis Multi Blue
    $33.98 Sale $22.09
    Per Plant - 4" Pot
    'Multi Blue' Clematis produces 4-6" long-lasting blue flowers with spiky thistle-like centers and delicate, pointed petals. It blooms in early summer and then again in late summer or early fall. Plant 'Multi Blue' Clematis against an arbor, trellis or fence for it to climb upon, or allow it to ramble up a shrub or down a bank. Deer resistant. (Clematis)
    Learn More
  6. Red Clematis Niobe, Clematis Vine

    With deep red blooms and golden centers, this showy Clematis will make a stunning statement in any area of the garden. (Clematis)...

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    Niobe Clematis Vine Niobe Clematis Vine Clematis Niobe
    $29.98 Sale $19.49
    Per Plant - 4" Pot
    With deep red blooms and golden centers, this showy Clematis will make a stunning statement in any area of the garden. (Clematis)
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  7. Purple Clematis Jackmanii, Clematis Vine Clematis

    Full sun loving Jackmanii is the all-time favorite climbing flowering vine: The famous deep purple Jackmanii Clematis blooms all summer. (Clematis)...

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    Jackmanii Clematis Vine Jackmanii Clematis Vine Clematis Jackmanii
    $33.98 Sale $22.09
    Per Plant - 4" Pot
    Full sun loving Jackmanii is the all-time favorite climbing flowering vine: The famous deep purple Jackmanii Clematis blooms all summer. (Clematis)
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  8. Purple Clematis The President, Clematis Vine

    A clematis-covered arbor is a sight to behold, and this repeat bloomer is one of our favorite varieties, with royal purple blooms that blanket the long-lived vines every year in mids...

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    The President Clematis Vine The President Clematis Vine Clematis The President
    $33.98 Sale $22.09
    Per Plant - 4" Pot
    A clematis-covered arbor is a sight to behold, and this repeat bloomer is one of our favorite varieties, with royal purple blooms that blanket the long-lived vines every year in midsummer. (Clematis)
    Learn More

Companion Plants for Clematis

While clematis have traditionally grown up walls, wooden structures, posts and wire fences, there are other ways to use clematis in the landscape. Certainly, the smaller vining and bush types work well in container gardens and rock gardens. They won't overwhelm the other plants. Try clematis on metal trellises as a beautiful backdrop in a perennial garden.

However, let some clematis run wild. Try growing 'Niobe' large flowered clematis at the base of some juniper bushes in your yard. Help the vine get started in the juniper bush, then let it run. It's always a delight in midsummer to see bright red flowers randomly popping out from the juniper bush. Depending on the aggressiveness of your clematis vines, you can repeat this technique on small trees, tree stumps and any open-branched shrub. Growing clematis among evergreens is attractive because they give a nice backdrop to the colorful clematis flowers.

You can even let some clematis, such as Clematis Praecox, run horizontally down a bank or slope as a ground cover. It will flower among the plantings creating a surprising visual effect. Some of these ground cover types are so aggressive they will crowd and shade out weeds. But be careful they don't spread into other gardens.

clematis lining a garden gateclematis lining a garden gate
Clematis lines a garden path and winds around the gate. (Photo by Don Paulson)

About the Author: Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden speaker, author, consultant, radio and TV show host. He delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. Visit his website, GardeningwithCharlie.com for how-to gardening information, and for more about Charlie.

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