Colorful Early Blooming Clematis

After a long winter of cold and rain, I look forward to bright colors in the garden.  By April, I am overly familiar with the cream colored flowers of Clematis cirrhosa and its many cultivars that have bloomed all winter.  Although I love the fragrance of the white flowers of Clematis armandii ‘Snow Drift’, their show is not long.

Clematis 'Constance'

It is at this transition period that many clematis in Section Atragene  (which include the many selections of Clematis alpina and macropetala) come to prominence.  In our garden at Joy Creek Nursery, Clematis ‘Willy’ and ‘Constance’ leaf out quickly, completely filling in their wire frame supports with a dense cover of apple-green leaves in April.  Their downward facing flowers show off the rich color of the reverse sides of  their tepals – ‘Willy’ revealing rosy pink tepals outlined in white and ‘Constance’ matte rose-colored tepals.  They are a sight for eyes that are starved for color.

Clematis 'Willy'

Because ‘Willy’ and ‘Constance’ are in seedhead by June, many customers assume that they do not repeat bloom.  We have experimented with these clematis and what we found is that if we dead-head the vines after they have finished blooming (cutting out about the upper fourth of their growth), they will send out new leaves and buds.  These buds will open in June and July.  The summer show is not as plentiful as that in the spring but it is still worth the effort.

'Constance' Seedheads

Sometimes we find the stems of these plants become very woody and unmanageable with age.  Last year in early June, we cut both ‘Willy’ and ‘Constance’ back to the lowest growth point on the stems (about 10 inches from the ground) in an attempt to clean up the older growth.  Visitors to the nursery worried that we had killed the plants.  There was no need for alarm.  They grew back quickly.  This year they are as bountiful as ever.  This is the second time we have done this maintenance on our 17 year old plants.


3 responses to “Colorful Early Blooming Clematis

  1. Thanks for this little tutorial. It answers some questions I didn’t even know I had.


  2. What do you do when you get a clematis that has clematis wilt? I’ve sprayed with sulfur, and kept all of the dead leaves, etc. away….the plant does not appear to be coming back from the root…..


    • Hello Rise,
      Thanks for submitting your question. First, true wilt is less common that most folks think. Trials in England have shown that only a small percentage of cases where people have reported wilt have actually turned out to be “wilt.” What symptoms did your clematis have that led you to believe it was wilt? Sometimes newly planted plants collapse because they do not have enough root-mass to sustain upward growth. Regular water and feed is important if you want attractive clematis.

      When a stem collapses, it is usually due to breakage (even slight cracking) that damages the vascular system of the stem. Breakage usually occurs during the spring when the new green growth is at its height. Before they become woody, these stems are easily damaged by pets, wind, etc. The best remedy for wilt or breakage due to external forces is to cut the stem back to a point just above were the collapse is visible. If it is possible to save a set of leaf-axils that would be best. After pruning, be sure to feed with a good all-purpose fertilizer. Most folks have tomato food or rose food around. Those are good. Were you able to get any food down for the plant last fall?

      True Wilt does not kill a clematis. It does not reside in the roots. It is an air-borne pathogen that takes advantage of fractures in the stems. Getting rid of the affected stem is the best precaution. You can prevent wilt from getting access to the plant by careful watering in the morning so that the plant has time to dry completely before nightfall.

      You can check the roots of your clematis to see if it is still alive by gently brushing away the dirt from the crown. You should see yellowish colored roots about 1/8th of an inch in diameter. If all your roots are brown or rotting, than unfortunately, your clematis did not make it which could be due to a variety of factors.

      Hope that helps!

      JCN crew


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