extend your clematis bloom season to spring through fall, with dan long

DO YOU HAVE CLEMATIS blooming in your garden from early spring to late fall—or does that sound like a worthy goal? By selecting the right varieties and also knowing how to care for ones that can be coaxed into longer, more robust bloom, it’s possible.

When I’m plant shopping, I try to discipline myself by reciting a little mantra: “early, middle, late.” As in: It’s a long season of possibilities, if you plan correctly. Early, middle, late is the reminder to fill my garden-center wagon (or my online shopping cart) with more than a single moment of a favorite plant, and enjoy a prolonged season.

You might already be following that advice with lilacs or daffodils or daylilies and have not just one variety but a whole sequence, but we can—and should—be doing it with Clematis, too.

My vine-mad friend Dan Long of Brushwood Nursery, longtime clematis specialists, gave me a lesson on how to really stretch the clematis season in our gardens with a winning strategy that combines proper plant selection, pruning, feeding, vigilant watering and more. Turns out some of the Clematis I am already growing could be putting out more blooms over more months using Dan’s tips, too.

And here’s a tip from me: If there is a variety you are interested in that is out of stock, as many are by late spring, on each product page you can submit your email to be alerted when it’s back in stock again (or get on the Brushwood e-newsletter list).

Read along as you listen to the April 3, 2107 edition of my public-radio show and podcast using the player below. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).

q&a on a long season of clematis bloom, with dan long



Q. I know you are in the Athens, Georgia, area—Zone 8ish?

A. They claimed we moved from 7B to 8A, and this past winter I would believe it. But we still do get some really cold temperatures, down to 7 or 8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Q. So from the first Clematis bloom there to the last, what’s your potential Clematis season, with all the possibilities?

A. We have some that have already bloomed in March—like the new Sugar Sweet hybrids, and the montana types, though we are really at the hot end for growing most montanas. They don’t like hot summers; most of them don’t live very long here. And then we go all the way up into November, with a few of them covering many of those months.

Q. So you are talking like nine months or so of Clematis potentially for you where you are. How many clematis do you have in your collection at last count? You are a madman I know. [Laughter.]

A. [Laughter.] We probably have over 400 different varieties here.

Q. Oh, my goodness. So with the idea that we will stretch the season and move through the progression, what are some of the ones that we can stretch the season with, back into early, early spring?

A. Those are two of the new ones that are very exciting: ‘Sugar Sweet Blue’ and ‘Sugar Sweet Lilac’  [above, right to left]. They’re very early, and fragrant, too, which is really terrific.

Then you get into the alpinas and montanas, and the macropetalas—all very early blooming Type 1 species and hybrids. Even up North, they can start in April. [Below, a macropetala called ‘Lagoon,’ and a montana called ‘Natalie Cottrell.’]

Q. And then do we get into the main event—the ones that people are most familiar with?

A. Right, and they are called the large-flowered hybrids, and they are late spring into early summer. There is a really wide range of genetics in there, so they’re often divided within the early, middle and late large-flowered hybrids. But they are all what we would call late spring.

Q. I think for many people those are what’s synonymous with Clematis; they look the most familiar. Let’s go through the rest of the bloom sequence first, then double back to those—because I think those have more potential than I am aware of. I could do better with them in my garden.

What’s blooming next in summer?

A. Beginning even at the end of what we would call the large-flowered hybrid season, you get into a lot of terrific plants that I think are underappreciated. The first would be the viticella hybrids, and they don’t have as massive a flower each. Some of the large-flowered hybrids will get 8 or even 10 inches across each, but these are smaller. But they are really prolific in bloom and very easy to grow.

For folks who are maybe a little concerned or have had difficulty with large-flowered hybrids in the past, I think the viticellas are a great starting point.

Q. Name a few of them; I think I have some and don’t even know they are viticellas.

A. ‘Etoile Violette’ [above left] is one; ‘Madame Julia Correvon,’ ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans’[above right]—those are some of the ones that are primarily in that group that you might find in a garden center. There are so many more: ‘Solina’ [right photo second from top of page] is one that I think is underappreciated but fantastic.

Q. What color is ‘Solina’?

A. It’s a pale blue; it reminds me of ‘Perle d’Azur,’ but it’s a lot more vigorous and easier to grow. ‘Burning Love’ is a wonderful rich red that’s a newer hybrid. ‘White Magic’ we have just gotten a hold of and hope to have out next year. But there are literally dozens and dozens with the genetics.

