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Gardening with Clematis: Design and Cultivationby Linda Beutler
Once you have decided on the function you want your clematis to serve, as well as their color and texture, you can begin the search for the species and cultivars that will meet your needs. If you are new to clematis, it is best to start with those vines recommended as being easiest to grow. You will see several cultivars and species repeated on more than one of the lists throughout this book, including a list of my ten favorites for beginners at the end of this chapter. These are your guides to which varieties are most accommodating and rewarding. If the clematis that strikes your fancy sounds like a challenge, however, do not underestimate the power of beginner's luck!
For now, let's start with the basics: selecting your new plant. When visiting your local garden center or specialty nursery, the choice of clematis will be overwhelming, and it's easy to have your head turned by a pretty face. It is best for your peace of mind to go forth armed with a list. If you find a plant you've been wanting, carefully examine the specimens offered for sale. Select a plant in the largest size pot you can afford, and try to avoid plants in small pots or on sale bare-rooted in boxes. If the plant you pick up does not show new roots through the drainage holes, or shows other signs of being recently repotted, pass it by.
Examine all the plants of the variety you're shopping for to see how many stems are emerging from the soil and#8212; the more, the merrier. If I have the choice of two plants and#8212; one about to bloom atop a frail stem and one with several stems and lush growth but no bloom and#8212; experience has taught me to opt for the multistemmed plant. This is the vine that will reap the greatest rewards in the long run. When it comes to clematis, the instant gratification of ready blooms can distract from the fact that you may have selected a fragile plant with a less than robust root system, a plant that may be easily damaged during transport and transplanting, a plant that may be more vulnerable to pests and disease and is less able to make a quick recovery.
Sometimes you must select a plant with just one shoot holding up the top growth, this being the only choice to get the cultivar you want. Plan to prune it rather hard when you get it home, even if you cannot plant it right away. At garden centers and nurseries, clematis are usually grown in pots with a 3-ft.-tall hardwood or bamboo stake affixed inside. Remove any growth stretching or drooping beyond the stake. This may mean cutting off blooms and buds. If you have reason to believe the plant is misnamed, as unfortunately happens from time to time, let it bloom before pruning it. Assure yourself of the plant's identity, then cut it back, leaving three to four nodes on the stem before planting. (Nodes are the joints or junctions where the leaves emerge from the main stem.) When you've bought a plant with extremely lush top growth, feel confident about pruning it down to only 2 ft. tall. Stimulating root growth and new shoots forming from the crown is crucial to the ultimate good health of your plant, whether it is a species or a hybrid. Luxuriant top growth is actually detrimental to a young plant that has an inadequate root system and, vicious as this early pruning seems, your plant will amply reward you later. Clematis teach us patience.
Growing clematis well doesrequire patience, and there's no sense buying a small plant that will either die immediately when planted in the ground or will limp along in a pot taking years to form a decent root system and strong top growth. The obvious exception is if you find yourself turning into a clematis collector and you stumble upon a form that you can't get any other way than by bare-root through the mail. My plant of Clematis texensiscame home with me from a visit to England. It had to be severely pruned and all its soil removed to make its journey in my carry-on bag. It bloomed and#8212; quite magnificently I might add and#8212; four years later.
If you do find that you must buy a small or bare-rooted plant to get the form you want (or if the price is simply too good), transplant it into a one-gallon-size pot before transferring it into the garden. Let the clematis stay in this pot as long as it takes to get it into "fighting trim." A clematis should have a large root mass and strong new shoots before venturing into the ground. Small plants put to earth too soon will simply dissolve away, never to be heard from again. Strong plants will grow boldly once they are placed in your soil and given proper support.
A healthy clematis can be planted or transplanted anytime with the following exceptions: Avoid hot weather, especially if your soil is dry; avoid planting into soil that is waterlogged (even if this is a temporary condition), especially during cold weather; avoid planting into heavy clay soil without adding organic material or heavy grit (not fine sand) to improve soil workability (both for you and the clematis' roots). Clematis texensisand its hybrids (such as C.'Gravetye Beauty', C.'Duchess of Albany', and C.'and#201;toile Rose') are especially happy in gravelly soil.
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