HOW TO PLANT CLEMATIS

Clematis should be bought from a reputable firm, they are a plant that very few Nurserymen seem to know anything about. A large number are brought in from Holland every year and simply sold as a side-line. There is nothing against this practice, of course, many of our Garden Centres do not grow any of their plants, buying them all in. There are many Nurseries that specialise in growing plants for sale to these Garden Centres and as clematis are difficult to raise and take a lot of looking after, this explains why there are so few Nurseries that actually grow clematis. However these Nurseries do exist, and you will find them always willing to give you plenty of advice and help in buying your plant. Most of them will send plants to any place in Great Britain. They pay special attention to packing as clematis are awkward plants to pack. A planting leaflet will invariably be sent, giving you complete details of how to plant.

Having got your clematis the first thing to do is to choose the site. The flowering period of the variety will give you a clue as to the best aspect, as some varieties will grow in complete shade and some need full sun. Those that flower in the spring and early summer will grow in complete shade, and so are ideal for north-facing walls, but can, of course, be planted on any wall. Some of the summer-flowering varieties will also grow in such a position but it is best to plant them on an east, west or south wall, whilst those that flower in the autumn need all the sun they can get and a south-facing wall is the best choice for these late-flowering varieties. Soil does not matter very

much as clematis will grow practically anywhere, provided that it is not waterlogged or of pure sand. The ideal soil is a well-drained, rich, friable loam. Very few gardens consist of this perfect combination but all can be improved by the addition of humus in the form of manure or compost. Sandy soils, which are very hot and dry and lose moisture very quickly can be improved by adding large amounts of farmyard manure, peat or leaf mould. The main idea being to increase the moisture-retaining properties of the soil. Clay soils, on the other hand, already have too much of the moisture-retaining property and to improve them they should be double dug and the subsoil broken up, adding a fair amount of coarse sand. Dry hop manure and peat mixed well in will also help make the soil more friable. If waterlogging occurs during the winter it would be advisable to drain the land to take the excess moisture away. Clematis are moisture-loving plants but do not like to have the crown of their roots perpetually in water, especially in the winter. If drainage is impossible, try growing clematis in large tubs or containers with no bottoms. The crown of the plant will be safe in the tub, in some good John Innes Compost, the long taplike roots will go down to the wet conditions below and not take any harm. Chalky soils are ideal for the species, but hybrids do not do quite so well in them and plenty of farmyard manure and peat should be mixed in when planting clematis.

Having chosen the site and improved our soil we now come to the important matter of planting. The thing to remember is that you are planting for the future and that your clematis is going to remain in this spot for many years, so it is advisable to spend a little time in preparing its home.

Clematis are supplied in pots or containers if bought directly from a Nursery. If they are sent by post, then they will invariably be in a paper pot. Plants are transferred to these to save carriage, and the pot which is quite an expensive item can be used again at the Nursery. Before the plant arrives we can prepare the actual spot. If the spot is near a wall do not plant too close, a wall is a notoriously dry spot and will suck up moisture at an alarming rate, leaving the poor clematis suffering from drought, the main cause of most clematis failures. Plant 2 or 3 feet away if possible, the plant can be trained to the wall by means of canes or wires, or the stem can even be laid under the ground which will produce roots of its own, all adding to the plant’s health and vigour. Dig a hole at least 18 inches deep by 18 inches square. Fork over the bottom and add two or three handfuls of bonemeal. Cover the bottom with 3 or 4 inches of manure, hop manure or compost. If your soil is good then this can be used again to fill up, but if it is poor discard it and treat your clematis to some John Innes Compost No. 3. Right, then, we are ready for the big operation, but before planting it is a good idea to give the plant a good drink by standing it in a bucket of water for half an hour, or if very dry, in water overnight. The centre of the ball of soil is often dry and it is surprising how long the water will bubble. On top of the manure or compost place two or three spadefuls of John Innes Compost or your good garden soil with some bonemeal added. If your plant is in a pot it will be necessary to remove this by turning the pot upside down, spreading the finger of one hand over the soil to catch the plant, gently tapping the rim of the pot on the spade handle till it slips: PLANTING out of its pot. If your plant is in a paper pot, then all that will be necessary is to tear the pot away from the roots. The bootlace-like roots will often be found to have twined round the bottom of the pot. Gently disentangle them and place the ball of soil in the hole, spreading out the fleshy roots so that the crown of the plant is 2 or 3 inches below the soil level even 1 foot if possible. Clematis root out readily from stems underground, and if a node or pair of leaf buds are on this stem below the soil, then we have an insurance against any damage occurring to the stem above soil. If this is accidentally severed, or the plant wilts, there are always that pair of dormant buds below soil which will spring into life and soon shoot up to renew to life of the clematis.

