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Autumn Clematis

Ilona Erwin

One of my favorite vines for sheer abundance of frothy bloom, ‘Clematis terniflora‘. When it is in full bloom starting at the end of August, the entire yard is filled with a clean soapy scent. Abuzz with little bees and adorned with butterflies the autumn clematis is an natural entertainment center. I love to sit on the porch and watch the late summer butterflies, sometimes orange and black Monarchs and sometimes Tiger Swallowtails accented against the creamy white blooms. Birds love to nest among the dripping vine stems, too, to the vast fascination of the housecats.

The autumn clematis is one of those plants that horticulturalists have a had a heyday with in an ever changing parade of unpronounceable names! That is why on this one I like to refer to it by its common label. Clematis paniculata, Clematis terniflora, Clematis maximowicziana …all have had their turn in the nomenclature of this clematis. Most of these are from Asia, but we have a native type of autumn clematis, Clematis virginiana which looks exactly like what I grow. Mine was purchased as “Clematis paniculata”.

Autumn clematis in my garden

Autumn clematis in my garden

Vigorous Growth

This vine gets very large, larger than most clematis vines, and can completely cover a large arbor or a swamp a small tree. Give it a place where it can drape freely- it is really the loveliest thing for its time in the garden. All clematis vines can be pruned and trimmed, this one is a member of the Group 3 clematis category.

While there are some dissimilar opinions, I think the answer to that discrepancy is due to the C. ternifolia needing time to settle in before it reaches full stature. My experience is that it was of a size similar to the larger flowered clematis for the first few years. Once it has become more at home it was closer to its reputation, and even begat a seeding elsewhere in the garden. Keep size in mind when choosing its place.

You can prune it back hard to 14-24 inches leaving two or more sets of growing buds since it flowers on new wood. Do this in late winter, when they are completely dormant.

General information on Clematis vines

Tips for healthy clematis:

* Rich fertile soil, well-drained yet moisture retentive, with a pH close to neutral (7.0)
* Top of vine in sunshine, feet slightly shaded (or protected). Grows in full sun to partial shade. I used a ground cover such as ajuga to keep the ground cool, as well as some judiciously placed rocks. The ajuga likes the same conditions of moisture and good soil, and produces small spikes of purple flowers in the spring.
* After planting, cut stems back to 12 inches (just do it!)
* Plant the crown one to two inches below the soil surface, I usually used an old coffee can with the bottom removed, this embedded the couple inches below soil line, with the clematis vine planted within. (See the specifics below)
* Plants are pruned according to which one of the three types you have planted.
* Liking to be fed richly, be sure to keep adding amendments and fertilizer during each growing season. Use liquid fertilizer once a month. Top dress with organically rich compost.

Plant Features

The flowers are quite small, but extremely abundant, in an ivory color. One inch in diameter the four sepals are held on panicles, each a sweet, soapy smelling bouquet.

After the period of bloom, which for me, is in late August and September. After the  flowering period which seems all too short, the vine is covered with fuzzy seedheads. They are really sort of interesting and decorative. The foliage is a medium deep green which is attractive throughout the growing season.

It climbs readily up a trellis with tendrils.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.