Clematis are often referred to as “Queen of the Vines”. Contrary to popular belief, clematis are not really difficult to grow, even here in Calgary! As long as a few basic requirements are met, clematis can provide beauty and color for 20 or 30 years!
The first thing you need to know about clematis is that they are particular about their soil. These vines are heavy feeders, and require organically enriched soil with good drainage. (They are prone to root rot in heavy, sticky soils.) Clematis like their roots to be cool and moist. They will benefit from having their roots mulched or having a low growing plant nearby to shade the root zone. Shelter from the wind is also essential; clematis positively loathe windy, exposed sites and won’t perform well there!
There are a lot of books and a lot of internet commentary about how to properly prune clematis. The nice thing about living on the prairies is that as a general rule, winter will do all of your clematis pruning for you! There are several different kinds of clematis, with different shapes and sizes, and yes, you CAN grow a clematis! Good soil, good location, and at least six hours of direct sun…and you’re all set! Here is a brief introduction to clematis that you should find helpful:
Herbaceous Clematis- These are clematis that do not grow as vines, but rather as somewhat sprawly perennials. Many of them are fragrant and they make excellent garden plants. They come in a wide range of colors and combine well with roses and other shrubs.
Large Flowered Hybrid Clematis- This is what most people envision when the word “clematis” is mentioned. The popular cultivars ‘Jackmanni’, ‘Nelly Moser’ and ‘Ville De Lyon’ fall into this category. These vines bloom on new wood, and will flower so intensely that foliage is often invisible! The flowers are large and very showy, and come in many colors; 6-8 ft. of growth in a season is not uncommon. They are ideal for covering trellises, arbors, and pergolas. They take a few years to establish and really get going, but they are spectacular and well worth it.
Alpina & Macropetala Clematis- These are the hardiest of all the clematis, and exceptionally vigorous! They can easily climb 10-15 ft, and they have a different shaped leaf then the hybrids. They produce an explosion of small, brightly colored flowers in early summer, followed by silky/fluffy seedheads. Some people really like how the seedheads look, some don’t. If you don’t like them, simply remove the spent flowers after blooming is finished. These clematis are more tolerant of wind and harsh conditions then the hybrids. If you are growing a clematis on a farm or an acreage, these would be the best choices. These vines are also more shade tolerant then other clematis and will perform quite well even in partial shade.
Easy to grow, generally very low maintenance, and simply stunning when in bloom, these plants add majesty to any planting. Simply by choosing an appropriate variety for the site exposure, keeping the roots cool, and then ensuring nutrient levels are kept up in the soil, you too can have one of these long-lived, gorgeous bloomers that delight all. Give your garden a treat and plant a clematis!