Clematis and other climbers

Gardens are most interesting to me when my eye travels. It is exciting to look down, across, and up; to see gardening happening at different heights. Climbing plants are an easy way to add vertical blooms to your designs.
Clematis is a popular choice for adding height. The vines are often seen climbing lampposts or mailbox columns, and you can’t mistake their big purple flowers. When the clematis is blooming, it is gorgeous.

There are many different varieties of clematis, each with its own flower type, timing of blooms, and pruning needs. Fun fact: the clematis is part of the buttercup family.

Most varieties will give the best blooms when planted in full sun. However, take your time deciding where to plant your clematis, they do not like to be moved, and this perennial can be part of your garden for years.

Once you pick a full sun spot, think about what type of support you will give the vine. If the hope is for the vine to climb your lamppost, you may need to provide it with a wire mesh surface to climb. It needs something to grab onto for support.

Here’s the thing. All climbing plants climb differently. Morning glories have twining stems, sweet peas have tendrils that reach out and find support, and ivy has adhesive pods for climbing walls and trees.

Clematis climb with their leaf stems, which are not that long. They need support of a small diameter, nothing larger than half an inch to wind around.

So, you have picked a sunny spot near a stone wall, fence, trellis, or post with wire mesh, and you are ready to plant. Dig the hole deep; you want the plant to sit completely in the ground. Handle the roots and crown carefully; they can be fragile.

Once it is placed in the ground, backfill the hole and water generously.

Traditional gardeners will say that although the plant loves full sun, the roots like a bit of shade. This generally happens naturally from nearby plants. So no worries.

To make sure it has the nutrition needed to produce flowers and is not competing with its neighbors, give it a shot of fertilizer in the spring and again during the summer months.

Depending on the variety, the vines can reach anywhere from 3 to 15 feet tall. The variety I see most often has six-inch purple flowers with multiple petals. Pro-tip: Plant two different varieties side-by-side to stagger the bloom time and have a mix of style and colors.

Depending on the variety planted, pruning might be necessary. Check your labels to see if the plant blooms on old or new growth. If new growth, don’t be afraid to cut it back if the height is too much for your space.

Either way, I doubt pruning will be necessary for the first few years. Remember to be patient with perennials, the first year they sleep, the second they creep, and the third year they leap.

If it’s annual climbers you want, consider morning glories or sweet pea vines. Both can be planted from seed, but beware: they may be annuals but are aggressive and will drop seeds or reseed themselves for the following year. Turn this to a positive and collect the seeds to share with a friend.

Because they are fast-growing annuals, they can be a good choice to cover a fence or provide camouflage for a tricky spot. Both morning glories and sweet peas bring feelings of an old fashion garden.

Take a walk through your garden, think about where you might have a spot to create interest and height to your landscape. The different levels of blooms will add dimension and excitement to your views.