Whether you’re a beginner or an expert gardener, Clematis is a perennial vine that belongs in everyone’s garden. It’s easy to grow, and if you plant a few different varieties you can have big, beautiful blooms all season long. Learn how with this Clematis care guide.
This post may contain affiliate links. We make a small commission if you buy the products from these links (at no extra cost to you). As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. But we only recommend products we would use ourselves. For more information, click here to see our disclosures.
I have come to the realization that I am a little obsessed with Clematis.
I didn’t actually know how obsessed until I started taking pictures for this article.
There are 25 different varieties of Clematis growing in my garden at the moment! And I’m not ruling out getting some more 🙂
However, I think I’m justified. All you have to do is look at those beautiful blooms to know why I have so many of them.
But that’s not the only reason.
Clematis is a very versatile and easy to grow perennial vine.
It comes in many colors, sizes and bloom times.
There are varieties with large flowers, small flowers, single or double petals, bell-shaped or tubular blooms. Some varieties will only grow to be 2 – 3 feet tall, while others can cover the side of a garage.
And in almost all cases, the clematis vines are not invasive, so you can grow them through other bushes without worrying about killing the plants (I do have experience with a couple of exceptions which I will tell you about later).
It has so many redeeming qualities that I think should be a part of everyone’s garden (which is why clematis is on my all-time favorite perennials list).
So that’s the “why” to grow Clematis…keep reading to find out where and how to grow Clematis or if you prefer, you can skip straight to the section you want to know about:
Where To Plant Clematis
Zones: 4 – 9
Light: Part sun or sun
Although most guides say that Clematis is a full-sun perennial requiring at least 6 hours a day of sunshine, where I live in South Carolina, I find that it grows best in part shade.
It really doesn’t like the heat of our summer afternoons.
In fact, some of my plants bloom in the spring, die back completely in the summer and then grow and bloom again in the fall when the temperatures cool down. (I can’t really complain about that since I get 2 bloom times every year!)
But (as with a lot of plants), the further North you are, the more sun it will need to produce the most blooms.
Unlike some other vines (such as Wisteria), Clematis is generally not an aggressive plant.
That means it can be grown up through bushes or on top of other plants without causing them harm.
Of course, they look beautiful growing on trellises, arbors, and fences, too.
Since Clematis climb by twining their leaves around supports, and the stems aren’t very long, they have difficulty sticking to wood structures.
To make it easy for them to grow, stretch some fishing wire or string across the growing surface to give them something to grab on to.
Although most gardeners don’t grow it this way, Clematis can also work really well as a ground cover.
How To Grow Clematis
Once you have figured out where you are going to put your Clematis, the next step in caring for your Clematis is planting it.
Clematis can take a couple of years to really become established, but once they do, they pretty much take care of themselves.
What Kind Of Soil Do Clematis Grow In?
The first step in Clematis care is to make sure you have well-drained but moist soil to grow the plants in.
Their roots can rot if they are too wet, and the leaves will fall off if it is too dry.
Adding some compost and good top soil to the hole when you are planting will help to give your Clematis a head start.
Plant your new Clematis so that a couple of inches of the stem is buried in the ground.
This will help the plant establish strong roots.
If it has a lot of growth on the top, pruning it down to about 18″ tall will allow the roots to get established and promote a healthier plant.
Clematis also prefer neutral to alkaline soil.
If you live in an area that has acidic soil (like I do in South Carolina), you might want to sprinkle some lime around the plants in the spring.
How Much Water Is Required?
Watering regularly is a necessity for happy Clematis plants, especially during the heat of the summer.
As I mentioned above, not having enough water will cause the leaves to dry up and fall off leaving a very unhappy looking plant.
Installing your own drip watering system will help to make sure that they get the consistent watering they require.
What About Mulch?
Clematis don’t like their roots to get too hot.
The easiest way to prevent overheating is to cover the base with a thick layer of mulch (not touching the stems).
Or, you can plant them where the roots are shaded by other plants or structures, but the flowers are in the sun.
Mulching around the plants will also help to keep the soil moisture from evaporating (which helps with that water requirement).
What Kind Of Fertilizer To Use On Clematis?
With all of those big blooms, Clematis needs a lot of nutrients from the soil. Fertilizing in the spring and the fall will help to keep them healthy and blooming.
I like to use organic fertilizer for my Clematis.
In the spring, I sprinkle alfalfa pellets around the base of the plant and water them until they get mushy.
Then in the fall, I add a layer of compost around the plant which also adds to the organic matter in the soil.
If you prefer to use store-bought fertilizer, use one with less Nitrogen and more Phosphorus (eg. a 10-30-20 mixture) in the spring to promote blooms. In the fall, add an evenly balanced fertilizer (eg. 10-10-10 or 20-20-20).
Next up is learning how to prune your clematis. It’s really not as complicated as it seems!
Pruning Clematis vines often seems like the most complicated part of Clematis care since different types should be pruned at different times.
The trick is to find out what type of Clematis you have so that you know when and how to prune it.
Clematis plants are generally divided into 3 groups, not very creatively named – group 1, group 2 and group 3. The group that your vine falls in determines its pruning procedures.
