Use these clematis tips to grow beautiful, perennial flowering vines in your garden. Tips include planting, care, and propagation, along with answers to frequently asked questions.
Find out what type you have, if it needs pruning, how to propagate, when to transplant, and how to grow lots of clematis blooms.
Clematis | Genus: Clematis
Clematis Growing Guide | Woody climbing vine
- Hardiness zones 4 to 9
- Full sun 6+ hours per day
- Well-draining soil
- Pruning varies by group
- Native Species | Parts of Canada and lower 48 US
- Clematis virginiana L. (Devil’s Darning Needles, Virgin’s Bower, Old Man’s Beard)
- Clematis occidentalis (Western Blue Virginsbower)
- Invasive | Clematis terniflora (Sweet Autumn Clematis Virginsbower)
Shop Online: Buy clematis vine plants at Naturehills.com (US shipping)
If you love clematis vines the way I do, you will want to grow a lot of them. And, as lovely as they can be, despite being hardy, they can be rather delicate in the garden.
This will show you how to care for clematis vine with the best tips I know for long-living, healthy vines that produce an abundance of flowers.
- About Clematis | Growing Clematis
- Location | How to choose the right location
- Trellis | Support your vines
- Planting | Planting tips
- Container Growing | Growing in containers
- Watering | Watering tips
- Fertilizer | Feed your plant
- Pruning | How to prune your clematis
- Flowering Problems | Why it’s not flowering
- Propagation | How to grow from cuttings
- Diseases | Potential issues
- Winter Care | Growing in cold climates
Clematis (pronounced clem-atis) is within the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family, with about 300 species and many more hybrids with an array of different shapes, colors, characteristics, and flowering varieties.
If you want native species in your garden, which are far more likely to be beneficial to local wildlife, read plant tags carefully. Most clematis vines available at garden nurseries are non-native and some are aggressive growers (not fun).
- Most clematis are hardy to USDA zones 4 to 9.
- Best planting time: spring, after the risk of frost has passed.
- Sun: 6 hours total or more throughout the day.
- Size: varies from 2 to 30 meters in length.
- Soil: well-draining, fertile soil.
- Moisture: never allow to dry out or stay soggy.
- Winter: a cool, dormant rest period is beneficial.
Best Things About Clematis
- Long-blooming flowers with sizes varying from small to very large (a few inches to a foot in diameter), depending on variety.
- Manageable plant: lightweight, never thuggish if appropriate for your climate with the exception of Sweet Autumn (Clematis terniflora).
- Scents: an array of interesting fragrances from the flowers.
- Beautiful seed heads at end of season.
- Can grow on trellis, shrubs, up trees, or horizontally across rocks or garden beds.
- Can propagate new plants from seeds, cuttings, and by layering method.
- Food source for Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) caterpillars.
Worst Things About Clematis
- Delicate stems are easily bent and broken.
- Japanese beetles will eat the flowers.
- Fungal disease can strike suddenly and kill the plant or reduce it to the soil until next year.
- Left alone, the stalks can grow into quite a tangled mess.
- Newly-planted vines may not bloom for a few years.
- You will always do well if you choose the right plant for the right place.
- Be sure your clematis is suited to your hardiness zone and growing conditions and not considered invasive in your area. There is more info on hardiness zones in the Resources section below.
- The right location meets the needs of the vine. Most clematis like full sun with at least six hours total of sun per day.
- The site should have well-draining, fertile soil with room for the roots to spread without direct competition from other plants. This shows how to test how fast your soil drains water.
- Because clematis will not tolerate drying out (they’ll die), watch out for hot spots in your garden and avoid planting next to house walls where the soil may be hot and dry. A common tip is to shade the root ball with rocks but that can actually block moisture from penetrating the soil. It’s better to just monitor your plant and ensure it never dries out.
Be sure your clematis vines have something to grab onto.
- Before you plant, you need to think of how you want to train the plant.
- Clematis can grow up trellis, crawl across the ground, or climb up other plants like shrubs or trees so long as the roots are not directly competing.
- It’s good to get the trellis in place before planting because any adjustments later can hurt the plant. The delicate tendrils and stems are too easy to break or damage.
- Your vine will likely need your guidance to grow in a pleasing way. The tendrils wrap around anything they encounter but without support immediately available, they will wrap around themselves and become a tangled mess.
- The supports on most standard plant trellis can be too big for the wee tendrils, and additional support with twine—for every six inches of growth—may be needed. Some people also use mesh or fishing line against a trellis, but I find this can get the plant tangled in a way that can’t be undone.
Read more here: Tips for Choosing the Right Clematis Trellis.
- If you have purchased an established vine that comes in a pot with a small support trellis, planting can be a two-person job. All those stems and tendrils are delicate and easy to break simply by bending. It may be necessary to snip off some of the stems simply to detach it from the trellis.