Q. If we want to keep extending past the early Sugar Sweet types, and past the large-flowered hybrids, and maybe with a little more ease of growing the viticellas…

A. And there are others, like the integrifolia group and its hybrids. Integrifolia is a herbaceous perennial, not a climber. It will get up to maybe 3 feet, and is typically blue, but there are some white selections and fuchsia-colored, and pink ones. ‘Floris V’ is one of my favorites of those. [Above left to right: integrifolia and ‘Floris V.’]

In addition to that, there are hybrids with integrifolia, and because integrifolia can bloom all season long, they’re bringing those genetics in and making climbers and what we call scramblers—semi-climbers. Probably the best-known one would be durandii, which is blue. It’s a scrambler.

And then ’Arabella’ [left photo at second from top of page] which I have to say is my single favorite variety to recommend to anyone anywhere. It grows all over the country, blooms all summer long. It’s a scrambler that you can use as a groundcover, and you can put one in the perennial border. It just goes and goes; it’s a really generous plant.

Q. And what color is it?

A. It’s a pale blue. And there are a lot of other integrifolia hybrids out there now. Wim Snoeijer in the Netherlands has been breeding those, and he has a River Series—‘Star River,’ ‘Mississippi River’ and a few others—which are very nice.

Q. So then we extend farther, though in some cases we’ve been going all summer long. It’s funny, there is that Clematis called the sweet autumn clematis, that I don’t think behaves very well, does it? [Laughter.] But we think of fall and it pops into people’s minds—but it’s not the only choice for the latest end of the season.

I used to grow Clematis tangutica [below left], which recently met an untimely death after many, many years of performance—a yellow-flowered one that was sort of a fall bloomer.

A. It is, late summer and into fall—and again, it depends on your climate, and whether you get freezes early that slow it down. We no longer offer sweet autumn, because one year I was driving through the Heinz Wildlife Refuge and it was blooming everywhere—and it is invasive and displacing native flora.  We need to avoid that one.

Q. Are there others that are late with that frothy white thing going on?

A. Clematis virginiana [above right], a native, is another small white flower, and it is pretty. It’s a little more of a coarse texture. It doesn’t have that sweet fragrance as much; it has a light fragrance. It is considered the native alternative to sweet autumn, but it’s not a superstar like that but it’s native and not invasive, and we need to be responsible in our plantings.

Q. Others that don’t get started till late?

A. You mentioned tangutica, but it’s not just that one species. There is the orientalis group, and even a white-flowered hybrid with tangutica in it called ‘Anita,’ which is a sweet little plant. The thing about those: You do have to be careful because they will succumb to poor drainage; that’s often their demise.

Q. Oh. [Laughter.] You must have read the mind of my clematis. I had this plant many years and its was monstrously big, and wonderful. We had a funny late winter where the area where it was got puddles and pooled and there was ice underneath; a number of things in that area died. That’s death to many things, to have wet feet in the cold.  The poor thing couldn’t rebound.

Even beyond just choosing varieties: I was looking through your catalog online, and I was wondering what I could do to extend my season. I have one area where there is a big hedge of evergreens, and I thought it would look great to have towers of vines set off against the evergreens late in the season. So I was going through, and when I found some that I do already grow and have big, old plants of, I realized I don’t think I am getting the most out of them.

Like I have a ‘Duchess of Albany’ [below left]—what group is she in?

A. It’s a texensis hybrid, another really great one for a long season of bloom.

Q. Some years she is covered, and some not; and I don’t get a long season of bloom. What’s up with that? I don’t think I am being the best Clematis parent I could be. [Laughter.] Can we talk about that and the aftercare of some that could bloom longer if treated properly?

A. Sure. Good, steady fertility is important, and a lot of time the ground dries out in the summer. They won’t die from that, but they won’t give you optimum performance. Clematis are never going to be xeric plants—like succulents or cactus.

Q. [Laughter.] Not for the dry garden.

A. The roots run deep, so they’re not going to perish—but they won’t perform. Good, steady fertilizer through the season; I ‘m a big fan of the Espoma products. Rose-tone is a formula that works very well for Clematis.

Q. I never would have known which one to choose.

A. Rose fertilizers in general tend to have a good formula for Clematis. There is no “Clematis-tone,” at least not yet. And that will help; continuing to feed will help.

Q. When do I feed?

A. We’re on old cotton land down here, so I feed and feed and feed. I like to give a good topdressing of compost annually, and I will topdress Espoma Rose-tone throughout the season for the ones that continue to give. I would hesitate to make a single recommendation of how often and how much, because everyone’s soil is different.

