Growing and Caring for Clematis - Squire's Garden Centres

Growing and Caring for Clematis

How to plant, grow, and care for clematis plants is something our team is asked so often, and no wonder! Clematis are one of the most popular garden plants for their abundance of stunning flowers that grow in a variety of shapes from large star shaped, to bell shaped and more, and in such vibrant colours including purples, blues, pinks, white, reds, yellows and even in two-tone. Not only are they stunning, but they are also a source of nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators.

Most clematis are vigorous climbers growing metres tall that add fantastic vertical interest to gardens up a wall or trellis. But there are also some dwarf varieties that only grow to be a few feet tall and also do well in pots; perfect if you have limited space. All clematis are quite hardy, tolerant of many soil conditions, and won’t require too much attention to get them blooming spectacularly which is an added bonus. The beauty of clematis is that they flower from spring all the way until autumn with their vibrant, colourful blooms and they are perfect for nearly all types of gardens!

Here’s everything you need to know to grow these wonderful plants in your garden.

Clematis Factsheet

  • Plant type: Climber, evergreen, herbaceous
  • Flower colours: Pinks, purples, reds, yellows, blues, white
  • Flowers: Different varieties bloom at different times
  • Prune: Generally after blooming, other than group one.
  • Sun exposure: Full sun, part sun, partial shade
  • Hardiness: Hardy
  • Soil type: Well-drained, rich soil
  • Wildlife: Bees and birds like it

Types of Clematis

There are many different species and cultivars of clematis to choose from, but here are some that we love which are also very popular:

  • Montana
  • Alpina
  • Nubia (dwarf)
  • Bernadine (dwarf)
  • Josephine (dwarf)
  • Guernsey Cream (dwarf)
  • Piilu (dwarf)

Choosing the Right Clematis for You

Before we get to buying and planting it’s important to know that there are so many varieties of clematis you can readily buy that fall into one of three groupings, and each grouping has some differences when it comes to growing needs and pruning, for example. So, it’s important to choose the right one for you, and that includes your growing space. Some are very fast growing, some can be grown in pots, some like more sun, some do equally well in shade, some require more pruning than others.

Don’t be put off! With just a little consideration now, you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic plant providing you with much interest and joy for years to come, and even the neediest of clematis varieties aren’t very needy at all really. Read on and we’ll help to guide you to the best choice.

Clematis Groupings Explained

Clematis plants generally fall into three groupings. These are:

Group 1 Clematis

Group 1 clematis are early flowering. They will flower through the winter into spring. Group 1 clematis varieties don’t need to be pruned but would still benefit from deadheading once flowering has ended.

Group 2 Clematis

Group 2 clematis flower in late spring through the summer and include those clematis that can flower twice in the year. They flower on last year’s growth. Once the first flowers have died off, they can be pruned again, and they’ll flower again later in the summer, on new growth.

Group 3 Clematis

Group 3 clematis are late flowering in summer through to autumn and produce blooms on the same year’s growth. These types of clematis should be pruned annually, cut down to about 60cm/2ft at the end of February or start of March.

How to Grow Clematis in the Garden

A clematis in full bloom is simply gorgeous. Thankfully, these climbers are easy to care for with just a little initial effort and planning. They’re hardy plants, long-lived, and tolerant of many different light, temperature, and soil conditions. They tend to do well in most places in the UK. Whatever growing conditions you have, this guide will walk you through some key information to help your plant thrive for years to come.

Specific Needs to Look Its Best

The only significant thing to note is that all clematis whether group 1, 2 or 3, do best when their roots are in shade. Their roots are thick and fleshy so they can dry out easily. It’s worth protecting them from direct sunlight and dry conditions by using a mulch as well as planting some companion plants around the base so that the roots are shaded but the foliage of the plant can stretch upwards to take in the sun. Aside from this, clematis don’t have much in the way of specific needs, just the usual care and attention any plant would need.

Where to Plant Clematis

All clematis grow well in a sunny or part-shaded position. As mentioned above, they do best when their roots are in the shade and foliage in the sun, so consider planting amongst any beds you already have, or consider adding some low growing plants around the base if you are starting from scratch. It’s a little more work but will make for a lovely display. A good bark mulch would also help.

Also consider if the spot you are putting them in is particularly exposed to winds because new clematis stems are fragile and may be damaged. Additionally, you don’t want some high winds to come along and blow off all of your flowers!

Finally, clematis don’t like to be waterlogged, so don’t choose a spot in the garden that has been prone to holding too much water. They like the soil to be moist, not overly dry and not overly wet.

How to Plant Clematis

Aim to plant clematis in the autumn or in spring when the last frost has passed. Dig a hole about twice the size of the rootball. Place it in so that the top of the rootball is about level with the soil surface. When planting in-fill and mix the dug out soil with a good multi-purpose compost. This will give it plenty of nearby nutrients to seek out. Tease the roots out a bit to encourage them to seek out nutrients when planted. You’ll need to provide the stems with some kind of support depending on the height and maturity of your plant (see next section). Once planted, give your plant a good water.

