Planting Clematis In Containers

Late summer to early autumn is the best time for container planting as the clematis will start to establish
itself during mid- to late autumn and be in a position to
produce some flowers the following summer. The
choice of container is vital for the successful cultivation
of clematis. Although clematis need a moist, cool root
run they do not like cold wet feet in winter, so a free-draining compost is important. This rules out the use of
thin plastic containers as in the summer the soil in the
container would become far too hot and in the winter
no protection would be given to the thick fleshy roots of
the large-flowered clematis, so they would freeze and
then decay. The ideal container is one made out of
stone, or reconstituted stone, with a 5 cm (2 in) side
wall, or an old cider or beer barrel made out of thick
wood. Specially made wooden boxes that have been
treated against rotting are also ideal, particularly if they
have an inner skin, maybe of tin, to help preserve the
wood. Thick-walled frost-resistant terracotta pots and
urns and large strawberry pots look most effective with
a healthy clematis growing out of them, but terracotta
does not give the same amount of protection against the
sun in summer or the frost in winter.

The size of the container is also important. A container with a diameter and depth of about 38cm (15 in)
is the smallest size that should be used, and this will only
suffice for about two years before the clematis will need
to be upgraded to a larger container. Moving a clematis
up in such a way involves extra work, but it is worth
doing as clematis dislike being put in too large a pot at
the outset. However, the larger the better
because it is then possible to plant other shallow rooting plants within the container to help keep the
clematis root system cool in summer – 60 x 60 x 60 cm (2 x 2 x 2 ft) is ideal.

The container must have adequate drainage holes.
These depend upon the size of the container. A container measuring 45 x 45 cm (18x 18 in) should have at
least three drainage holes measuring 2.5 cm (1 in)
across. To ensure the drainage is effective, raise the container off the ground by placing bricks beneath it.

Before placing the compost in the container, put a
layer of broken crocks, stones or pebbles over the
drainage holes to stop the compost from clogging up the
holes. Lay large pieces first and then place smaller
stones, large pebbles and then small pebbles or pea-gravel on top of these. If available, rotted turf can be
placed upside down on top of the small pebbles or
pea-gravel. If not, well-rotted farmyard manure or
garden compost can be used in its place but these
materials must be kept away from the newly planted
clematis roots. Then fill the container with John Innes
Potting Compost No.2, or an equivalent. A loam based compost is best because loam-free composts
sometimes dry out too quickly and can then be very difficult to re-wet even if they do have a polymer mixed
with the compost. Once the compost has been placed
into the container, firm it well to avoid sinkage -it
should be 5 cm (2 in) below the rim of the container,
allowing sufficient depth for watering.

Use a small garden trowel to dig out enough compost
to make room for the clematis root ball. Planting in a
container should be done under the same guidelines as
planting into the garden soil, which is to say drench the
root ball before planting, plant an extra 5 cm (2 in) deep
and water well after planting. The aftercare for a clematis in a container is of course much more than that
required for one in open ground as it will require extra
training, tying and feeding and attention to watering is a must, especially in dry weather.

Training clematis

A clematis growing in a container obviously needs
some support. The type of support very much depends
upon where the container is placed. If it is alongside a
wall so that the clematis will grow up and through other
wall-trained shrubs, a strong bamboo cane or thick
stake can be placed at an angle between the container
and the wall or limb of the host tree or shrub. The
clematis stems may then be tied to the cane or stake and
up into the host plant.

If the container is to stand in the open, some form of
more elegant support will be required -how elegant
depends upon the location in the garden. A simple wigwam made out of thick bamboo, pea-sticks or thick
hazel poles is an inexpensive solution. Alternatively,
there are attractive iron or plastic-covered steel supports available. These are freestanding and can be
placed securely within the container.

The training of a clematis in a container is important, the aim being to
produce a bushy, well-furnished plant with plenty of foliage and flowers at the
base of the support as well as up it, rather than a bunch of foliage and flowers
at the top of the support as is so often seen. After planting, train the stems
horizontally around the support as low down as possible. The aim is to
produce a well furnished plant and build up the framework of stems for
future years. If the clematis has been planted during the
late summer or early autumn, any dead or weak flower stems
should be removed to a pair of strong leaf axil buds during the following late winter/early spring. Train in the
remaining stems. If these are weak or thin, they too
should be reduced. As new growth appears during mid- and late spring, this too should be tied in horizontally to
help cover the base of the support as well as the top.

If the planting time is mid- to late spring and the
clematis has not been pruned before it was purchased
from the nursery or garden centre, remove any weak
stems and possibly reduce others to a pair of strong leaf
axil buds. As new growth appears, gently pinch the top
growth with thumb and finger after two or three nodes
have been produced on each stem to encourage new
growth from the leaf axil buds, which will produce a
bushy plant. The best clematis for growing in containers are the small-flowered mid-spring flowering types
and the late spring and early summer-flowering large-flowered clematis. These clematis produce their main
crop of flowers from the growth ripened the previous
season and this pruning and pinching back means that
very little flower can be expected during the first season. However, some flowers can be expected
later during the summer months and as these clematis are more
compact in their habit and will produce more flowers in
a given space than other types it is worth being patient.

