Good Easy Plants: Clematis

Lisa: It’s not “foilage,” Mom. It’s “foliage.” FO-LI-AGE.
Marge: That’s what I said: “foilage.”

 – The Simpsons

The Kev says “clah-may-tis” and I say “cle-mat-is” but we both say “ooooooh” when they are blooming. (He says it in a manly way, of course, because he is manly.)



Clematis is a hardy vine with a large range of colors, although this shade of purple is the most typical. When we moved in, there were two gorgeous clematis growing on the side of the garage. Aside from one peony, they were the only perennials in the yard, and they were blooming up a storm when we got the keys. They charmed me, and I added to the collection over the years, especially after we put up a fence.

Spring this year: there are actually six clems getting started in this picture (there's a little one tucked in with #3 that I forgot to number).

Spring this year: there are actually six clems getting started in this single corner of our garden (there’s a little one tucked in with #3 that I forgot to number). Clematis addiction is real!

There are different pruning groups for clematis. Group 1 vines bloom on old wood, and should be pruned right after flowering. Group 2s should have dead wood pruned out in spring. Group 3 clematis bloom on new wood and should be cut back about a foot off the ground in late winter to encourage new growth.

Niobe (Group 2)

Niobe (Group 2)

Hagley's Hybrid (Group 3)

Hagley’s Hybrid (Group 3)

Do I follow these schedules? Nah. I cut out dead stuff and trim them back if they get unruly, but otherwise, I let the clematis be. And they seem to like it that way.

clem unknown

The only really critical thing for clematis is shading their roots. I plant hostas and lilies around most of mine, or stack up a cairn around their feet. This keeps the soil cooler as they prefer. So the only difficult thing is piling up a few rocks. If that’s too much to do, look in high-rise living options!

Clems offer a few different bloom types. Most are wide open, as seen above, but there are also nodding bells, double blooms and weird spiky things.

Integrifolia "Blue Boy"

Nodding bells on Integrifolia “Blue Boy”

Multiblue (a weird spiky thing)

Multiblue (a weird spiky thing)

If you plant a range of clems, you’ll have good blooms most of the season, plus nice vine coverage on fences or walls. And they are easy-peasy:

  • Most clematis types are hardy to Zone 4 (click for US and world maps).
  • They are easy to train up a lattice or wall. Even the rambling types can climb if lightly tied up.
  • Once established, they are easy on water consumption.
  • It grows well in sun to part-sun, although I have Sweet Autumn, Hagley’s Hybrid and Scartho Gem in part-shade with great success.
  • As long as you shade their roots, they don’t seem to care if they are planted in mediocre soil.
This one's planted in a tiny gap between the fence and the drive.

This one’s planted in a tiny gap between the fence and the drive.

I pick up a sad straggler or two from the garden center at the end of the season, and no matter how pathetic they look at that point, they’ve always bounced back with gratitude. If you’re shopping clearance plants this month, give a clem a try!

Want other good easy plants? Check out weigelacatmint, and gaillardia.

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2 Responses to Good Easy Plants: Clematis

  1. How funny! We’ve just planted our first ever Clematis. It’s called Clematis ‘Winter Beauty’ and has white flowers in – you’ve guessed it – winter. I can wait to see what it looks like. After reading your advice about keeping the roots cool I’m off to buy some hostas.

    • Stacey says:

      I had to Google that one — gorgeously yummy! I have total zone envy; it’s snow and ice here when that will be blooming. You might be fine without root shading in England, but it does also look nice to cover their feet, since sometimes the first bit gets kinda scraggly.

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