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Clematis are hot
but keep 'em cool

Clematis are becoming more and more popular with gardeners and as a result many more varieties are available in the nurseries. Here's how to keep Clematis healthy and colourful and always looking their best in your garden.

Ten years ago, clematis enthusiast and member of the International Clematis Society, Peter Keeping, couldn't find a single clematis plant at his local nursery. Now, even a national grocery chain offers a wide range of these colourful climbers, and gardeners across the country are clamouring for clematis.

Here are Peter's growing tips for successfully growing these flowering vines.

1. When planting a clematis, it's important to bury the crown of the plant at least two inches (6 cm) below the surface of the ground to encourage more stems to grow from the base. The more stems the plant grows the faster the coverage and the less susceptible the plant becomes to disease. Remove any leaves that grow beneath the soil level. If the plant is very young (grown in a two inch (6 cm) pot or smaller), bury the plant deeply, but keep soil away from the stems until autumn. Then, build up the level of the soil with compost or good topsoil when the stems have seasoned.

At the bottom and around the sides of the planting hole, Peter adds bonemeal which breaks down slowly, providing nutrients to clematis roots by the time they've grown into the planting hole.

Finally, Peter stresses that newly planted clematis need water, water, water. So, water deeply and frequently until the plant is established.

2. Clematis absolutely damand good drainage. If water stands on the surface of the planting hole, your soil needs to be amended to provide better drainage. Either add sand to the soil, or line the bottom of the hole with a layer of gravel.

3. Clematis roots need to keep cool. Peter likes to plant a large­leaved hosta at the base of his clematis. The hosta leaves shade the roots of the clematis, keeping them cool and happy. Any ground cover plant also will serve the purpose, but Peter prefers hosta because their roots are shallow and won't compete for nutrients with the deeply buried roots of the clematis. If a ground cover just won't work in your situation, Peter also recommends shading the base of the plant with patio stones or flagstones.

4. To encourage good flowering, Peter recommends sprinkling superphosphate onto the surface of the soil at planting time. For mature plants, add superphosphate once in the spring and again in June. Your clematis will thank you with lots of colourful blossoms.

5. Finally, prune judiciously. If the stems of very young plants seem thin, pinch them back to just above a set of buds. This causes the stems to "thicken up", making them tougher and more resistant to damage. It also encourages the plant to produce more stems, and as we noted above, more stems means faster coverage and greater disease resistance.

Although it's difficult for someone who grows over 100 varieties of clematis to pick favourites, Peter loves the double white blooms of 'Arctic Queen', the medium blue of 'Elsa Spath', and the pure white blossoms of 'Duchess of Edinborough'. He also mentions two spectacular plants, especially good for larger spaces -- the autumn blooming Clematis paniculata which thrives even in half shade, and the very fragrant "old man's beard" Clematis vitalba which almost overwhelms the Keepings' mulberry tree. Two very tough clematis that Peter recommends, especially for colder regions of the country are Clematis x jackmanii and C. Tangutica. The latter is very free­flowering, with nodding yellow blossoms which bloom from July to September. The jackmanii clematis is an old reliable climber, easily growing to three metres with large, deep purple flowers.

By following these growing tips, you'll have clematis climbing the walls of your garden in no time at all. For more information about clematis, join the International Clematis Society. Members receive two newsletters each year, paticipate in a Seed Exchange, and have opportunities to talk and meet with other clematis growers in over 23 countries around the world. Membership is $30.00 (US).

For more information on clematis,
logon to the web site of
The International Clematis Society.