Local lifestyle columnists

The real queen of the garden

By From page C4 | May 04, 2014

Roses are often called the “Queen of the Garden,” but I’ve discovered a rival for the title.

I’m talking clematis, vines from the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family. These regal vines come in many sizes – shortest from 4 to 6 feet and longest from 20 to 35 feet.

Most of the various vines are deciduous, meaning they lose leaves in the late fall and appear to have died while others, such as C. armandii and a few others, stay evergreen. The “true” flowers are quite tiny and almost invisiable, but what we consider to be flowers are petal-like sepals that not only surround those “true” flowers put soon are followed by fluffy clusters of seeds with tails, which can be used in floral arrangements.

Contrary to gardening tales, clematis are not demanding, but do have a few requirements:

  • Plant the vines next to a trellis, tree trunk, or open frame-work to provide support for the twining stems.
  • Provide loose, fast-draining soil.
  • Add generous amounts of organic matter to the soil.

Just writing this, I realize that I haven’t met two of the three requirements for my own clematis that are growing quite nicely in my side yard – the side yard that becomes “Lake Buxton” when a moderate rain occurs. Well, if you don’t tell my vines, I won’t!

One definite rule – clematis like their roots cool and deep. I’ve planted all my vines much deeper in both the ground and in pots than anything else I plant. Stems are delicate and should be staked as soon as possible so breakage from wind and animals is minimal.

Pruning is the interesting part of growing clematis. How much pruning is dependent upon the type or “class” of the plant. Summer-blooming varieties bloom only on the ends of new stems produced in the spring. Cut back 1 to 2 ½ feet in late fall after bloom is over or in early spring as buds swell.

Spring-blooming clematis, which begin to bloom in winter in our area, flower only on stems produced the previous year. After blooming, cut back shoots that bloomed to about half their length; thin out weak or tangled stems.

Twice-blooming clematis bloom on last year’s stems in spring and then on the current year’s shoots in summer or fall.

Confused? Do what I do. I buy plants that are labeled as to the growth and bloom cycle and look up the pruning requirements. Sometimes though, I let the vines guide me; they know what to do!!

Betsy Buxton is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.

Betsy Buxton


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