Support For Clematis Plants: How To Train A Clematis To Climb Up Poles Or Trees
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By: Teo Spengler
It’s no wonder clematis is called “Queen of the Vines.” There are over 250 varieties of the woody vine, offering blossoms in colors ranging from purple to mauve to cream. You can select a clematis cultivar with tiny flowers only ¼ inch (.6 cm.) across or opt for one offering huge, 10-inch (25 cm.) diameter blossoms. This versatile flowering vine can provide quick and beautiful ground cover, but it can also climb up almost anything, including trellises, garden walls, pergolas, poles or trees.
All you need to do is learn how to train a clematis to climb. Read on for information about training clematis vines.
Training Clematis Vines
Some vines climb by wrapping tightly twining stems or aerial roots around supports. Not clematis. If you want to know how to train a clematis to climb, first understand their climbing mechanism.
Clematis manage to climb trees and poles by twining their leaf petiole around appropriately sized support structures. The petioles are not large enough to wrap around thick objects. Experts suggest that support structures with a diameter of ¾ inch (1.9 cm.) or less are ideal for growing clematis on a pole or wall.
Growing Clematis on a Pole
If your plans include growing clematis on a pole or similar structure, consider using thick fishing line to provide support for the plant. The plant usually is sold with a small pole holding up the vine. Leave that pole in place as you position the plant in the soil near the base of the pole. Attach the fishing line so that it runs up the pole.
If you use fishing line to provide support for clematis, knot the line every foot (30 cm.) or so. These knots prevent the vine from slipping down the line. Fishing line also works for clematis growing on trees.
Clematis Growing on Trees
Trees are a special case when it comes to organizing support for clematis. The bark itself can provide the grip-holds clematis requires. Select a species of tree with rough bark for best results, like an oak. You may still want to add fishing line to provide more grips.
Consider planting another vine on the tree in addition to the clematis. Ivy or similar plants climb on their own and can provide excellent support for clematis growing on trees.
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Clematis Pruning and Training
Marie Hickman / Photolibrary / Getty Images
In this step-by-step guide, learn how you can keep your clematis strong, tidy, and heavy-blooming starting with training a new plant you just bought and working through to an old giant that needs rejuvenation. We'll start with the things you need to think about before you even make the first cut.
Before you prune, you need to know your variety or at least the time of year it flowers. Flowering time will determine when and how to prune it both to promote flowering and to train the plant’s “frame.”
Also choose your clematis’s armature—the trellis, arbor, wires, or other structure and shape you will make it climb on. You can have it scramble on the ground or over rocks for a wild look, but you will still need to set off space for it and eventually control it to that space.
The clematis plant is a vigorous climber that can live for decades. You can train a clematis to climb up a pole, but it must be outfitted with extra support for the vining plant to remain secure as it becomes heavier. The shallow root system will be aided by a support that will take stress from the base of the vine.
The individual branches of the plant must have something for the petiole vining leaves to grasp onto while growing.
- The clematis plant is a vigorous climber that can live for decades.
- The shallow root system will be aided by a support that will take stress from the base of the vine.
Wrap chicken wire around the circumference of the pole.
Hammer nails into the pole to firmly secure the chicken wire to the wood. You can also use a staple gun to secure portions of the wire to the pole. The entire piece of wire should not fit snugly against the pole. It is all right for the wire to be doubled, almost forming pockets, in areas to give space for the petioles and tendrils to entwine with the wires.
Plant the clematis vine 18 to 24 inches from the base of the pole. If the vine is already established in the ground, set the pole in no closer than 18 inches from the plant.
Gently secure a piece of the vine to the chicken wire by loosely tying it with a piece of yarn or soft twine at the base of the pole.
Secure the vine to the wire as it grows taller. Remove the yarn or twine when the plant has fully secured itself to the wire.
How to Support a Climbing Clematis
Clematis (Clematis spp.) is a genus so varied that a gardener could fill every available garden space with creeping, climbing or sprawling vines and not have two alike. Clematis may be evergreen or deciduous, summer or fall-flowering, bloom on old wood or new, and have large flowers or small with blossoms that are open, bell-shaped or double-petaled in nearly any color you could imagine. As you might expect, size and vigor vary widely as well. Supports for a clematis should be geared to the variety you grow, and the style of your garden or home exterior.
