Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How to Train a Clematis on a Tree Trunk

Clematis 'Perle d'Azur' on our maple tree in the Shade Path garden.
A few years ago, I planted Clematis 'Perle d'Azur' at the base of an old maple tree. It has become one of the most original elements in our gardens.

Here are some tips to get a Clematis started up your own tree!
  • Choose a tree with rough bark, like a maple or an oak. A smooth bark tree, like a cherry, will not give enough opportunity for your Clematis vine to grip as it grows.
  • Plant it on the shady side of the tree trunk and add compost. Mulch well. This enables you to give its roots the shade they need to start well.
  • If you are not planning to use the frame work of another vine for the Clematis to climb, then add a way for the Clematis to make it on to the tree bark. Clematis climb by wrapping their wrists around small twigs, instead of growing roots that attach like ivy. Use small bamboo canes, fishing line or twigs to make a scaffold for it to climb. I often prop the scaffold so that it arches over the existing clematis shoots and then directs them toward the tree trunk.
  • Help the Clematis along by occasionally tucking its loose new growth into the rough bark of the tree. 
Clematis 'Perle d'Azur' is listed growing in Full Sun or Partial Shade.

Some thoughts on Clematis:
  • Clematis are plants that naturally like the edges of the woodland. They like to have their feet (roots) in the shade, and their heads (flowers and leaves) in the sun. 
  • A tall tree (30 feet and above) will let through a surprising amount of light to plants below. Include some lower perennials to give shade to the root zone of the Clematis. Planting at the base of vines is a great way to add layers and depth to your gardens.
  • Be sure to add some compost to their planting hole and mulch after planting to help give them lots of nutrients, because Clematis prefer a nice rich soil.
  • They also need a lot of water the first year that you plant them, especially if you plant them in the middle of summer.

If you already have a Clematis that is not doing well:
  • Try adding some mushroom compost as mulch to help it cope with water loss in the summer months. 
  • Add some perennials around the base of your Clematis to give it shade in its root zone.
  • Check on what pruning group your Clematis belongs to. (The RHS has a great Clematis resource page.) That will tell you what time you should prune and when you should leave it alone to make sure you are not cutting off flower buds.
  • Trying a new spot is a good idea as well. If it is large, you could transplant just a portion of it. (Hint: dividing a perennial often helps to refresh their growth.) Watering a plant the night before you plan on transplanting it is always a good idea to make sure that it is full of water and prepared for a move. Make sure to water it well for a few months after transplanting until it is able to grow back enough roots.
  • You also might just try another variety! I have had a few out of my dozen varieties that were just much slower growing than the others.

I had a Clematis that almost died in one spot that I thought should have been suitable. I moved it, and now it covers one section of fence and a railing in flowers every summer! I took five years for me to work that out. Below is a photo of it blooming this July:
Clematis 'Lil Nell' blooming all along our fence and railing.
The view down the length of our corner garden at the end of June. Yellow flowers of variegated loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata 'Alexander') and Sedum 'Acre' flow in to the three pretty clematis vines around our Circle Lawn, and then yellow foxgloves in the Shade Path garden.
Our Clematis-on-a-tree experiment has turned out beautifully! I especially like the dreamy blue of Clematis 'Perle d'Azur' when viewed on the tree trunk against the blue sky.
I hope you get a chance to grow a Clematis on a tree too!
It can become a beautiful part of your summer garden.
~Julie

15 comments:

  1. Love it!
    ~Grace

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  2. Good post. I grow some clematis on trellises but have wondered about doing just this.

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    1. Try it! You will love it.

      And as Christopher Lloyd said, there is always room for another clematis! :) See this great video interview with CL to see what I am talking about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bokUp9VP8c&list=PLJSHjdvZ3E4oW4KshqA57Rs1-dwUKwKq_&index=7

      ~Julie

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  3. prachtige klimmers! hou ook erg van clematissen.

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    1. "beautiful climbers! very love Clematis."

      Thanks!
      ~Julie

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  4. What an interesting skill to have! Turns out, my problem with re-establishing Clematis was rabbits! (Actually, most of my problems stem from either rabbits or chipmunks.) I added triple fencing and aluminum foil to keep them out, and now they're doing well. Knock on wood--now I hope they'll make it through the winter. I love Clematises!

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    1. Ugh! Rabbits are a problem... unless they are a snuggly pet like the one we have :) Hope your clematis make it this year!
      ~Julie

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  5. I am guessing that unlike ivies - these will not hurt the tree?

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    1. Very true. Ivy has adventitious roots which attach to the things that they climb. Clematis grip by their petioles twisting around small objects (the part between the stem & leaf). Since the petioles cannot twist around an entire trunk, the tree is safe. :) Thanks for asking!
      ~Julie

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  6. Your tips will help some of my struggling clematis...thanks Julie!!

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    1. I am so glad Donna! This was worth writing then :)
      ~Julie

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  7. I have many clematis and enjoyed your article. I plan to divide some soon and will try one each on my dogwood and redbud trees.

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  8. I love, love, love the clematis growing on the tree. I have a huge maple tree in the very far corner of my yard, and a clematis would be absolutely perfect for it. I have some growing at the side of my house, and they are stunning. I can't wait till spring to put some in. Thanks for sharing.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Mary! Glad that it will work in your garden :)
      ~Julie

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