Q. But you’re talking about keeping up with it, and also with the watering—that’s super-important.

A. The ground really will dry out, especially if you have a significant planting that’s dense with flowers.

Another thing you can do—and this is a big thing that a lot of folks miss with the large-flowered hybrids—they have that big, powerful, cover-the-entire-vine bloom going on in their main season, and then they can look kind of ratty.

Some folks report that they look ratty all season long, and what are they going to do with that? This is a great opportunity here: Go ahead and cut them back, by a third or a half, and give them a good shot of fertilizer and a good shot of water. This is after that first season of bloom has really waned. Go ahead and hack them back; you’re not going to kill them. They are going to be fine, and actually will enjoy that water and fertilizer. Some of them are capable of reblooming right away—jackmanii for example [purple booms in photo above right]. I know somebody with a fairly long season who actually does this three times, and gets three full solid flushes of bloom per year.

Q. That’s being greedy. [Laughter.]

A. [Laughter.]

Q. To ask them to bloom not once, not twice, but three times.

A. It takes work, but you’re like me: an active gardener. You don’t put something in the ground and walk away, and look at it from a distance. You’re out there working with your plants; you’re enjoying being with them. To do those extra steps, the plant will reward you with more.

Q. I think I haven’t really been thinking about how much drier and generally warmer things have been here. I asked you at the beginning about your Zone, and you said it looks like you have fallen into 8a, and I am supposedly 5b. But it feels like we’re having a lot of extended dry periods in the growing season, and I think maybe I am not responding.

This is probably a problem for gardeners everywhere, who are used to responding to seasonal signals and the signals have changed. I haven’t gotten with the program, and am not remembering to water—like last year [2016], we had no rain for three and a half weeks. No wonder the ‘Duchess of Albany’ decided to sulk. I should know better, but I am not in the swing of the “new normal” yet.

A. I’ve become a really big fan of drip irrigation.

Q. That’s what I was thinking when you were saying this, and because you have such a large collection.

So we will be more vigilant about feeding, and watering, and with the large-flowered hybrids if they look like hell, we’ll cut them back by a third or half and feed and water them again and give them TLC.

What other ones do you want to tell us about that either need special care or are good investments for extending the season?

A. In a similar family to the sweet autumn, if you really miss that but know you shouldn’t be planting it, there is the Clematis recta ‘Purpurea.’ It’s a double-bonus plant—a tall, scrambly herbaceous perennial, but it has lovely deep rich-purple newer foliage. It does green out over time, but the best selections have really rich color, and then it’s topped with lightly fragrant, starry-white flowers.

Clematis recta purpurea foliage emergingQ. I have a plant that I bought for the old Heronswood Nursery, that came to me with its roots in a sandwich bag—no bigger than a wholesale nursery liner or “plug”. It’s called ‘Lime Close,’ and it’s now this massive shrub-sized thing.  When it comes up, it’s like these hundreds of the darkest purple fingers coming out of the ground [above detail], and then comes that froth. I also have plain recta, which has no purple to it. They are great, you’re right.

The only thing I would say is I don’t know how to prop it up any more, it’s so big.

A. It does get a bit gangly over time, and it depends where you plant it and what you want to do with it—like if you grow it between mid-sized shrubs so it’s all propped up on its own. There are some folks who just love that foliage, and the foliage color is what they are shooting for. As the older foliage greens out they will cut it back, and fertilizer and water it.

Q. And let it push again. That makes sense. It is a beauty. Any other treasures?

A. I recommend to take a look at some of the newer hybrids, coming out of the breeding program of Raymond Evison. He’s working with large-flowered hybrids, but they are capable of blooming all season. Look at ‘Rebecca’ [below right], a fine sample of a long bloomer. He named it for one of his daughters.

Q. He’s in England, yes?

A. Yes.

Q.  And as you said, the genetics they’re picking up on include the inclination to repeat or continuous bloom.

A. He’s working with compact habit, long steady bloom, in large-flowered hybrids. A personal favorite of mine is ‘Starfish’ [above left]. It was bred by Polly Hill on Martha’s Vineyard, and we’ve had that in bloom for six months straight, which is pretty surprising for a large-flowered hybrid.

Q. What color?

A. It’s pure white.

Q. Six months? That’s amazing.

Type 3 Clematis pruning diagrammore from dan long

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MY WEEKLY public-radio show, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper in the UK, began its seventh year in March 2016. In 2016, the show won three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the nation. Listen locally in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the April 3, 2017 show right here. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).


(Disclosure: Brushwood Nursery, where I have shopped for years for my own garden, is an occasional sponsor of A Way to Garden. Photos except C. recta purpurea ‘Lime Close’ all courtesy of Brushwood; used with permission.)

