Any garden will benefit from plants that afford height and depth to the overall vista of the landscape. Often height is the last component that is considered and sadly, forgotten in many cases. Plants with height will draw the eye of the viewer naturally along the line of growth encouraging the admirer to appreciate the entire palette of colour and texture. One of the most reliable climbers that can accomplish this is the grand family of Clematis. Literally there are hundreds of varieties to chose from with perhaps, the widest range of colour combinations in nature. These vines can be trained to form an almost ‘picture frame’ for your garden, providing blooms for the entire season if well planned.
It is a good idea to wait until the new growth appears before removing dead or damaged stems and before pruning as required by variety. Clematis have rather brittle stems and as such too much fussy around them can be damaging. Clematis Vancouver™ ‘Cotton Candy’ falls into group B or II and therefore is only lightly pruned to shape and remove damaged and weak growth. If this is the first spring after planting, prune stems of all varieties down to the lowest pair of healthy buds to encourage strong growth and new stems. It is at this point that you can consider which direction and height that you wish your clematis to grow, forming the concept of a picture frame if desired.
Clematis require somewhat unusual growing conditions in that they like sun however, their roots prefer to be shaded and cool. There are several methods that you can employ to achieve this tricky situation but to my way of thinking the easiest is to place a rock or a group of stones, even a large terra cotta flower pot at the base of the vine. This addition will provide shade and moderate the soil temperature and is easily hidden if you wish with lower growing perennials. Should you choose to mulch around the clematis take caution to not cover the crown of the plant, this will spell disaster. Additionally, cultivate with caution close to the vines as any root disturbance results in rather rapid decline of the associated stems. As the vines grow you can gently attach them to a structure or, as I do, install a dead tree branch which forms a natural trellis for the vines to intertwine through. In no time the tree branch stake is totally covered and is not visible. Watering is one task that can’t be overlooked, particularly in the early part of the growing season.
Clematis are considered to be heavy feeders. Low nitrogen fertilizers such as 5-10-10 in spring, when the buds are about 2″ long is considered appropriate. Keep in mind that Clematis have relatively deep roots so water the plant well prior to fertilizing to ensure that the nutrients get to where they are supposed to be. Roughly every month you can apply a balanced fertilizer and then alternate back and forth with the higher phosphorus and potassium feeding. I have found also that Epsom Salts (Magnesium sulfate) is a great booster for Clematis. I use approximately 4-6 tablespoons per litre of water and apply basically whenever I think of it. Best results appear at blossom time.
Clematis tend to be susceptible to a fungus that causes the stems to turn brown/black and die rather rapidly. Generally, this condition does not kill the plant, however it does weaken it considerably. The best plan is to remove the infected material as soon as you notice and be careful to sterilize your pruners with either household bleach or gas line antifreeze. Handling your new plants with care and being gentle with them may sound silly but Clematis bruise easily and this sets up a perfect condition for fungal attacks. Similarly root damage from an over ambitious gardener with a cultivator can set the stage for disaster as well.
There is a great deal of information related to Clematis and it can be somewhat confusing for many but never be without Clematis in your landscape, they will provide season long colour and structure, provided the appropriate varieties are planted.