Clematis offers incredible blooms

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceMay 16, 2009 

The clematis looks as if it was created for royalty, but in my area it's the preferred mailbox bloomer.

Clematis has been called "The Queen of the Vine," and it would be hard to argue against that.

Some species have small flowers, but most are the largest, most colorful flowers you can find on any vine. They are cold hardy from zones 4 to 9, which means just about everyone can grow them.

They are tough, too. We grow them covering a mailbox beside the street where the reflective heat is intense and the water faucet is just about out of reach. Yet there they bloom, welcoming visitors to your home as if you have the greenest thumb around.

I wonder if worries about pruning the clematis keep some people from growing them. All you really need to know is if your clematis blooms in April or May on old wood, prune it after flowering, as needed, to control size or to thin it out a little. Try to do this before the end of July.

If your clematis blooms in June on old wood and later in the summer on new wood, prune in late winter to remove weak, twiggy growth and reveal the vigorous buds. If it blooms in the summer on new growth, prune in late winter, cutting it back to 2 or 3 feet.

I've mentioned mailboxes, but it should stand to reason that clematis would be the quintessential cottage garden vine to drape on a picket fence, let climb on a Victorian tower or wind its way up a trellis or arbor. I've seen them in partnership with climbing roses and in tropical settings with mandevillas.

To grow, prepare the planting area by making the soil fertile, organically rich and well drained. Tight, heavy clay will not give the look you want, so amend with compost, humus or peat. Incorporate a little slow-release fertilizer while you prepare the soil.

Plant the clematis at the same depth it is growing in the container. Don't forget your support structure. Feed established clematis in late winter and again in midsummer.

There are hundreds of varieties of clematis. I saw one nursery in England touting more than 400 selections. The gigantic, white-flowered Henryi is one of the most popular. Other white selections are Candida and Gillian Blades, which has light lavender, ruffled edges.

Choice pink selections are Comtesse de Blouchard and Lincoln Star. For red to burgundy, look for Red Kardinal, Niobi and Mme. Edouard Andre. Lady Betty Balfour, Prince Philip and Star of India are choice selections in the blue-violet-purple range. Nelly Moser has light lavender and pink with dark pink stripes and is one of the most loved selections.

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