  1. Karen says:

    I just planted an Avant-garde evipo033 in my Douglaton NY garden. I spotted it in an issue of Gardens Illustrated UK my sister gave me.
    The information, especially the “rose food” tip, will help me bring this beauty to its full potential!!!

  2. Marilynne VenJohn says:

    I have planted Rebecca twice, doesn’t do well at all, and has yet to show up this spring. Don’t know what I’m doing wrong, my Niobe is loaded with buds, Rooguchi has been up for over a month now. I really think I know what I’m doing as far as clematis. It just gripes me that I can’t get Rebecca to perform right.

    1. margaret says:

      I can ask Dan if he has any insights. For me the ones that fail – it’s always about the spot I chose (a little too damp, not sunny enough, bad drainage…).

  3. Krish Nelson says:

    Love vines! Some unusual one’s I enjoy are Eccremocarpus scaber, Glory Vine and Dicentra scanden’s Golden tears, Bleeding Heart Vine. The Glory Vine is one of the longest blooming vines I have ever seen and the hummers love it. Grows easily from seed in case one looses parent plant. The yellow bleeding heart vine is also a favorite with the humming birds. My favorite long blooming large white flower Clematis is Lanuginosa ‘Candida’.
    As for evergreen vines Hydrangea Seemanii has very dramatic “pop corn’ ball like buds!
    I garden in Sumner, WA not far from Seattle. Zone 7.
    Great episode! Thanks!

  4. Joanne Toft says:

    I have a purple common clematis – each winter the rabbits eat the vine at the bottom. Last year it grew again but I am wondering if it will make it again this year.

    I will try watering and fertilizer but do you have any thoughts – how to help it along. It has to grow from its roots each year.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Joanne. First and foremost: Construct a hardware-cloth cage or some other kind of serious protection for the base of the plant, right? On all my fruit trees I made cylinders of hardware cloth (heavy mesh) to prevent that. It’s like a tube around the base of the plant to about 2 feet high (and for rabbits it’s extra-good to bury the bottom of the cage a few inches in the ground and pin it down with earth staples. No way to help the plant if it gets gnawed year after year.

  5. Mariann Gold says:

    I live in Saratoga Springs NY zone 4-5 I would like to plant a clematis on my light post which gets part sun. My style is cottage gardening using a lot of perennials in blues, purples and white variety. Annabele appeals to me but is it suited for my zone and, if so where can I purchase this variety. Look forward to hearing from you, thanks.

  6. Cindy Donahey says:

    Sweet autumn clematis used to be called harlot’s bower and it used to cover huge areas. People used to cut areas thru the white woods. It was a constant and unending task. It was a lace where snakes hung out.. There used to a lot of vine ecologies. Lots of the species clematis were sold to the Chinese very early and then returned as introduced plants..the singl and the double common orange daylily are also native plants. You have to fertilize to simulate Carolina parakeet or passenger pigeon to,properly simulate.

    I am wacking back myntwo kinds of sweet autumn, digging some out, to see if the survivors behave.

  7. Trina says:

    I was surprised that the evergreen varieties were not mentioned, and I don’t see any on Dan’s website. So they need different care or conditions?

  8. Paul says:

    I also have Duchess of Albany in 7B (Richmond, VA), and have had two problems:

    – Scant and sporadic flowering, probably due to drying out in the summer (which I am fixing this season with drip irrigation).

    – Frequent wilt, for which I have no explanation. The vine is already six feet tall this season, and we have had good rain and no heat so far, and yet some of the tips are drooping – and I mean completely limp. The rest of the plant looks very vigorous and healthy. In prior years this drooping has ended up traveling down the shoot until I had to remove the entire stem. Any thoughts/solutions would be welcome – it is so discouraging to watch the thing flourish and then, all of a sudden just collapse!

    Fortunately Rooguchi is six feet away, and that one is a flowering monster – no trouble whatsoever – you can practically see it grow!

  9. Belinda says:

    I’ve just found nasty squash bug looking pests all over my clematis!!! Is that what they are? How to control those nasty things??? (I’m quite new to this!)

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Belinda. I don’t know of a large insect like squash or soldier bugs that particularly attacks Clematis, but I also don’t know where you are located. If you want to send a snapshot it’s awaytogarden [at] gmail [dot] com. I will try to ID it.

