Clematis jackmanii. Photo by: Aleksandr_Bereza / Shutterstock.

Once you've seen a clematis vine in full bloom, you understand why it's been dubbed the Queen of Climbers. Clematis vines bloom abundantly in an array of colors, shapes, and sizes, followed by attractive seed heads.

This easy-care perennial vine can grow up to cover posts, pergolas, arbors and fences, scramble across the ground or drape gracefully from a container. New clematis plants may take a few years to put on their full show.

On this page: The Basics | Planting Tips | Clematis Care | Pictures | Design Ideas | Cutting & Arranging

CLEMATIS BASICS

Zones:

Most varieties are suitable for zones 4-9; with a few varieties hardy to zone 3 and others heat tolerant to zone 10.

Height/Spread:

Varieties from low-growing, trailing shrubs to climbers that can reach 30 to 50 feet.

Exposure:

Clematis need 5 to 6 hours of sun daily, but do appreciate some light shade in hotter climates. Excessive sun can cause petals to fade on larger-flowered varieties.

Bloom Time:

There are early-blooming varieties (March to June), mid-season bloomers (April to June) and late bloomers (July to first frost).

Color:

Varieties available in shades of blue, pink, purple, red, and white.

Flower Shape and Size:

Clematis flowers come in a wide array of shapes and sizes, including single, double, semi-double, star-shaped, open bell-shaped, bell-shaped, tulip shaped, and tubular. Most clematis flowers are 3 inches or less, but some can be up to 8 inches across.

Types:

Clematis varieties can be broken down into 3 groups based on when their flower buds are formed.

GROUP 1 Early-bloomers (March - June) Bloom on old wood Evergreen or deciduous Clematis alpina
C. macropetala
C. montana
C. armandii
GROUP 2 Mid-season bloomers (April - June) Bloom on both old and new wood Deciduous ‘Nelly Moser’
‘Dr. Ruppel’
GROUP 3 Late-season bloomers (July - frost) Bloom on new wood Deciduous ‘Jackmanii’
‘Ernest Markham’

Toxicity:

The ASPCA lists clematis as being toxic to dogs, cats and horses. It is noted, however, that clematis has a very bitter taste and may keep animals from ingesting large amounts.

Deer:

Clematis vines are listed as deer resistant. Although no plant is completely deer proof, as deer have been known to eat just about anything if hungry enough.

PLANTING CLEMATIS

Unlike planting practices for most plants, clematis should be planted deeper than in their original pot. Photo by: Avalon / Alamy Stock Photo.

When to plant:

Clematis should be planted in early spring just as they are going into their growth phase or later in the fall. Nurseries may promote and sell them mid-to-late spring when they are in bloom, sometimes even earlier having been forced to bloom in greenhouses. However, this is not necessarily the best time for them to be planted, as their roots won’t have adequate time to establish themselves before the summer heat arrives.

Where to plant:

Take into consideration the mature size of the plant and its growth habit to allow enough space, especially for the more vigorous growers. Plant in an area where the leaves will get sun, but the roots and base of the plant can be shaded and protected from heat. The north side of a smaller shrub is ideal.

How to plant:

Unlike most other plants, clematis should be planted deeply, with the crown approximately 3 to 5 inches below the soil line. This will help encourage stems to emerge from dormant buds, making for a stronger multi-stemmed base. The planting hole should be at least twice as deep and as wide as the pot to allow for the addition of plenty of organic matter. Place the clematis in the hole and backfill. Water your newly planted clematis thoroughly after planting.

Planting Tips:

  • A superphosphate fertilizer can be added to the bottom of the planting hole and covered with an inch of soil.
  • A 3-inch layer of mulch will help keep the roots cool, but should be kept away from the base of the plant by about 5 to 6 inches.
  • Be careful handling the delicate roots — nothing can save your clematis if its roots are damaged during the planting process.
  • Some people have been known to experience skin irritation, so gloves should be worn when handling clematis.

CLEMATIS CARE

Pruning:

The key to pruning clematis correctly is knowing what type of clematis you have. If you are unsure, the best plan is to wait and take note of when it begins blooming, as this will dictate when and how it should be pruned. If in doubt, there are a few simple rules you can fall back on: Don’t prune before flowering, don’t remove any stems with developing buds, and never prune any clematis in the fall as this may trigger new growth that will be susceptible to winter damage.

  • Group 1: Since these varieties flower on old wood, simply prune lightly right after flowering to remove any dead or damaged stems. Other stems can be cut back to maintain shape and size.
  • Group 2: For types that produce buds on both old and new wood, a light pruning should be done in early spring before they begin to grow. Remove any dead, damaged or spindly stems to just above a pair of healthy buds. The remaining stems can also be cut back to where good buds are visible.
  • Group 3: These form their flower buds on new wood and should be pruned hard in late winter down to 1 to 2 feet from the soil line. Don’t worry, they’re vigorous growers and can grow up to 8 feet in a single season.

For young plants in all 3 groups, a harder pruning in the first 2 years can help encourage a more shrub-like, multi-stemmed plant.

When deadheading spent flowers, 12 to 18 inches of stem can be cut back. This will not only help rejuvenate your clematis, but also keep it looking nice and healthy.

