Dictionary of Flowers: Clematis

A classic purple and white Clematis. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of hellsgeriatric and Flickr

A classic purple and white Clematis. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of hellsgeriatric and Flickr

  • Clematis
  • Common name: clematis
  • Family: Ranunculaceae
  • Category: perennial in USDA zones 4-9, depending on varieties
  • Height: 6’ to 18’
  • Width: 36” (check individual species/variety)
  • Sun/part shade
  • Blooms: spring to fall, depending on group
  • Attracts: butterflies, bees
  • Growth habit: vine, climber. Grown as a spiller in containers
  • Maintenance: medium
  • Soil: fertile, moist, free draining. Water regularly if grown in containers
  • Garden uses: containers, cottage garden, 
  • Diseases: stem rot, wilt, mildew
  • Pests: slugs, earwigs

Clematis is a large genus of perennial species. Most are vines grown for their showy flowers. Leaves and flowers grow in many shapes, depending on the species.

Most used in the garden are the hybrid, large flowered varieties. These varieties are climbers with large, flat flowers or bells shaped flowers in a wide range of colors, from white to pinks and blues, and yellows, darkest red and purple.

The sepals can be bi-colored. Blooms can be single, double or semi double. 

Clematis requires a sun to part sun position, but they prefer to have their roots cool and in the shade. At planting time, add plenty of organic matter to the soil.

The plant's crown needs to be two inches below the soil line, to prevent it from being heaved out during the freeze-thaw cycles in winter and early spring.

Place mulch around the base of the plant or plant other flowers around the clematis base to help keep the roots cool and moist. In winter, add an extra protective layer of mulch in colder growing zones.

Clematis prefers consistently moist soil, water deeply during periods with no rain once a week. Feed clematis early in spring with a low nitrogen fertilizer. Stop fertilizing when they start blooming.

Clematis can be sown from seed, but it can take over a year for them to germinate. It's easier to purchase nursery plants or to grow them from softwood cuttings taken in late spring.

They root in about four weeks if kept warm and moist in a shady position.

Lovely midnight purple bloom. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of dbarronoss and Flickr

Lovely midnight purple bloom. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of dbarronoss and Flickr

Clematis are divided into three groups, depending on how and when they need to be pruned.

Type 1 or A are the early blooming species. The blooms are produced on old wood. They need to be pruned as soon as they stop blooming (normally no later than July). The species included in this group are alpina, macropetala and montana.

Type 2 or B bloom on both new and old wood. Pruning needs to be done in either late winter or early spring. Included in this group are the early blooming large flower types, like Nelly Moser.

Clematis look amazing in containers or as part of a full garden. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of T.Kiya and Flickr

Group 3 or C bloom on new wood, they start blooming in early summer and continue during summer. They need to be pruned short (two to three feet) in early spring or late winter. Clematis 'Jackmanii' and c. integrifolia or viticella belong in this group.




Treat powdery mildew with fungicide. Stem rot causes the stem to blacken and die. Remove affected stem and discard.

If slugs or earwigs are a problem, use bait.

Popular varieties:

  • Large flowered:
  • Clematis 'Nelly Moser' - pink, early bloomer. Easy to grow, hardy variety. Group 2
  • Clematis 'Comtesse de Bouchaud" - mauve, summer bloomer. Group 3
  • Clematis 'Niobe' - dark red flowers, blooms heavily. Small size, good for containers. Group 2 or 3
  • Clematis 'Jackmanii' - deep purple flowers, late flowering. Easy to grow. Group 3
  • Clematis 'Elsa Spaeth' - light purple-blue flowers. Early bloomer. Group 2
  • Clematis 'Duchess of Edinburgh' - white, double blooms. Good for containers. Group 2
  • Clematis tangutica 'Radar Love' - yellow, bell shaped nodding flowers. Hardy to zone 3. Group 3
Less is sometimes more, as this pure white variant shows. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of nhn_2009 and Flickr

Less is sometimes more, as this pure white variant shows. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of nhn_2009 and Flickr

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