Supporting and Training Clematis

Clematis plants are not self-clinging and that means they need support as they grow. However, this is as easy as staking some bamboo canes and tying in with some twine gently taking care not to break the stems. Spacing them evenly is important to stop them clumping and allowing room to grow so they can produce lots of new foliage and flowers to give you the best display.

If you like something a bit fancier, they can be tied into a variety of trellis, from the classic wooden lattice ones to more modern wire mesh or wire lattice types attached to a shed, fence, or wall. There are also supports called obelisks that are placed over the plant acting as a structure to grow up. These come in a variety of designs made from different materials. Additionally, with the same principle of tying in gently, they can be trained to grow up a variety of garden structurers like pergolas and arbours. Eventually they’ll grow to encompass these and look fantastic covering and sometimes curving around the structure!

When to Plant Clematis

We think the best time to plant is in autumn, when the ground is still warm from the summer sun, but there’s more moisture from the autumn rains. Planting in autumn is preferred instead of spring and summer also because at these times the plant is coping with being transplanted, and trying to grow, which can cause a bit of shock and other problems. Also, its roots would not be as developed to cope during periods of drought.

If you can’t wait until autumn or have missed the boat, then aim to plant as early as possible in the spring following the last frosts when the soil is also no longer frozen.

Ongoing Care for Clematis

Clematis will benefit from ongoing care and maintenance. When first planted ensure it is watered thoroughly and going forward make sure the soil around it is moist but not wet. Be careful not to overwater following heavy rains and likewise make sure it doesn’t dry out in hot, dry weather. They tend to like plenty of water in one watering in one sitting weekly, rather than watering in small amounts often. Also, an application of fertiliser will help it to establish strong roots, stay healthy, and produce lots of foliage and flowers. An all-purpose granule or liquid fertiliser will do the trick. Switch to a high in potash fertiliser when the blooms start to make them as spectacular and long lasting as possible.

When to Prune Clematis

It is recommended that any newly planted clematis should be hard pruned the first spring after planting to about one foot above ground level. This is to encourage stem growth which will benefit the plant in the future. Going forward though as clematis mature if left unpruned, they can turn into a mass of tangled stems with a bare base, so pruning is key, however this is typically only needed once or twice per year. To prune use sharp secateurs or gardening knife and remove any damaged, dead, or weak stems and cut back to a pair of healthy buds. Avoid heavy pruning in groups 1 and 2 or flowers will be lost. Regular pruning encourages strong growth and keeps the growth in check, for beautiful blooms and an overall stunning effect.

When to Prune Group 1 Clematis

Clematis in group 1 bloom from late winter into spring. They bloom on old wood and don’t need to be pruned… technically. They will be quite happy and produce lots of growth and blooms without much attention. However, we still recommend removing any dead or dying stems, and doing some deadheading. But just a little to keep it looking nice!

When to Prune Group 2 Clematis

Clematis in group 2 flower on last year’s growth starting in late spring and early summer. So, pruning after flowering will help encourage a second flush. If you have a twice flowering variety then once the first flowers have died off, they can be pruned again, and they’ll flower again later in the summer.

When to Prune Group 3 Clematis

Clematis in group 3 flower from summer well into the autumn. They require the hardest pruning, but it is quite easy. In late winter around the end of February simply prune them back to healthy buds around 60 cm / 2 feet in height. You are aiming to remove much if not all of the previous year’s growth to allow flowers to develop on new wood.

Companion Plant Ideas for Clematis

A couple or several different clematis together in different colours with different blooming times in the year will look just stunning in the garden and prolong the interest for you. But if there’s one ideal companion plant it would be climbing roses. Most gardeners will tell you this is an unbeatable combination. As they mature and reach for the sun they’ll cover an arch, trellis, a doorway, or fence quite easily, they may start to intertwine, and with that so will their blooms and scents to create a spectacular display in the garden.

Clematis are as easy-going plants as any so they will pair well with almost any other plant, tree, or shrub. As long as they are happy in their planted spot, they will grow well. Consider placing a clematis or two at the back of a border to add height and colour to complement smaller plants and shrubs in the front. Or if you fancy more a wilder look, plant amongst some shrubs and allow it to scramble over them in time. Clematis also do well with trees and can be planted near and trained to grow up the trunk. Planting hardy geraniums, nemesia, or lavender at the base of a clematis helps to shade its roots.

Whether planted on their own – because let’s be honest, they are interesting enough – or planted among a busy border, or up a trellis, clematis will bring a lot of joy and interest to the garden.

Have Beautiful Clematis in Your Garden

So, there you have it. With this guide backing you up you will be able to add some clematis to your garden in no time in the right spot. With just a little bit of ongoing care and attention, you’ll be able to appreciate them for years to come.


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