Soil:

While it is true that clematis prefer slightly alkaline soil, they will tolerate a range of pH. It is more important that the soil be rich and well-amended with organic material. Clematis roots can be fussy and are quite delicate. While the above-ground growth requires at least 6 hours of sunlight, the roots demand a cooler environment, along with moist, yet well-drained, soil. Use a good layer of mulch or surround with low-growing plants to provide shade for the root area.

Fertilizer:

Clematis vines are heavy feeders. Apply a 12-12-12 fertilizer once a month during the growing season and continue until just before flowering. Fertilizing during flowering may have a detrimental effect and bring blooming to a halt prematurely.

Watering:

Under normal conditions, clematis need about an inch of water weekly once established. In warmer climates or during periods of extreme heat, water deeply and more frequently; this will also help to keep the roots cool.

Support:

Clematis vines attach themselves to host plants or structures with their leaf stalks and need help to climb vertically. Secure stems to a support or trellis to encourage their upward growth.

Diseases and Pests:

Scale, whiteflies, earwigs and aphids can be a problem. Common diseases that can cause trouble are clematis wilt, powdery mildew, rust, fungal spots and stem cankers.

CLEMATIS PICTURES

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo.

Clematis jackmanii
Group 3

Zones: 4-8

Height/Spread: 7 to 10 feet tall, 3 to 6 feet wide

Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Bloom Time: July

Color: Purple flowers

The most popular clematis, more shade tolerant than other varieties.

Photo by: Garden World Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo.

Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’
Group 1

Zones: 7-9

Height/Spread: Vines can reach 20 to 25 feet long

Exposure: Partial shade to full sun

Bloom Time: Early to mid-spring

Color: Pale pink to white flowers, deeper pink buds

Evergreen foliage, vanilla scented flowers, quick grower

Photo by: Wiert Nieuman / Shutterstock.

Clematis heracleifolia ‘New Love’
Group 3

Zones: 3-9

Height/Spread: 3 feet tall and wide

Exposure: Partial shade to full sun

Bloom Time: Early summer to fall

Color: Deep blue flowers

Smaller variety, good choice for containers

Photo by: Garden World Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo.

Clematis ‘Cezanne’
Group 2

Zones: 4-9

Height/Spread: 3 to 4 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide

Exposure: Partial shade to full sun

Bloom Time: Spring

Color: Blue flowers

Compact, excellent choice for small spaces or containers

Photo by: High Mountain / Shutterstock.

Clematis terniflora (syn. C. paniculata)
Group 3

Zones: 5-9

Height/Spread: 15 to 30 feet tall and wide

Exposure: Partial shade to full sun

Bloom Time: Late summer to fall

Color: Creamy white flowers

Commonly called sweet autumn clematis; prone to self-seeding and spreading

Photo by: John Richmond / Alamy Stock Photo.

Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’
Group 2

Zones: 4-8

Height/Spread: 6 to 10 feet tall and wide

Exposure: Partial shade to full sun

Bloom Time: Spring

Color: Pale pink flowers with darker pink striped petals

Larger flowers, 6-8 inches across

Photo by: Age Fotostock / Alamy Stock Photo.

Clematis virginiana
Group 3

Zones: 3-8

Height/Spread: 12 to 20 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet wide

Exposure: Partial shade to full sun, although very shade tolerant

Bloom Time: Late summer to fall

Color: White flowers

Can spread aggressively by self-seeding and suckering, native to eastern North America

Photo by: Anne Gilbert / Alamy Stock Photo.

Clematis florida ‘Sieboldii’
Group 2

Zones: 6-9

Height/Spread: 6 to 8 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet wide

Exposure: Partial shade to full sun

Bloom Time: Spring to fall

Color: White with purple center flowers

Elegant bi-colored clematis, well-suited for large containers

LANDSCAPE DESIGN IDEAS

With so many varieties of clematis, the design possibilities are nearly endless.

  • Plant a combination of varieties from each group for blooms from spring until frost.
  • Use larger, more vigorous climbers for a quick cover of trellises, arbors, pergolas, or fences.
  • Varieties, like ‘Cezanne’, ‘Crystal Fountain’ or Rosemoor are well-suited for containers, tucked in corners or smaller spaces.
  • Herbaceous varieties such as C. heracleifolia, make excellent ground cover if left to sprawl.
  • Add square footage to a smaller garden with clematis by making use of vertical space.
  • Peonies, Asiatic lilies and Knock Out roses are good garden companions.

CUTTING & ARRANGING CLEMATIS

Whether used solo or in a bunch with other spring or summer blooms, clematis make outstanding cut flowers. They can last up to 2 weeks from bud to fully open, with double-flowered varieties often lasting longer than singles. Here are some tips to make the most of your cut clematis:

  • Cut clematis flowers in the morning.
  • Choose younger blooms that are no more than three-fourths open, and even less is better.
  • Cut early-to-mid-spring bloomers at the bottom of the flower stalk, not into the main stem.
  • Cut large-flowered varieties anywhere from 6 to 24 inches down the stem.
  • Drape a length of stem from a vase to make use of the vine’s flexibility.
  • Cut flowers an inch below their base and float in a bowl.
  • Combine with hydrangea, peonies and roses to create a cottage-style arrangement (use this combination in the garden as well!)
  • Keep vases of cut flowers in a cool location and out of direct sunlight to help lengthen their lifespan.

RELATED:
Flowering Vines for Your Garden
Cottage Garden Ideas

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