Research your clematis to determine the support that would be appropriate for its mature size. "Nelly Moser" (Clematis "Nelly Moser"), for instance, has a large mauve flower and reaches only 6 to 10 feet tall with a spread of 1 to 3 feet in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 11. It could cover a lightweight trellis. Sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora), on the other hand, has tiny white flowers on aggressive vines that reach 15 feet tall with a spread of up to 6 feet in USDA zones 5 through 11. It requires a sturdy structure such as a fence, wall or pergola.
Install a sturdy trellis or arbor appropriate for your clematis in full sun to part shade if you don't have a fence or wall to cover. The support should be in place before you plant to avoid damaging the roots of the clematis. Lightweight clematis varieties can even use shrubs or small trees as supports -- roses are often used as clematis supports. Note that clematis, which climbs using its wiry 2- to 3-inch leaf axles, can only twine around thin supports.
Staple short lengths of string or stretchy plant ties to a wooden fence with broad slats in a fan shape or up a thick wooden post.
Hammer masonry nails into a stone, brick or concrete wall at intervals and run thin wire between them in an upright or fan-shaped design.
Remove any support that was included in the nursery pot with your clematis. These are usually affixed to the vine with wire twist ties.
Plant your clematis about 12 inches from the base of the appropriate support structure for the mature size of the clematis or from the roots of the shrub you want to use as a support, to avoid competition for nutrients and water.
Insert small bamboo stakes from the base of the clematis up to the support to guide the stems to the structure. Tie the vines loosely to the stakes with string or plant ties.
Tie vines to the wall or fence as they reach the ties stapled to the wall or fence.
- Prune early flowering clematis varieties after flowering, only as-needed to control size.
- Cut large-flowered and mid-season flowering vines back to their woody framework -- these generally bloom on new shoots from the past-year's growth.
- Late-flowering clematis can be cut all the way down to 8 to 12 inches from the ground in early spring -- do as many or as few vines as you like if you want to maintain coverage on your support structure.
- Avoid the temptation to interweave and manipulate the leafstalks around the support manually the brittle stems invariable snap.
Patricia Hamilton Reed has written professionally since 1987. Reed was editor of the "Grand Ledge Independent" weekly newspaper and a Capitol Hill reporter for the national newsletter "Corporate & Foundation Grants Alert." She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University, is an avid gardener and volunteers at her local botanical garden.
How to Grow Clematis
Everything you need to know about growing clematis in your garden.
- Exposure: Part sun to sun
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9
- When to plant: Early spring
- Recommended varieties: Niobe, Montana, Sweet Summer Love
- Pests and diseases to watch out for: Japanese beetles, clematis wilt
Clematis roots and vines are fragile and don't recover well from rough treatment, so handle the plant gently. If your plant has a tiny trellis in its nursery pot, keep it in place and have someone help you hold it up as you remove the pot otherwise, the trellis can flop over and damage the plant. Dig a hole double the width of the root ball, placing the plant no deeper than soil level. Add a larger trellis right away so the plant has something to grab and grow up.
How to Care for Clematis
Water as it gets established the first few years, but clematis doesn't like it too dry or too soggy. Feed once a season in early spring after the ground thaws with a general-purpose fertilizer. As the plant matures, prune to eliminate scraggly stems. But because different varieties bloom at different times, read the label or look up your variety online for proper pruning times. In general, if a plant blooms in early spring, prune it right after that. Summer blooms mean it blooms on new wood, so prune to about 18 inches above ground in very early spring. When in doubt, wait a season and record your observances before snipping.
Can you grow clematis in a pot?
Yes, but choose a large pot and a clematis that can tolerate one zone hardier than where you live so it survives the winter. For example, choose a zone 4 plant if you live in zone 5. Also, plant it by itself in the pot because it doesn't compete well with other plants.
How long does it take to grow a clematis?