Tip: If you’re not sure which group your Clematis belongs to, try looking it up on Fine Gardening’s website.
Otherwise, use the description of each of the groups below to try to figure out where your plant belongs.
Pruning Group 1 – Early flowering vines with bell-shaped or small saucer-shaped blooms
Group 1 Clematis bloom on last year’s shoots in early spring.
They should be pruned after they have bloomed to remove dead or damaged stems, and shorten the stems (if necessary), but do not need extensive annual pruning.
Pruning Group 2 – Early to mid-season flowering vines with large flowers
Group 2 Clematis bloom both on last year’s growth and this year’s new shoots in late spring and summer.
Pruning should be done in early spring to trim stems just above strong buds (and to remove any dead or damaged stems). Do not cut all the way back or you will reduce the number of flowers that you will see.
Pruning Group 3 – Late-season flowering vines with large flowers
Group 3 clematis bloom on this year’s growth in summer or autumn.
To prune, cut the vines back to within 8 inches of the ground in early spring before new growth starts.
Pruning Clematis – Other Varieties
With the popularity of clematis, new varieties are being introduced all the time. So watch for ones that do not fall into any of the traditional pruning groups.
The “Indigo Saphire” pictured above only grows to 3 feet tall and requires no pruning at all.
The “Rooguchi” pictured above is a late spring bloomer that is not a true climber and should be cut all the way down to the ground in the spring.
The Clematis “Purpurea Plena Elegans” blooms on both old and new wood and benefits from pruning 1/3 of the branches each year so that the entire plant has been pruned every three years.
Having said all of that, there have been many times that I have neglected to prune my clematis vines when I was supposed to and they have still bloomed.
They also seem to die back down to the ground occasionally but usually come back (just watch for the new shoots so you don’t accidentally break them off).
My Favorite (And Not So Favorite) Clematis Varieties
Having grown a lot of different varieties of Clematis, I’ve come up with a few of my favorites, and a couple you might want to stay away from.
Toughest Clematis Variety – ‘Venosa Violacea’
Pruning Group: 3
Clematis ‘Venosa Violacae’ is a Victorian era French heirloom variety that has been around since 1893. And there’s a reason why it is still popular today!
It blooms from spring until fall, doesn’t seem to be phased by the heat, and even handles getting a little dry better than most Clematis.
Tip: If you want to find a Clematis that’s right for your garden, or maybe are trying to identify one you already have, you can enter the colors in this Clematis web search tool and it will give you a list of varieties that match along with their pictures.
Biggest Show – ‘Josephine’
Pruning Group: 2
If you’re looking for a Clematis that has big beautiful, multi-petal blooms, Josephine may be your girl! She starts out like the picture above with dark pink single petals around the outside of a fluffy light pink center.
As the flower matures, the outside petals fall off and leave a flower that is a big fluff ball.
Best Double Clematis – ‘Franziska Marie’
Pruning Group: 2
Clematis ‘Franziska Marie’ has big double purple blooms that last all summer long.
The early blooms come out on old wood, and the later blooms grow on new wood, so even if it gets cut off by accident, you will still get some beautiful flowers!
Best Blue Clematis Variety – ‘Alice Fisk’
Pruning Group: 2
Clematis ‘Alice Fisk’ has huge, eight-inch, periwinkle blue flowers that really stand out against the green foliage.
It grows through the arbor at the back of my yard and I can see the blooms clearly from the house.
Best Fuchsia Clematis – ‘Princess Diana’
Pruning Group: 3
If you’re looking for a bright pink Clematis, ‘Princess Diana’ may be perfect.
Although the flowers aren’t as big as some of the other Clematis varieties, it blooms profusely and the bright color makes up for its size.
Best Striped Clematis – ‘Beth Currie’
Pruning Group: 2
Clematis ‘Beth Currie’ has purple and pink striped flowers that really stand out in the garden.
I like to plant mine with pink roses which complement the colors.
Most Aggressive – Clematis integrifolia ‘Rooguchi’
Pruning Group: Other
Clematis integrifolia ‘Rooguchi’ has really pretty purple blue flowers and blooms profusely.
The big difference is that the plant is more like a bush than a vine. And it can easily choke out other smaller plants.
So while I still have this in my garden, I would recommend planting it in a location where it has lots of room to spread out.
Most Invasive – Autumn Clematis
There’s only one Clematis that I absolutely will not plant in my garden again, and that’s the Autumn Clematis (Clematis ternifolia).
I had one growing beside an arbor in my yard and it never really did much (ie. I thought it had died) so I kind of forgot about it.
Until I saw it joining the Kudzu and Japanese Honeysuckle that are growing rampant over the trees in the ravine behind my house.
Then I looked it up and found it on the South Carolina invasive plants list…so I learned this lesson the hard way. Click HERE if you want to find out more about invasive plants.
Now I’m off to see if I can find variety #26 to add to my garden 🙂 And hopefully, you’ve found some inspiration for growing your own beautiful Clematis.
Other Perennials You Might Like
- 9 of the Best Flowering Vines For Shade
- Our Favorite Shade Plants
- How To Design A Stunning Shade Garden (With Pictures)