Sunday, July 3, 2011


Hello again,

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM. Paul recently sent this article out called "Clematis: The Queen of Our Flowering Vines " (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"In 1968, I planted my first of many Clematis vines at a nursery in Scituate, Massachusetts, called Kennedy's Country Gardens. We received 200 two-year-old seedlings and my job that day was to pot these new plants in 2 gallon size pots. I had just finished blending rich top soil, peat moss, and cow manure together making a wonderful potting mixture for the new plants to grow in. My teacher at the nursery was a wonderful woman from England named Janet Burnett; she taught me how to plant and grow this plant. Janet told me many stories about how well this plant thrives in England and showed me many pictures of her gardens. One picture had clematis growing in the middle of a garden --what she called her clematis tree. I told her that I thought that clematis was a vine and could not believe that it grew into a tree.

What Janet had done was plant several clematis plants of different colors and flowering times at the base of an old apple tree that had died several years earlier and used the tree as a trellis for the plants to grow on. I can still see that clematis tree today in my mind, just beautiful. So if you have a small dead tree about 15 feet tall, don't cut it down--use it to grow clematis on. Janet told me that in England where she lived, the soil had layers of lime running through it and that was why her plants grew so well.

I had potted about 25 seedlings before Janet arrived to show me how to do it properly and she said to me how much lime did you put into each container you planted? I told her none but I had done an extra good job preparing the potting mixture. Janet had me dump all the plants out and start over because each pot had to have a cup of lime added to the potting soil mixture because clematis "LOVED" a sweet soil and only "LIME" made the soil sweet. After that experience, I always asked questions before starting the job! Janet was a wonderful teacher, and I will share with you what she taught me about clematis .

Clematis is the showiest perennial vine you can plant in your garden. They are among the easiest vines to grow in the garden, and their wide range of colors and flower size will please everyone. With over 1000 varieties to choose from and more new hybrids coming out each year, the clematis is quickly becoming the most popular vine for today's gardens. Clematis originated in the Orient about 500 years ago and has now spread all over the world because of hybridization to fit particular climates.

Janet showed me that the clematis plant does not produce tendrils nor do its stems twist around other plants. The leaf stalk, called the "petiole," will twist around any type of support from wire, string, wood, or vinyl lattice to even small tree branches for support. All you have to do is to provide something for the plant to grow on and it does the rest all by itself. Clematis can be trained to climb fences, archways, or trellis and can even scale the wall on the side of your house as long as you provide them with some type of support to climb on. You can also plant one on top of a retaining wall and watch it climb over it and cascade down to display its beautiful foliage and flowers or even let it run on the ground as a wonderful ground cover where you have outcroppings of ledge.

Clematis prefers to grow vertically, making this plant perfect for even the smallest flower garden or on your light pole at the end of your walk way. They do not take much room in your garden, so place a pole or trellis here and there for a bit of vertical height in your garden. Enjoy these pillars of clematis flowers poking out of your once horizontal growing garden as the clematis vine reaches for the sky. This is a great vine for a more natural looking garden; train it to grow where you want it to grow but let this plant do what it wants and don't prune it heavily. Grow the clematis vine like a rambling rose, let it surprise you with all its flowers and enjoy how unpredictably it will grow in your garden.

Plant clematis in a garden that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunshine; some varieties like clematis paniculata 'Sweet Autumn' will adapt easily to partial shade garden, so check at the nursery about special light requirements. This garden should also have good air circulation around it so the foliage can dry off quickly after long periods of rain fall. Avoid overhead watering in the evening hours to keep foliage dry and prevent disease problems. Water early in the day so the sun can dry foliage quickly and keep disease problems away. Water clematis plants regularly, especially during the summer months if the weather gets hot and dry. The roots of the clematis are strong and grow deep so be sure to water s thoroughly, especially when the plant is in bloom or the flowering period will be shorter.

Clematis vines will grow best in a rich soil that is well drained and never has standing water. Always condition the soil before planting with compost, animal manure, or peat moss. To help hold water around the roots of the plant in the summer months always add Soil Moist granules when planting. Clematis is a heavy feeder and will do much better when planted if you also add an organic fertilizer like Flower Tone by Espoma or Pro Gro by North Country Organics to encourage quick root development.

Your soil pH is very important, and one of the determining factors of a healthy plant. The sweeter the soil is, the better the plant will grow for you, so be sure to add Limestone, Magic-Cal or lots of wood ash to the soil before planting. Also yearly application of these products will keep your soil sweet if you live in areas where pines and oak trees are native. I use 2 handfuls of wood ash every spring around my plants and they just love it. Fertilize spring and fall with Flower Tone by Espoma or Pro Gro by North Country Organics to keep plant actively growing. If you don't have access to wood ash a couple of handfuls of Magi Cal by Jonathan Green is what I recommend!

Root and stem protection is also a determining factor for the clematis vine and it is very important to grow a ground cover or perennials around the plant to shade the soil to keep it cool during the summer months. Also place an evergreen plant--or stand up a brick or cobble stone on end--in front of the vine, facing south, to shade the bottom 6 to 8 inches of the vine during the winter months. This shading of the stem keeps it cool during the summer months and stabilizes freezing and thawing during the winter months. This is good advice although I get great results by mulching lightly around the base of my clematis with Fundy Blend by Coast of Maine. For the winter mulch cover I suggest a heavy cover with balsam fir boughs or Mainely Mulch straw (both available here at Skillin's!)

If you suddenly get foliage that turns brown or black on the plant, remove it quickly and the plant will form new growth from the base of the plant to replace it. Pour a bit of bleach on pruner blades before and between cuts to prevent moving disease problems from branch to branch; bleach will sterilize the pruners. When weeding or applying fertilizer to the plant, always use your hand and never use cultivating tools, as you can damage the roots of the plant. Bark mulch around the plant is encouraged at a depth of 2 inches to keep out weeds and help cool the soil.

Pruning is always a question with the clematis vine, when and how? If you see dead or damaged growth on the plant, remove it at any time you find it. As the clematis vine begins to age you will notice that fewer flowers form on the vine, usually after 4 to 5 years. The stems are getting tired, so these older stems should be cut back to within 18 inches of the ground in the early spring and before the new growth starts on the plant, during March early April. This will encourage new stems to develop from the roots of the plant in late April and these stems will flower the same year on the plant.

If your plant looks like a tangled mess of live and dead stems wrapped around your light pole or trellis, it is time for a major pruning of the plant. Try and save as much of the new and fleshy looking growth as possible but remove the older looking vines of the plant in the early spring.

If you have never grown a clematis vines before, this is the year for you to plant one in your garden. The vine has wonderful flowers that will last for many weeks, the flowers come in many colors, and the flower size varies from less than one inch in diameter to over 6 inches wide. Try one this summer, and next year, once the plant is established in your garden, you will thank me over and over again. Enjoy! "

Thanks to Paul Parent!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
July 3, 2011

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