Clematis is perennial so it comes back every year. But be patient! The first year it may appear that there's not much going on. Your clematis needs at least two to three years to flourish because its complex root system takes time to establish.
Will a clematis climb by itself?
Yes and no. The plant climbs by wrapping its leaf stems around a structure, but it doesn't like anything that's more than about ½" in diameter to grab. For example, it cannot climb up a solid mailbox post or light pole. You need to give it a little help by attaching netting, fishing line, or twine to a standard trellis. The more options you give it to grab, the better it climbs.
GROWER TIP: "The classic advice for clematis is that it likes its feet in the shade and head in the sun," says Stacey Hirvela, horticulturalist for Proven Winners Color Choice Shrubs. "Keep the root zone cooler with mulch, a neighboring plant like a day lily or juniper, or even a rock. Make sure the top of the plant gets at least six hours of sun."
Deborah has spent more than 20 years studying, collecting, growing and hybridizing Clematis, a plant affectionately known as "queen of the vines." A renowned expert, her Hardwick Hall garden in central Ohio includes thousands of varieties.
Spring Hill partnered with Deborah to create our extraordinary, new line of Ready-to-Grow Clematis. These vining plants are known for their versatility, long lifespan and vibrant, exotic-looking blooms. Clematis plants can live 15 years or longer and produce blooms in many shapes, colors and sizes—some as large as 10 inches across.
Deborah's vision for bringing Clematis to your garden springs from her high standards. She requires plants that are colorful, durable, hardy, easy to establish, strong stemmed and heat tolerant.
Deborah's Recent Hits
Introduced for the first time in the U.S. by Deborah and Spring Hill:
Compact, non-vining Clematis with reliable flower power
A vigorous hybrid from Poland, launched for the first time in the U.S.
New, first-to-market cultivars are in the pipeline for 2021, 2022 and beyond.
To learn more, contact [email protected]
Deborah Hardwick Lecture Series
Deborah's past lecture topics include:
- Myths and Truths about Clematis
- The Beautifully Diverse Genus
- The Virtuous Viorna: An In-Depth Look at Native American Clematis
- The Best Clematis for your Garden.
Previous engagements include: Ontario Rock Garden and Hardy Plant Society, Royal Botanical Gardens (Toronto), Hamilton Botanical Gardens, Toronto Gardens, Indianapolis Art Museum, International Clematis Conference (Orleans, France)
To book your guest lecture with Deborah, contact [email protected]
Deborah Debunks A Few Clematis Myths
To wet your Clematis appetite, here's a little taste of Deborah's lecture on the
"Myths and Truths About Clematis."
They are difficult to grow.
Clematis are fairly easy to grow when planted correctly and when they receive adequate water during the growing season.
Plants must have their "feet in the shade" to keep their roots cool.
There's no need to protect Clematis roots from the sun. In fact, growing smaller plants nearby in an effort to shade the roots can hurt Clematis plants by keeping them from getting the nitrogen and other nutrients needed to thrive.
Pruning can harm your Clematis
Pruning actually promotes Clematis performance. When and how to prune, depends on the type of Clematis. Pruning is a garden style, not a requirement for Clematis. To learn more about pruning Clematis, visit our EZ Pruning Guide.
Plants have a short flowering time.
In many cases, you control the flowering time. Really. Deadheading, pruning and adequate watering extend the bloom season. You can also plant multiple Clematis varieties with different bloom times to enjoy a longer season of flowering.
Clematis need full sun and have special soil requirements.
Clematis are very adaptable. They can thrive when receiving sunlight levels ranging from full sun to partial shade, and they tolerate many soil types and pH levels.
Deborah's Top 5 Tips and Tricks
When planting a vining Clematis, be sure the bottom-most nodes go into the soil. Spread the roots out as you firm up the base.
Bareroot plants establish faster because they're less likely to dehydrate.
As blooms start waning, vining varieties can be pruned down to about 6-8" from the soil. Non-vining types can be cut off hard to the ground each spring before they commence growing.
Clematis prefer to be deep watered on a regular basis, but don't water them too frequently.
You can use a variety of supports, from the simplest wire fence to elaborate structures.