How to grow clematis: pretty climbing flowers for your fences and walls

Learn how to grow clematis and boring garden boundaries will soon be a thing of the past

how to grow clematis
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Learn how to grow clematis and it will transform your outdoor space. Clematis are a must for any garden, no matter what size. They mingle well with existing climbers and wall shrubs, and deliver spectacular flowers every year. They are perfect for disguising unsightly fences and help to blur the edges of your garden, which is a great way to make a small space feel bigger. 

Our favourites for bold, bright colour are the Viticella group. Originating in the sunny, dry climate of southern Europe, they tolerate a wide range of locations, in sun or shade, and have a long-flowering season. They're perfect for growing through other climbers that may already have flowered earlier in the season or adding a contrasting pop of colour.

Clematis can be combined with other climbing plants for a bold display. Try contrasting colours, such as a bright purple clematis with a pale pink rose. Or try training up a trellis alongside an evergreen shrub for some extra foliage. 

Read on for our top tips for growing clematis, then check out our guide to garden borders for more ways to add interest to your space. 

Where to buy clematis

Use our quicklinks below to shop clematis at your favourite retailers, or keep scrolling to see our top plant picks at the end of the article. 

Shop clematis in the UK

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WHEN TO PLANT CLEMATIS

how to grow clematis: clematis growing up an arch

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The best times to plant clematis are early autumn or as spring approaches, when the soil is still moist but warming up. Smaller varieties can be grown in containers, with support – use John Innes No. 3 compost with added grit. 

A good tip is to plant large-flowered summer-blooming clematis so 
their stem bases are buried 5-8cm below soil level. Plant the rest normally. Prune spindly newly planted clematis to 30cm above soil level to encourage multiple stems.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF CLEMATIS

how to grow clematis: clematis growing up a brick wall

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Group 1

These flower during winter and spring and need no pruning at all. This group includes winter-flowering clematis, such as C. cirrhosa ‘Freckles’, which are best tucked up against a  warm, south-facing wall. You can find more tips on growing winter clematis in our guide. 

Group 2

These clematis produce a few large flowers in May and June, and are the most demanding to grow and the trickiest to prune. They are prone to clematis wilt (a water-stress problem) and hard to place due to their oversized flowers. Lightly prune in February, or a little later, to the highest shooting bud.

Group 3

These flower after Midsummer’s Day (21 June) but before the end of August, and many are bred from a drought-tolerant Spanish species called C. viticella (Vt on labels). Group 3 clematis are good for arches and covering fences and trellises.

HOW TO GROW CLEMATIS

how to grow clematis: Clematis 'Etoile Violett' climbing up trellis.

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Growing a late, large-flowered clematis in a container will bring versatility to your patio or terrace. In order to give your clematis the best chance, it’s important to choose a large container, which is at least 45cm deep and across, as clematis develop an extensive root system. Thin plastic pots heat up too much in summer, so a wooden half-barrel or a thick concrete container is better. Make sure it’s well drained and stand it on pot feet. 

If planting directly into the ground, water your climber, then dig a hole approximately 45cm from the wall or fence and fork in some organic matter. Make sure you have a trellis or canes for the plant to scramble up. Planting clematis in this way is an ideal option for screening unattractive fences or walls – there's more ways to add interest to your garden boundaries in our garden fence ideas feature.

Any sunny or semi-shady location works and well-drained soil is a must. They’ll tolerate light chalk to sandy acidic types, but not heavy clay or sites prone to waterlogged soil in winter. If you have this sort of soil, mixing in grit for drainage is essential. 

MONTH BY MONTH GUIDE: WHAT CLEMATIS BLOOMS WHEN

how to grow clematis

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April and May belong to Clematis alpina, C macropetala and their cultivars. Undemanding and very hardy, these dainty clematis with pretty nodding flowers perform well in average soils and any aspect, so long as their roots are shaded from strong winds and sun. They are soon joined by rampant C montana, an easy-going type covered with blooms. Fragrant pale-pink ‘Mayleen’ is another good choice. If spring clematis need pruning do it immediately after they’ve flowered.

May and June sees large-flowered hybrids such as ‘Nelly Moser’ and ‘Niobe’ open their massive blooms. In late winter, trim stems above their topmost pairs of fat buds and again after the first flush of flowers. 

