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Culture of Clematis

Acclaimed by the English as "Queen of the Climbers," clematis is the kind of plant that demands our undivided attention, whether we are gardeners or spectators. Treated well, clematis provides spectacular blooms in vibrant shades of blue, red, and purple, in addition to a few brilliant whites. But so much splendor comes at the price of some exacting growing requirements.

The first key clematis requirement – soil that is both moisture-retentive as well as free draining – sounds like a contradiction, and it is unless we are generous with the planting hole. It should be 18 inches across and deep, then back-filled with organically rich soil amended with compost, well-rotted manure, or peat humus; sharp sand and a little lime finish the recipe.

Established plants should be fertilized with a balanced garden fertilizer. Organic compost or other fertilizer is recommended for long term feeding. Liquid fertilizer is also a good way to feed once a month.

The vine should be planted two or three inches deeper in its permanent home than it was in the container, to allow strong shoots to emerge from below ground level. Once planted, it is vital to keep the stem free from damage, especially from lawn mowers and trimmers.

Strong winds tossing the plant will also break stems; this is solved with a secure support or trellis of some kind. Clematis climbs by wrapping the petioles of their leaves around slender supports. Many folks find poultry wire or string fastened securely to the top of the support is key to tall well grown clematis. A guiding hand to encourage new growth to go where it should is also a good idea, if your support is not tall enough the clematis will simply hang over and grow down the other side.

Moisture is important to the success of your planting. Clematis is easily stressed by drought or heat on the roots. The first season watering is essential to keep even moisture at the root ball. Mulch is recommended and a bushy shrub, annual, or perennial is a way to keep the roots cool and moist by providing shade at the roots zone.

Although many varieties will accept partial shade, most must be in full sun. Six hours of sun is near the minimum but if the plant can climb to reach this much sun it will be happy.

If the preparations should seem too demanding and the warnings too dire, remember that a happy clematis easily outlives the human who planted it. It is a true perennial, if not one of the immortals. A mature plant may put out hundreds of stunning blooms and become the star of the garden.

Do not lose heart if your clematis does not get going for two years or more. If the ground preparation was done right, it should thrive eventually.


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