In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
June, 2004
Regional Report

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1444

The blooms on clematis 'Gypsy Queen' start out a ruby red, morph into this striped version, and finally turn deep violet-purple, with all three colors on the plant at one time.

Clematis

Clematis vines are lovely, well-mannered plants for large and small gardens. They can drape along the top of an arch, festoon an arbor, or soften a fence. They can clamber up through shrubs or climb trees. They can even serve as a ground cover. Some grow quite large while others stay short and easily manageable, and most are extremely cold-tolerant, hardy, perennial vines.

Best of all, clematis flowers are gorgeous, with rich, vibrant, jewel-toned colors in the pink, purple, red, and blue shades, plus sparkling whites and even some bicolors. Among the species you will also find a nifty yellow. Most blooms are single but there are also some double-flowered cultivars.

Patience Required
The hardest thing about growing this vine is being patient. They live up to their description -- "First year they sleep, second year they creep, third year they leap" -- not only in terms of growth but in flowering, too. Once established they are long-lived, easy-to-grow, and reliable bloomers, so it's worth that initial investment in time.

Clematis need an evenly moist but well-drained, organic soil with plenty of humus to grow their best. Plant them in a spot where their roots are shaded, and use a layer of organic mulch year-round to help keep the soil moisture steady. They will climb up toward the light and then explode into color.

Pruning Simplified ... Somewhat
Pruning clematis is often made out to be far more difficult and confusing than it really is. The main reason for pruning is to prevent it from becoming leggy with blooms only at the tips. Sometimes pruning is also done to control the size of the vine. And in a few cases, such as sweet autumn clematis, the vine regrows from the ground each summer so the old must be removed.

In many cases annual pruning will help your clematis stay dense and flowery, but it is not rocket science. Always use a sharp pair of bypass hand pruners for the job, and make each cut just above a healthy pair of buds. First off, prune to remove broken, dead, or damaged growth, and certainly you can nip off the occasional wayward stem growing way out of bounds.

If your clematis blooms early on old growth from the year before, wait and cut it back right after it blooms; these clematis also will do fine without much pruning. If your clematis blooms in mid to late summer on new growth of the season, cut it back very hard in early spring to stimulate new growth and more flowers. If it blooms twice, on both old and new wood, cut some of it back in late winter (this part will bloom heartily in late summer) and trim back the rest after the first early bloom flush.

If you aren't sure what kind of clematis you have, relax, skip the pruning, and observe your plant for a year or two and then you will know. Or, if you know the cultivar name, do a little research and find out which blooming pattern your vine follows. Enjoy!


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