Clematis: Garden Trellis Stars

How to Grow the Queen of Vines

I have grown a number of clematis vines, and it all started with a pairing of ‘Jackmanii Superba’ and ‘Nelly Moser’. Loving them for their exotic beauty, their colors, their vertical climbing habits….. everything! The huge blooms delighted children in a memory game that I used for Sunday School (See the “fun facts”, below).Their many ways endeared them to this gardener. How they make beautiful picturesque combinations: winding through branches, and shade the front porch, delicately draping over the trellis. Clematis vines are garden trellis stars.

They’ve become one of my favorite flowers.

Varieties of clematis for your garden

Varieties of clematis for your garden

From that first pairing of ‘Jackmani’ and ‘Nellie Moser’, I added numerous others, including the lovely white ‘Marie Boisselet” and her dark red sister, ‘Niobe’. Blue ‘Will Goodwin’, the wildlings autumn clematis, (C. terniflora), and C. montana for spring have been added. These are beautiful vines, some with amazingly large flowers, which adorn the garden in many ways: with roses, on fences, porch trellises, over arbors.

All are graceful and beautiful, but the autumn clematis and the C. montana are especially fragrant. These “wildlings” have much smaller flower blooms, but so abundantly prolific in flowering that the effect is just as showy as any of the larger flowered varieties.

Plant Description of Garden Clematis

white clematis blooms

Marie Boisselot

Depending on the variety and whether they are the species or the large flowering hybrids, the flowers may be small and dainty or as large as eight inches in diameter.

Like flat, star shaped saucers, they come in a range of colors. These include many whites, pinks, and mauves, with deep purples, red-purples, soft blues, and bicolors.

The plants vine and climb with support.

Leaves are a healthy medium green, about 2-3 inches long. The stems (leaf petiole) of the foliage wind around whatever they can to climb ever higher towards the sunlight.

ID Your Clematis

Knowing how they climb informs the gardener of two things. One is to start out the vine with a bamboo stick or something similar to help it reach its trellis or support. The other implication is that this plant will use itself to climb upward. It can quickly become an unwieldy looking mess on its way. Paying attention to some guidance and judicial pruning will make for a more graceful looking climber.

A Small Gallery of my Clematis


How To Grow Clematis

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). 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 richly fed, be sure to keep adding amendments and fertilizer during each growing season. Use liquid fertilizer once a month. Top dress with organically rich compost.
  • Clematis grow and bloom much better if they have a dormant period of approximately six weeks.
  • The evergreen species are not hardy, tolerating only a few degrees of frost

Planting a Clematis

Click: My Dad's Surefire Planting Method

The method of planting I learned from my dad:

  • Get a large size metal coffee can, cut off both lid and bottom.
  • Dig a good size hole (double the width and amend with organic material). I used peat moss and well-rotted, composted, cow manure, and a dash of lime [horticultural lime].
  • In the loose soil carefully place the root ball, spreading the roots out and cover them with amended soil.
  • Place coffee can around the base and stem of the plant. add soil up to the outside edge of the can leave a depression inside the can around the vine.
  • Water well.
  • Place your rocks and/or plant your groundcover surrounding the outside of the edges of the can.

This reputedly staved off stem rot and helped keep the Clematis roots cool and moist. It worked for me, as I’ve never lost any of my vines to stem rot.

Clematis Fun Facts

If you have small children, a fun game they enjoy is the memory game. Put a huge clematis flower, along with other interesting objects (pretty rock, oak leaf, piece of coral, a pair of scissors, etc.), on a tray.

Allow the children a minute to look carefully at everything on the tray, take it out of the room and then see who can remember the most objects. The clematis is always the star of the display.


Virgin’s bower, Ladies’ bower, Love vine, Traveler’s ivy are all names of Clematis virginiana.

A favorite combination is clematis and roses.

Clematis is in the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family. Once used medicinally, it is poisonous and irritating-not advised.
Clematis have been cultivated in Japan for many centuries and in Europe since the 16th century- a brief history of clematis


Pruning Clematis Vines

These vining plants are divided into groups [of type] for pruning practices.

Paraphrased from Shannon of Gardenweb:

Group 1

Species clematis and their cultivars bloom early in the year to comprise the first group of clematis. The Montanas, extremely vigorous in USDA zones 5 and warmer, varieties of C. alpina and C. macropetala are part of this group. These clematis tend to grow into very large specimen plants over time. In Group 1 is C. armandii of the Southern parts of the USA, and its cultivars.

All of the Group 1 clematis bloom on old woodgrowth made the previous year. Prune to keep these vines controlled, and to remove dead and unsightly foliage. If pruned late in the season, or before they flower you lose that season’s flower buds. Prune right after flowering, or let them grow freely.
Niobe clematis

Group 2

The large flowered hybrids that most people are familiar with in commercially popular clematis. Often divided into two subgroups: 2a and 2b. The difference is in bloom habit, Group 2a bloom in the spring and sometimes repeat in the fall; those in 2b bloom flower in the spring then intermittently all through the summer.

Subgroup Group 2b types usually continue to grow as well as bloom as the season progresses so in the spring you might have a mass of blooms at waist height and by autumn they may be blooming overhead. The flowers of both subgroups tend to be smaller later in the season and might be more intensely or differently colored as well.

All of the clematis in Group 2 bloom on ‘old wood’growth from previous year (on short shoots from old wood) and should not be pruned except for deadwood pruning in early spring after the leaf buds open slightly. Note that those in subgroup 2b also bloom on new wood (see information below about alternate pruning for special purposes). Remove the seed heads from the first flowering to increase second flush of blooms.

Group 3

The summer blooming varieties, including the viticellas, texensis, Jackmanii types, the herbaceous species grown as C.integrifolia and C.recta blooming on new wood are in this group. and the late bloomers such as Sweet Autumn Clematis (C. terniflora) and orientalis types.

Clematis in Group 3 flower on new woodproduced in the current year. Prune them back severely every year in late winter or very early spring, when completely dormant, to about 12 – 14 inches. Leave a minimum of two pairs of buds (4 growing buds) on each stem of the plant.

Group 3 clematis are fast growers, reaching their full height before bloomtime. If you forget to prune them, they will get woody and only bloom at the top. -more info on their site

Clematis viticella 'Venosa Violacea' from Wayside Gardens

Clematis viticella ‘Venosa Violacea’ from Wayside Gardens


Read about Roses and Clematis Together

Autumn Climber
Purple Jackmanii Clematis

More Info On The Web

A complete clematis resource.