Clematis Crazy

Clematis at its best

Isn’t the above clematis a thing of beauty? It’s one of the Montanas, growing with obvious gusto on a fence not too far from where I live. Whether you say Clem-A-tis or CLEM-a-tis, chances are if you’re a gardener, you grow at least one of these vines. I’m a big fan, because there are just so  many cultivars to choose from.

A few years ago, I discovered a terrific clematis nursery on Cape Cod that has a mind-boggling online catalog. I never  imagined there was such variety – so many colors, flower shapes and sizes, growth habits and bloom times! I tend to prefer clematis that bloom throughout the season. I am particularly fond of viticella “Polish Spirit,” which is vigorous and beautiful, especially when clambering through shrub roses. By the way, this is an ideal situation for clematis, most of which like their roots in the shade and their leaves in the sun. It also benefits from the regular feedings I give the roses.

Viticella "Polish Spirit"

These vines have been around for a very long time. We know that they were seen in European gardens in the 1500s. It seems that the dreaded “clematis wilt” began to rear its ugly head in the early 20th century. Then, as now, growers did not have an effective weapon against this disease, which renders plants wilted and moribund, seemingly overnight. Clematis wilt is actually a fungus, Ascochyta clematidina, and is spread by spores. It is more of a problem during wet weather.

The best defense against clematis wilt is to remain vigilant and cut off and dispose of all affected stems. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet, and cut the entire plant down to the ground. The good news is that wilt does not affect the roots, so the plant will likely survive. I had a “Perle d’Azur” that was stricken two summers in a row. I cut it back but no new growth emerged during those two growing seasons. The third year, it came back and was unscathed by the fungus.

My Perle d'Azur - what a comeback!

At this time of year in Rhode Island, the clematis are starting to strut their stuff. When we are driving somewhere, to my husband’s chagrin,  I sometimes  screech to a stop in front of particularly beautiful specimen.  Pausing to simply admire is, in my mind, the right thing to do.


About dirtynailz

Writer for a daily newspaper, gardener, tree hugger, orchid-grower, photographer, animal lover, hiker, wilderness seeker. Proponent of clover in the lawn and a dog on the bed.
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6 Responses to Clematis Crazy

  1. gardenpest says:

    The gorgeous clematis growing over the fence looks like C. “Montana rubens”. Abundant blooms, a characteristic, approx. 40 ft. growth.

    Need your advice: specifically my montana rubens blooms abundantly at our 2nd balcony level but remains twiggy looking at ground. Essentially a few brown stems climbing on netting until it climbs netting then boom!, it blooms and blooms when it reaches balcony.

    Yes, I’ve shaded its root area but I neglect fertilization, and water it only during stress periods. Sun is fuller at balcony level. How foolish would it be to cut it down and hope for regrowth…. Would love to have a full profile at lower level.

    Many thanks from an inattentive plant parent


    • dirtynailz says:

      If you still believe in the “A,B or C” clematis pruning classifications, then the Montanas fall into Group “A” which means they flower on last year’s growth. Therefore, hard pruning is not advised under normal circumstances. However, there are times when you can prune it hard after it has flowered. It sounds as if you might want to consider this, or you could simply plant something else to hide the ugly lower stems, which I have done. In any case, here is a useful link to a more detailed description of pruning techniques:

      You could also start your clematis on a regular feeding regimen, too….

      Let us know what you end up doing!


  2. gardenpest says:

    Dirtynailz, appreciate the informative diplomatic suggestions. Great reference, info I usually can’t keep straight for whatever reason. I am going to take a leap of faith and cut it down. Convenient b/c we need to do stain the balcony and relocate some hardscape.

    So here is my question: I’ve had great success in starting other shrubs from the pruned limbs, etc. Can I do this with this clematis? Any experience or advice?

    Many thanks, a neglectful plant parent who wants to mend her ways……


  3. gardenpest says:

    Many thanks, truly. Traded garden work hours with B today. Oh the smoke here/ Was it bad where you are?

    So sorry to hear about Quebec wild fires.


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