- Before planting, you can root-wash the roots of the clematis. This involves soaking the root ball in a container of warm water, and gently coaxing the original growing medium away—which tends to be too water phobic for long-term growing. Root-washing requires some care but it can give the plant a better start.
- There are varying opinions about the right depth to plant clematis. Recently, I notice many clematis enthusiasts suggesting planting deeply, with some of the crown, where the roots meet the stem, about six inches below soil level.
Apparently, the stem will grow additional roots underground when planted this way. The idea is that deep planting will provide extra protection against wilting diseases which cannot penetrate parts of the plant underground.
I’ve always planted mine at the same depth they were in the pot when I got them, but I’m definitely going to give this a try.
- The planting hole should be just deep enough for the roots (and any length of stem) you are burying. The hole should be just as wide as the roots when fanned out horizontally. Again, handle with care. The roots are the most sensitive part of the plant and vital to its growth.
This has smart tips for getting started:
8 Best Tips for Growing Clematis.
- Yes, you can grow clematis vine in containers. If you grow it in pots, you will need to provide winter storage or protection to ensure the plant roots do not freeze. Methods for keeping potted clematis over the winter are the same as we overwinter hardy or semi-hardy potted trees.
- Choose a large pot (the larger, the better), fill it with a combination of compost and organic container mix suitable for flowering plants, free of synthetic fertilizers or moisture beads.
- It is recommended that you choose a variety that is suitable for one zone lower than yours as container growing exposes it to harsher conditions.
Check your clematis daily to ensure the soil stays moist, not dry or damp.
- While many new plants need attentive watering for the first year after planting, you may need to watch your clematis for its entire life. They just cannot cope with dry soil, so make it a habit to check the moisture levels often. This does not mean to overdo the watering, it just means you want consistent, even moisture in the soil.
- Always water the soil, not the plant.
- Don’t just trust your eye on hot days. Either press your finger tip into the soil, at least knuckle-deep or use a moisture meter to check if water is needed.
- If you’re going to be away, this has ideas for setting up a self-watering garden system.
- Your clematis may have come with specific instructions for fertilizing.
- Amending the soil with good homemade compost or use an organic, slow-release fertilizer. One product I hear recommended a lot is Espoma Rose and Flower Food (4-3-2). Always follow the instructions on the plant label.
- You could also use a slow-release liquid organic fertilizer and follow the instructions on the product.
- Established plants, like the big purple Clematis Jackmanii can have a slow-release feed each spring and fall.
When should I prune my clematis? There are a few things to know first before you reach for the pruners.
- All clematis can be pruned to remove dead, damaged, or diseased branches at any time, but beyond that, you need to know what type you have to make any other pruning decisions.
- Pruning at the wrong time or the wrong plant can set back flowering for a year or more—particularly if you are removing healthy buds or the growth the plant flowers on—so hold your horses with the pruners.
Bloom in spring on old wood and do not require pruning to flower next year.
- Clematis montana
- Clematis alpina
- Clematis macropetala
- Clematis Armandii
Bloom in early summer, first on old wood, then on new wood, and can be pruned after flowering.
- Bees Jubilee
- Nelly Moser
- Vyvyan Pennell
- The President
Bloom in late summer on new wood.
This is the one group we cut down each winter, anywhere from 6 to 24 inches, depending on the maturity of the plant.
- Clematis Jackmanii
- Clematis viticella
- Clematis texensis
- Perle D’Azur
- Prince Charles
- Madame Julia Correvon
- Clematis terniflora (invasive)
- Ernest Markham
- Hagley Hybrid
For More See
Types of Clematis and How to Identify Yours
There are five basic reasons why a clematis vine may not flower.
- Improper pruning: Sometimes we are so eager to prune, we don’t realize we’ve cut off the emerging flower buds.
- Nutrient Imbalance: Over-fertilizing is one possibility. If the vine has lots of green growth but no flowers, it could be nitrogen overload.
Alternately, the soil could be lacking key nutrients. The only way to know for sure is to get a soil test from an accredited lab who can tell you what your soil needs.
One recommended fertilizer for clematis is Espoma Rose and Flower Food (4-3-2), which is an organic, slow-release fertilizer.
- Inadequate light: Many clematis will grow fine in partial shade but can’t produce blooms without full sun.
- Too Young: Some clematis bloom in their first year, others may take up to five years to produce their first flowers. It’s a little annoying for us flower-centric gardeners because we don’t know if they ever will!
- Bad Plant: Sometimes, it’s the plant. There are duds that just never want to bloom.
For more see:
Why Your Clematis is not Blooming and How to Get it to Flower
There are a few ways to grow new clematis plants from the ones you have.
Plant Patents: Some plants are patented and asexual reproduction is not permitted without permission from the patent holder. Patents and trademarks are listed on plant tags.
