Clematis armandii is just one of hundreds of varieties out there of the blooming vine. (Getty Images)

Clematis armandii is just one of hundreds of varieties out there of the blooming vine. (Getty Images)

How to establish Clematis as the queen of the garden

It helps to remember this little ditty: “Hot heads and cold feet / Plant them early and plant them deep.”

Some say “kle-MA-tis,” others say “KLEM-a-tis” — I say, who cares! No matter how you pronounce it, Clematis are the queen of all vines.

Everyone who gardens should find a way to work in as many varieties as possible into their yards. Between the early-blooming Clematis armandii and the late-blooming sweet autumn Clematis, there are literally hundreds of varieties that boast anywhere from small 1-inch bell-shaped flowers to the grandiose 6-inch-across ones that come in all colors of the rainbow. How could anyone resist?

But while these vines can become garden standouts in time, it isn’t always easy to get them established. If you have gardened for awhile, then you have probably the old saying, “Heads in the sun, feet in the shade.” I used to pooh-pooh this idea and plant them all in full sun.

I once had a lovely red variety growing on a trellis in the middle of my rose garden, out on the west side of my house where it got all the afternoon sun. The vine would sprout up in the spring, grow rampantly over the trellis, bud up nicely and — just as the buds started to show some color — it would wilt and die. It drove me absolutely nuts.

After a few years of this, I removed the trellis and, frankly, forgot about the Clematis. Low and behold, in the shade of some newly planted shrubs, that very same Clematis romped 15 feet up, through my weeping giant sequoia, and bloomed its silly little head off all summer long. Two decades later, it is still going gangbusters. Cold feet, hot heads. Believe it!

Planting time and depth are two more factors that can lead to success or failure. While you generally see Clematis in garden centers when they are blooming, this is not necessarily the best time to plant them. Plants in full bloom don’t appreciate being roughed up and torn out of their containers.

Right now — just as the leaves are coming out — is the best time to plant. They will hardly skip a beat and be off to the races in no time at all. All of the varieties we carry in the nursery, now and in the future, have great picture tags to let you see the stunning blooms you will eventually get on your chosen Clematis.

Then there’s how deep to plant. While I would rarely, if ever, recommend this technique for other plants, for Clematis, if you plant them one or 2 inches deeper than they were growing in the pots, they seem to root in better and you lessen the chance of contracting Clematis wilt — that nasty disease that causes your vine to wither just about the time it is ready to bloom.

As for pruning, I could easily write an entire column solely on untangling the mysteries of pruning these amazing vines. For now, and for the sake of simplicity, follow these guidelines: Prune the spring-bloomers hard just after they flower, summer- bloomers lightly in the spring, and fall-bloomers very hard in spring just before they start to grow.

Fortunately, most new plants will come with pruning directions. But if you’re unsure, always check with a nursery professional for further clarification.

I have found that sometimes takes a season or two to get Clematis established. Hang in there and don’t give up — even if they look as dead as a doornail. If it helps, remember this little ditty: “Hot heads and cold feet / Plant them early and plant them deep.” Stay safe and keep on gardening!

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at sunnysidenursery@msn.com.

Two free classes

Sunnyside Nursery’s free gardening classes are online for now. A class on Japanese maples is scheduled for 10 a.m. April 24, followed by a class on colorful climbers at 11 a.m. April 25 via Zoom. With registration, you’ll receive a Zoom link to attend the online class. For more information or to sign up, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.

Talk to us

More in Life

George Vasil, author of “The Lance,” in his home office in Arlington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Arlington author explores an era of forgiveness and redemption

The plots of George Vasil’s novels unfold amid Byzantine Empire power struggles.

The 2021 Toyota GR Supra two-seat sports car is available in six-cylinder and four-cylinder versions. (Manufacturer photo)
Toyota makes significant changes to GR Supra for 2021

The six-cylinder model gets even more horsepower, and there’s a new turbo four-cylinder version.

It’s been nine years since “I Brake for Moms” debuted and much has changed. (Photo by Jennifer Bardsley)
Nine years later, the ‘I Brake for Moms’ journey continues

In her debut column in 2012, Jennifer Bardsley reflected on driving with little kids. Today, it’s the kids doing the driving.

Patience and kindness are essential ingredients for a happy home

Here are ways to cultivate and nurture greater patience for your partner during trying times.

Bacharach (below its ruined chapel) on the Rhine River.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Bacharach: Legends and sagas on the Rhine

Rich in history, the German wine town has been charming travelers for centuries.

Owner and Airbnb disagree on refund for rental. Who’s right?

Carl Baeuerlen cancels his vacation rental in Lanai, Hawaii. But Airbnb says he can’t get his money back.

Irene Koster.
Here are eight amazing azaleas no garden should be without

These deciduous shrubs have few equal for color and fragrance. Curiously, many Northwest gardeners overlook them.

Carbon-free water power electrifies much of Snohomish County

With increased adoption of electric vehicles, and clean energy mandates, hydropower has never been more important.

This oak 19th-century "cave a liqueur" holds four decanters and 16 liqueur glasses. It is decorated with silvered mounts of hunting dogs. The 11-inch-high box sold at New Orleans Auction Galleries for $4,250. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)
Don’t confuse the vintage cave a liqueur with a tantalus

Both have decanter bottles, both have drinking glasses, both can have locks — but they’re not the same thing.

Most Read