  10. Lisa Lindquist says:

    What a wonderfully detailed and informative interview! Perfect timing as usual! Thank you so much. :)

  11. Andrew Lindeman says:

    Thanks for the show! I built a handmade “trellis” last year out of twisted branches from a Fagus sylvatica Tortuosa. It’s about six feet wide and five feet tall- it’s behind a stone bench I sit on occasionally to watch sunsets. The road is behind it… I planted a Clematis Crater Lake ‘MAZURY’ on one side. My question- can I plant another type of Clematis of a different blooming time with it? Is it possible to find a Clematis which will get along and share a trellis?

  12. Nancy says:

    This was such an informative post – thank you. I have several other questions. I have tried growing various clematis over the years and have not been very successful and lost several. What I have now are Betty Corning, Elsa Spath, an unknown large-flowered variety and Clematis virginiana – Betty Corning performs well. The two large-flowered ones start getting brown crispy leaves as they stop blooming. I believe it’s cultural. Not enough water? Uneven watering? Should cut them back then? The don’t look attractive at all. I bought the natives because I wanted vines for part-shade. The plants are thriving but not blooming well. How much sun do they need? Thank you.

  13. Donald says:

    After listening to the podcast – very irritating that the Brushwood on-line catalog doesn’t show, or allow you to search by the Latin names, – unless I’m overlooking it.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Donald. On the regular search page — accessible from the search icon top left — you can enter “tangutica” or “durandii” and so on and it will indeed search by species (including showing varieties deriving from that species). But not in the “Clematis A to Z” tab. Does that help?

  14. Anne McGraw-Mueller says:

    How do I get rid of all the sweet august clematis ( I did not know it was in the invasive group) we bought a home that had a great garden but a bit overgrown and I liked it when I first saw it! Now it is getting everywhere and I am constantly finding more and pulling it out.

    1. margaret says:

      I think that what you are doing — pulling it out/digging it out — is the tedious answer. If you have any plants you haven’t had time to dig out yet, at least keep beheading them so they don’t flower and sow more seedlings.

  15. Melody says:

    I am trying to find clematis Recta. Green foliage, white flowers I think you mentioned you had one in your garden. Not purpurea with the burgundy foliage. Nurseries do not carry this anymore. Can you shed any light on that? I just listened to your interview, I have ordered from Brushwood in the past

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Melody. I don’t have an answer — everyone is all about the ‘Lime Close” that was recently renamed ‘Serious Black’ with the purple leaves. I’d email Brushwood/Dan Long and ask, I think.

  16. Joan R DeRosa says:

    I purchased 2 clematis plants from Brushwood this spring thanks to your newsletter. The plants arrived I excellent condition and I wait to see how they progress. Thank you.

  17. Cynthia Jane Donahey says:

    Sweet autumn used to be called harlot’s bower, one variety blooms very late. it used to cross streams. It might be native. Large herbivores used to keep it and other plants in check. They tried it out on rogue males at zoos, at one time before WWII. elephants, rhinos. I have it in combination with a huge dog rose (it bites) and various colors of perennial sweet pea in the parking lot garden next to the byway or alley with too much bouncing bet.. they all bloom in rages and i do not fertilize.

  18. Sandy Lentz says:

    I have an integrifolia some of whose leaves are striped/blotched with yellow every year. Plant grows well and blooms beautifully. Leaves don’t fall off as they would if damaged…might this be a virus?

    1. Linda Mayer says:

      Please settle the issue about clematis needing something shading the roots. Is this a myth or truth? I use columbine, but that gets in the way of fertilizing to maximize blooms.

  19. karl zimmerman says:

    Thanks for the fertilizer info. Maybe there can be a whole interview on what types plants require which fertilizer? What are the best types for the ecology (other than compost)? I’ve heard that Miracle Grow nukes earthworms. Is that true?
    Also, what are the best clematis for wildlife? Gardening is all about values, I think, & mine have changed over the years. Now I’m reluctant to buy anything that doesn’t help wildlife in some way. We have a lot of rampant sweet autumn here; breaks my heart to have to uproot them. Have previously planted starts along fence & after just two years it’s already a major player.

  20. Beverly says:

    I had a “Betty Corning” that was beautiful for many years, then disappeared, sadly. I’m liking the above ‘tanjutica” very much – it seems to be sold out online for now. My Clematis virginiana is always a sweet sign of summer’s end.

  21. Donna says:

    I love clematis! They are very special to me
    I’ve been handed down some old ones from my mother and aunt.
    5 now, but I have my eyes on the Starfish!

  22. Heidi Mass says:

    I just discovered their website this spring. Thanks for all the tips about water and fertilizer and genetics. “Starfish” sounds like my next purchase and rabbit proofing is a must!

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