- Growing clematis from seed is a long, slow process. Germination can take anywhere from six months to 3 years. The one time I had success, I had actually given up and set the potting mix aside. It stayed moist in the shed and a year later I found it sprouting! So, it does work, of course, but it is for patient humans.
- After several years of good growth, clematis can be divided and transplanted, where you carefully split the roots into several smaller vines. Be a careful surgeon, though, and operate under the right conditions (moist soil, healthy plant) so you do minimal damage and win the free plant lotto.
- Growing clematis from cuttings is my preferred method. There are a few ways to do it, but basically you take green stems, prepare them, and place them in potting mix where they will need humidity until they are securely rooted. This has step-by-step instructions: How to Grow Clematis from Cuttings.
- Another method of propagation is layering. Part of a stem on a living plant is pinned under the garden soil and kept there until it grows enough roots to be separated from the mother plant.
- Grafting is also possible, with the clematis vine grows from a different base plant in case you want to explore more sophisticated propagation methods. From what I understand though, the heartiest clematis vines are growing from their own roots.
Intro to Growing Clematis from Cuttings
There are a few diseases that infect or kill clematis vines. Damp growing seasons where rain water splashes pathogens onto plants can be the culprit.
As you’ll see, some of them have the most delightful names (I’m kidding, they’re gross).
Diseases Affecting Clematis
- Leaf spot (there are at least ten types) appears as large spots on the leaves.
- Powdery mildew (Erysiphe aquilegiae) shows up as gray-white stuff on the leaves, same as it does for other plants.
- Rusts (3 different types) appear as little yellow spores embedded in the leaves.
- Root rot starts below the soil level, causing the plant to wilt and die.
- Tomato ringspot virus causes mottled yellow leaves.
- There’s also Botrytis Grey Mould, Slime Flux (a soil-born bacteria), and more.
- Clematis wilt is the one I see most. This could be Phoma dematidina or Coniothyrium dematidis-rectae. They are take-no-prisoners, fast-acting fungal diseases. One day the plant looks fine and the next day it’s blackened, withered as the stems collapse, and standing at death’s door.
Treating Clematis Diseases
- When I notice fungal wilt, I cut the vine back to where it still looks healthy. Sometimes I have to cut it right down to the ground. It’s also recommended to put a protective collar around the base of the plant to further shield it.
- There are fungicides marketed for fungal wilt but these are not recommended because they are toxic to a broad range of organisms including pollinators and harm waterways.
- For the other diseases, treatments vary. Best to take photos, get the problem correctly identified, and go to a trusted nursery for their suggestions. If you are gardening to benefit the eco-system, it’s often better to start over than do further harm with a product application.
Also, some of these troublemakers continue living in the soil, so there may be some precautions necessary to nip ‘em in the bud.
Just like other herbaceous plants and deciduous trees, come fall, clematis leaves change color and drop off. Some late-blooming varieties like Sweet Autumn Clematis, which is invasive in some areas, and Clematis virginiana may sneak in some flowers right until frosts begin.
- Green stems will die in the winter; the older woody stems will survive.
- Watch out for hungry wildlife in the winter: sometimes this is the only food available and they’ll eat the woody stems. You may want to add a protective collar or some other type of barrier around the plant.
- In winter or early spring, we can cut back our Group 3 clematis, leaving a foot or so that will send up new shoots as the weather begins to warm again.
- A two-inch later of mulch around the root area, not directly touching the stem, will help insulate the soil.
- Clematis in containers can be protected in a sheltered space that does not drop below freezing.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can remove dead, damaged, or diseased parts of a clematis vine at any time. Otherwise, the very general rule is: only prune after flowering and before buds have formed, unless you want to give up a chance of flowering for the next growing cycle. Group 3 clematis are the ones that can be cut back after flowering in late summer.
There are three basic pruning groups for clematis. Group 3 including Clematis Jackmanii are clematis that bloom in late summer on new wood. This group can be cut back after flowering, leaving at least 6-inches of growth above ground. Group 1 including Clematis montana bloom in spring on new wood and do not require cutting back. Group 2 including Nelly Moser and Henryi bloom in early summer, first on old wood, then on new wood. This group can also be cut back after flowering but it is not required for future growth.
If your clematis vine is suited to your hardiness zone, no special treatment should be required to survive a typical winter. If animals like rabbits may try to eat your plant during the colder months, you can add a protective collar to shield it.
Most clematis like full sun and will also grow in partial shade. If the amount of light is not adequate, the vine may not flower or it will slow to grow and flower.
These clematis species have white flowers: Clematis paniculata ‘Sweet Autumn’, Clematis asagasumi, Clematis lanuginosa ‘Candida’.
More Clematis Tips
- How to Choose the Right Clematis Trellis
- How to Grow Clematis from Cuttings
- Types of Clematis & How to Identify Yours
- Why Your Clematis is Not Blooming
- Top Clematis Growing Tips
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