Clematis fills a niche but is often difficult to establish


Well established clematis vines are breathtaking when in bloom. Large showy flowers can adorn a mailbox, fence or lamp post and bring it alive. Hundreds of cultivars are available in a cornucopia of colors, sizes and blooming seasons. The problem is that too often gardeners can’t get those fussy vines to live past their second season.

Clematis has interesting and rather unique growth requirements. Plants require bright sunlight to flower, but they must have cool shaded roots to grow. Usually this is accomplished by some type of companion crop in combination with mulching.

Even with proper planning it’s often difficult to nurse these vines to maturity. Once there, clematis often outlives the gardener. Fertilization is helpful but never during the blooming season.

Since we’re talking about a vine, we must consider some type of support. Otherwise a sprawling unkempt eyesore will develop. That is unless the plant dies, which is likely. Clematis needs string, fishing line or wire to begin its climb to a permanent support.

Soil should be well drained. High organic matter is helpful as clematis dry out easily. Well drained and moist sounds like a contradiction in terms, but that condition is necessary for healthy growrh. Acid soils must be amended to near neutral pH.

Once plants become established, pruning is necessary. Usually vines are pruned in late winter to early spring. Waiting too long will delay flowering. Some types can be cut to the ground in early spring, while others must be pruned more sparingly. Experience with various cultivars is the best teacher.

Slugs are a common pest of clematis. This is often exacerbated by planting hosta to shade clematis roots. Earwigs attack flower buds and disfigure the blooms. Grazers like deer and rabbits like clematis foliage and can be a major problem in some locales.

Their primary disease is Clematis wilt caused by several different fungi. Spotting leaf margins, browning leaf blades, wilting and leaf drop are dominant symptoms. Older lower foliage usually is most affected.

Proper pruning, fertilization and general environmental conditions like moisture and light help reduce the problem. If wilt occurs on your plant, cut it to the node below where the infection or wound appears. If no leaves are evident a couple inches should be sufficient.

Healthy flowering clematis vines are alluring. Many folks like to use various flowers as decoration on cakes and salads. Clematis should not be used since its flowers are poisonous. Skin irritation, vomiting and diarrhea are probably the worst problems for humans. Toxicity isn’t severe. I have read problems might be greater in dogs, cats and horses.

Clematis isn’t edible, but I view some literature with a grain of salt. A University of California toxic plant site lists choke cherry as highly toxic. I grew up eating them both fresh and in homemade jelly with never an adverse effect. I never consumed the poisonous seeds. I never plan to eat clematis.

Still, individual experience must be the teacher. Consume any new foods, especially nontraditional ones, in small quantities initially.

clematis vine in bloom

clematis vine in bloom

Clematis foliage early in the season

Clematis foliage early in the season

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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