Adding other plants to the containers is advisable,
partly to provide shade for the clematis root system but also to give extra foliage, flowers and form. If such
plants are added, they should be of a shallow rooting
habit and, if possible, be allowed to flop over the sides of
the container, giving a natural effect. Summer bedding
plants are an easy choice in the summer; in the winter
some carefully selected winter-flowering heathers
would be ideal. A few spring-flowering bulbs, for example tulips, daffodils or shorter growing bulbs such as Iris reticulata will give added interest and
color, perhaps
with a selection of wallflowers and forget-me-nots. The
bulbs will die down once they have finished flowering,
and the other spring-flowering plants can be removed
to allow replanting with summer bedding plants.

Winter protection

When growing clematis in containers you must consider
the type of clematis and the winter protection it will need
in your area. In mild locations, with night temperatures
dropping only to about -7°C (19°F), the top growth of
the small-flowered mid-spring flowering types and the
late spring and early summer-flowering large-flowered
clematis will not be damaged or destroyed. It is vital to
retain the top growth in order to obtain the early large flowers of the
large-flowered cultivars. If the night temperatures drop below those figures for
two or three weeks at a time bud damage may occur, depending upon the wind chill
factor and the amount of desiccation caused by the winds. The very hardy C.
alpina and C. macropetala
types will withstand open garden temperatures as low as
-35°C (-31°F) and still flower the following year, so they
will only need winter protection in very exposed cold climates. For safety, a fleece material can be wrapped around
the top growth to give added protection. This can also be
used in cold locations with the large-flowered cultivars,
but only as a short-term protection; if the winter is
expected to be severe, any large-flowered cultivars should
be removed to a shed, outbuilding or garage where the
temperatures are not expected to drop below -7°C (19°F)
for any length of time. The fleece may be removed from
outdoor clematis as soon as the weather improves and
when spring has almost arrived -before the weather
becomes too warm, as the extra protection may cause the
plant to come into growth too early and the growth will be
damaged when the fleece is removed.

Clematis containers wintered inside a building may
be brought out once the worst of the cold weather is
over. Again, it is important that the plants are not forced into growth prematurely by rising indoor
temperatures. Any plants which have been over-wintered
under cover must be well watered as soon as you have
placed them in their spring and summer locations,
choosing a mild day to do so. Early-morning watering is
preferable so that the compost within the container can drain well before nightfall.

Changing the soil

A clematis in its first year is usually planted in an 8 cm (3 in) pot, and in the
second year should be moved to a 15 cm (6in) pot; later still, to a 30cm (12in) or
larger pot. In small containers the soil should be changed once a year, either in
late autumn or spring; the soil below, at the sides of the plant, and above should be
replaced. If necessary the clematis can be moved to a larger pot at the same time.
Clematis in large containers need not have their soil changed as often. However, the
top 5-8cm (2-3in) should be replaced with compost and bone meal or
slow release fertilizer once a year; every few years it may be necessary to change all the
soil in a large container. If the containers are outside they may need a measure of
protection in the winter by a mulch of leaf-mould or bracken, and if possible
moved into a sheltered part of the garden. In severely cold areas of the world the tubs
may need to be taken indoors in the winter; they should not be allowed to dry
out. In the garden they should be stored on shingle.

Clematis under glass

Clematis under glass can be grown in containers or in permanent beds. The first
value of glass is that it allows any clematis in a pot to be forced, that is to say, flower
earlier. In this way it is possible to have early flowers -at least a month earlier –
and therefore it is particularly useful with early-flowering hybrids. Secondly,
growing under glass lends itself to growing clematis which are too tender for
growing in the garden. It thus increases the range of clematis which can be grown.
Thirdly, and this is probably the best use of glass, clematis can be brought into a
conservatory in a sequence.

To make the third method possible there has to be a nursery bed in the
garden. Here the plants are grown in pots, with flowering periods throughout the
year. As each approaches the time of flowering, it is brought into the
conservatory. Once the flowering is over, it returns to the nursery bed where it is
nurtured for flowering the following year. While the nursery bed may be in a
secluded part of the garden, it must be in full sun so that healthy, strong plants are
produced. The nursery bed can have a floor of thick black polythene supported
by a frame of bricks or breezeblocks. Size would depend on the number of plants to
be grown. A layer of peat 23 cm (9 in) deep is put on the black polythene and the pots
are placed in this. The peat should always be kept moist, and throughout the year
the pots must be treated as for container-grown plants.

Almost any clematis can pass through the conservatory by the method
mentioned above, but particular attention will be paid to the early tender evergreen
clematis species, such as C. indivisa, C. cirrhosa balearica, and
C. armandii.
Other tender clematis include C. afoliata, up to 2m (6ft) and with a daphne scent;
C x vedrariensis, up to 6m (20ft), which flowers in May; and C. florida
‘Sieboldiana’ which may grow up to 2.5m (8ft).

Also early in the season you can have the alpina clematis and macropetala
clematis. Later there is a
choice of spring-, summer- and autumn-flowering hybrids, the viticella
varieties, orientalis varieties, as well as the texensis varieties. Late in the year, and
where there is a great deal of room, it is possible to grow C. napaulensis, up to 5 m (30 ft).

In the conservatory, care must be taken to supply ventilation, the temperature
should go no higher than 13°C (55°F) and humidity should be encouraged by
syringing. Water given to clematis should be tepid, or the same temperature as the
conservatory. The clematis should be regularly sprayed with insecticides and fungicides.

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