June to September is the time for late flowering, sun-loving Viticella hybrids such as ‘Etoile Violette’. These take over the garden as summer progresses. They need pruning hard in late winter.

Late summer and autumn means C texensis joins the party, with blooms that look like inverted tulips. These tend to die back during winter and push up from just below ground each spring. 

Midwinter heralds the muted but welcome display from evergreen C cirrhosa cultivars. These need lots of sun and a sheltered spot. The attractive ‘lemon-peel’ blooms of C orientalis and C tangutica turn into wispy seed heads.

The New Year welcomes ‘Winter Beauty’ and then vanilla-scented C armandii. Both of these evergreens need a sheltered spot. Make sure any necessary pruning is meted out promptly after flowering.

HOW TO CARE FOR CLEMATIS

how to grow clematis

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Use a high-potash feed, such as a rose fertiliser, throughout the growing season to encourage better flowering. When you’re happy with the height, pinch out new growing tips to encourage even more flowering stems. Keep watering your clematis – particularly if you're growing them in a container as they don't like to dry out. 

Take extra care of your clematis during the summer months. Weed around them carefully, being sure not to disturb stems and roots. If roots are in sun, add groundcover plants to create shade. Give the plant a general-purpose liquid feed now on moist soil, and again in three weeks’ time. Mulch over the roots with well-rotted garden compost, but keep the stems clear. 

PROBLEMS TO LOOK OUT FOR

Clematis wilt is a disease caused by a fungus Calophoma clematidina and is more likely to affect large-flowered varieties. It can survive in soil and spreads when spores are splashed onto plants by rain or watering. Look out for blackening leaf stalks and wilting of the stem and if you notice these symptoms cut away the wilted stems and get rid of them. Clean your tools afterwards to prevent the spread.

You can avoid the wilt in advance by making sure the roots are planted deep in the ground and mulching the plant. Keep it well watered but don’t drown it. 

Find out more about how to mulch in our ultimate guide to mulching

BEAUTIFUL CLEMATIS TO GROW IN YOUR GARDEN

You're spoilt for choice with clematis. Here are some of our favourite varieties for you to grow:

CLEMATIS MONTANA 'GRANDIFLORA'

Clematis montana grandiflora

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Clematis Montana 'Grandiflora'

Clematis Montana 'Grandiflora' at Thompson & Morgan
This large-flowering, snaking variety is great for a shady spot. It flaunts large white flowers from May to June. It's perfect for a north-facing wall which doesn't get a great deal of sun. It will really brighten up the place!

CLEMATIS ARABELLA

Clematis arabella

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Clematis Arabella

Clematis 'Arabella' at Crocus
This pretty purple variety likes to be positioned in full sun, so it's perfect up against a south-facing wall or fence. It's also great for pots and flowers for months, from late spring to early autumn.

CLEMATIS 'PICARDY'

Clematis picardy

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Clematis 'Picardy' at Thompson & Morgan
Choose this beautiful deep purple variety for repeat flowering. Once blooms are over, cut the stems back to 15cm. Continue watering and feeding and you will find it reflowers again.

CLEMATIS PRINCE CHARLES

Clematis prince charles

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Clematis Prince Charles

Clematis 'Prince Charles' at Thompson & Morgan
This variety is resistant to mildew and is easy-to-grow. So ideal for beginner gardeners wanting something simple to start out with. The flowers are 10cm across and open as azure blue which fades as they mature.


CLEMATIS X DURANDII

Clematis x durandii

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Clematis x Durandii

Clematis x Durandii at Thompson & Morgan
Grow this one in partial shade for flowers from June to September. It won't cling to walls and fences freely so you will need to train it up supports as it grows. 

More plant advice:

Teresa Conway
Teresa Conway

Teresa was part of a team which launched Easy Gardens magazine two years ago and she continues to edit it today. She is also the Gardens Editor on Homes & Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors, Ideal Home and Style At Home, so she is lucky enough to see and write about gardening across all sizes, budgets and abilities. What she is most passionate about when it comes to gardening are the positive effects it has on our mental health to grow and care for plants. Keeping our patches alive with greenery is great for the environment too and help provide food and shelter for wildlife. Finally, she finds it to be such a wonderful opportunity to tap into her creative side and she loves the feeling that she is crafting a space which has a life of its own. Audrey Hepburn summed gardening up perfectly when she said - “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow”.