Finally fill in with your prepared soil, treading it down well with the feet. Leave the cane in and lean it towards the wall or shrub it is to grace in the future. If you have planted in the summer or autumn leave the plant as it is until the following early spring when it should be cut down

almost to the ground in February. Down to the lowest pair of buds on the stem, cutting through the stem just above the buds. This is if it is one of the large-flowering hybrids, or one of the late-flowering species such as flammula, tangutica, texensis or viticella varieties. These should be cut down to encourage the plant to bush out rather than run up on one stem. You will find that only Jackmanii varieties need this hard pruning every year and that Patens and Lanuginosa should be left unpruned, but for this first year all hybrids, whatever group they belong to, should be cut down. If they come up with one stem again, they can always be cut down again a few weeks later. Clematis can stand being cut down frequently, they will soon shoot up again, adding to the shoots and vigour of the plant. Clematis that are planted in the spring have often been pruned at the Nursery during the winter, if not, cut them down when planting, even if they have been pruned and are shooting upon one stem only it will not hurt to cut them down again, always cutting just above the lowest pair of buds on the stem. The only varieties that do not need this initial first spring pruning are the early-flowering species such as the alpina, armandii, macropetala and montana varieties, although this does no harm, as they will send out shoots from the stem, creating a bushy plant naturally. If there is a tendency for it to go up on one stem, then prune hard to make it bush out from the base.

We now have the clematis planted safely, but one thing we must do is make sure the roots will have a cool, moist root run. Clematis do like to have their roots under stones, tiles, concrete or anything that will give them shade and keep their roots cool and moist. The wild clematis, C. vitalba, will be found to have its roots in the deepest part of the hedge, shaded by the many other hedge plants, where it is usually well shaded and damp. Clematis therefore will grow quite happily with other plants, roses, shrubs, etc., gratefully accepting any shade they can provide for their roots. If they are to grow on their own on a hot sunny wall, then we must give them something to provide shade for the roots. This can be done by placing tiles, bricks, stones, crazy paving or even pebbles scattered thickly round the plant to cover a 2-foot-square area. Pebbles or granite chippings are ideal as rain can soak through these and keep the ground moist. One way in which a plant in this position can be helped, if it is on a very dry spot, near a wall for instance, is to sink a pot level with the soil beside the plant. Through this the plant can be watered daily during the spring and summer. Water will not be wasted this way and will go down directly to the roots of the plant rather than running off on the surface. Clematis do need a tremendous amount of water, their long, thick, fleshy roots will suck up water at an amazing rate, probably during very hot spells at least a gallon a day. Water, of course, will wash away the nutrients in the soil and these must be replaced by a liquid feed given at least once a week. This can be given through the sunken pot as well. If this sunken pot looks incongruous in the garden it can be hidden by a small tile which will prevent the pot becoming full of leaves and other garden rubbish.

Clematis have very thin stems and are very vulnerable in the garden. The misplaced hoe, the over-enthusiastic weeder have often cut short the life of a young clematis. Cats and dogs and children can also be a threat, so until the plants has established itself a little protection should be given, such as a neat cylinder of wirenetting staked round the plant, letting it an inch or two into the soil. Wind is one of the worst enemies of clematis and until the plant is established some form of windbreak is essential. Even a few twigs will stop the full blast of an east wind for instance.

A good start in life has now been given to our plant and we must not forget it in the future. They must have a constant supply of water during hot dry spells. Not just a dribble, which only wets the surface, but a real good soaking to get the water down to the roots 2 feet belowl

If your soil is good, then an annual mulching of manure each autumn will be sufficient, but during the summer a feeding with a liquid fertiliser once a week will replace those nutrients which will get washed away with constant watering. Most of the bottled feeds that are obtained from Garden Shops, such as Sangral, Maxicrop, Liquinure, etc., are quite all right, and the instructions for diluting are given on each bottle. Poor soils will require a little more attention. Two or three handfuls of bonemeal should be scattered round each plant in the autumn and worked into the soil with a hoe or hand fork. A mulching of manure can be given as well if possible. Then in the spring a handful of Sulphate of Potash will keep your plant healthy and the foliage a good colour. It also promotes strong growth and can be given two or three times during the spring and early summer. Sprinkle the powder, 2 ounces to the square yard, round the plant and water in.

So to put it in a nutshell: Plant deep. Water often. Feed well and your clematis should thrive and be a thing of beauty for years to come.

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