Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Trees, Shrubs, & Vines

Roses and Clematis

by Beth Marie Renaud


Entwined and complimentary, purple clematis and a climbing rose share a trellis.

Companions in Life — be they spouses, partners, or even pets and their masters — should be compatible to thrive in each other's company. Ideal companion plants are the same way, and two of the best are clematis and roses. Both relish large doses of water, flourish in the same location and soil, and benefit from similar fertilizing schedules. Yet for all their similarities, they complement each other perfectly.

Most clematis are climbers by nature, and because they are not self-supporting, they will happily wander up any nearby plant or support. Clematis and climbing roses can grow together up a light post, doorway, or garden wall, providing a lush vertical display of flowers as they bloom. Alternatively, guide clematis horizontally onto shrub or ground cover roses for a low-growing border.

The Principles of Matchmaking

Before pairing clematis and roses, you should know about the characteristics of each. Clematis are either large-flowered hybrids or small-flowered species and their hybrids. Most are suited to USDA Hardiness zones 3 through 9, although a few adapt to zone 10. Large-flowered hybrids have tough roots and large, rarely scented flowers, and can suffer from wilt, a fungal disease specific to clematis. Small-flowered clematis tend to have fibrous roots and a profusion of smaller flowers, which may be scented; they are rarely affected by wilt. Both groups include varieties that flower early, midseason, and late, and their pruning needs differ according to their bloom times.

Climbing, shrub, and ground cover roses can be matched with clematis. Climbing roses can flower repeatedly, producing single or double blooms that are typically scented, and they require little pruning once established. Most climbing roses need to be tied to a support, such as a trellis, pole, or wall. Shrub roses, available in many ever-blooming varieties, can stand alone and are typically hardy and low maintenance. Ground cover roses are hardy, disease resistant, and low growing.

It is possible to match almost every clematis with a rose, but the beauty of the pairing lies in the size, color, scent, and timing of their respective blooms. Among the many ever-blooming varieties of roses and clematis, it's easy to find two plants that will flower together from spring through fall.

You can also plant up to three different clematis with each rose. Choose one early-flowering variety that will bloom before the rose, another midseason kind that will bloom in unison with the rose, and a late-flowering one to bloom after the rose has finished. Such a combination will provide an abundance of color and activity lasting all season.

Both clematis and roses are available in a wide array of colors, making the possibilities almost endless. Create exciting combinations by selecting varieties in colors unique to each plant. Clematis, for instance, come in shades of blue, while roses never do, but roses display an orange color unseen in clematis.

Because small-flowered clematis are more resistant to wilt, consider them over large-flowered hybrids. Keep in mind, though, that combining C. montana with roses is not recommended. It is the most vigorous clematis and so tends to overwhelm a shrub rose and may even damage climbing roses. Nevertheless, C. montana adapts well to warm climates; if you decide to use it, be sure to plant compact varieties like C. m. 'Freda' and C. m.Peveril', combining them with large shrub roses that can compete with their exuberance.

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