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Lawn and Garden

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10/01/2009 - Last month I visited with you about the various sorts of Virginia creeper and their usefulness in your yard. This month I was going to tell you about a few flowering vines and how they can add to your yard. But as I began to write I found that the first one was going to take the entire page, so the others will have to wait until another issue.

One flowering vine that comes to mind when I think of some of the spectacular climbing displays that I have seen around town is the clematis. Clematis is a fairly cold hearty vine that does very well in Casper, if you have the right spot in your yard. Knowing if you have the right spot for a great clematis display is somewhat of a mystery, and it is often a game of trial and error to find a good place in your yard to plant one. Although I cannot tell you for certain exactly where to plant a clematis, I can tell you some of the things I have noticed about the placement of the ones doing well around Casper. They seem to do well in any facing, except north. I am sure that this is because by nature they do the best if they have something on which to climb, and the north facing on tall upright objects is usually pretty shady. Without enough sun clematis tend to grow slowly, and they do not produce many flowers.

Clematis are very tolerant of the various soil types around town, but they do much better in soil that has been prepped with organic matter such as peat moss or compost. This would explain why they tend to take off more readily in older neighborhoods. In older parts of town the turf and other ornamental plants and trees have been adding organic matter to the ground for many years, making the soil much darker and richer. If you live in a newer home you can make up for the young age of your soil by adding peat or soil pep as you plant. If you go by the placement tips I have laid out so far it would seem like clematis will grow well in all but the most shaded areas in your yard.

So why aren't there beautiful clematis growing on every trellis, and fence in town? That is where the mystery begins. For a long time I thought that clematis is just one of those plants that does well under the protection of the greenhouse, and once released out into the wild it needs the constant care of a well seasoned gardener to thrive. I held this mistaken view until a few years ago when I was visiting with one of those wise garden sages, and she told me the secret to growing great clematis is that they like to have "hot tops and cool roots". At the time I didn't give her words a whole lot of thought, I just figured that it was a gardening phrase kind of like "Better make hay while the sun is shining", and that it didn't mean much when it came to actually having success with clematis in the garden. I have now come to realize that those words might just be the key to the whole thing.

This brings me to the third criteria for clematis placement, and maybe the most important one, clematis like to have hot tops and cool roots. In English this means that they need to have full sun to perform their best, but that they also need to have some shade covering the ground in which they are planted. Clematis, along with many other vine plants, are native to areas where there is much more precipitation than there is here. That means that there are likely many more plants competing for sunlight in a given area. In order to rise above the other plants and reach the sunlight above, vines including clematis climb the trees and rocks around them. So they are well adapted to full sun, but they never developed leaves close to the ground, because these leaves would be wasted, as bushes and other plants would block the sun from reaching them. So when we plant them in an area that allows sun to reach they ground in front of them it might not only get the roots too hot, but it might also let too much sun reach the lower stems of the plant, and give them a sunburn.

So next time you are going to plant a clematis try planting it behind another plant or something that blocks the sun from reaching the bottom two feet of the clematis. I have tried planting them without this protection, and I have also planted them with a bush directly in front of them in almost the same hole. This has made a believer out of me. The plants with shade on the lower two feet have not only survived, but have flourished. I have even seen clematis doing well growing up between the boards on a wooden deck. So next time you plant a clematis, try giving it some low shade, I am sure you will like the results.

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