Planting Clematis - A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Plant Clematis

These instructions apply to all our clematis. They will grow practically anywhere if you remember five things: preparation, depth, water, temperature and the first prune.

clematis VITIVELLA


  • Take out a good sized hole: at least twice the width of the pot it came in, and half as deep again (assuming a 2-3 litre pot size).
  • Remove all roots, weeds, stones and other rubbish and improve the soil with well-rotted manure or compost.
  • Use either rootgrow or bonemeal when planting, but not both.
  • Pinch off any leaves that will be buried when planting is finished.
  • Water the plant well and remove from its pot.
  • Without breaking any, carefully tease out a few of its roots to help them out of the rootball and into the surrounding soil. 

Plant clematis deep

All clematis prefer to be planted so the crown of the plant - this is where its stem(s) emerge from the compost in which it was grown - is at least 3-4 inches (6 cm) below soil level. I plant well-grown clematis with a strong stem deeper still at about 6" and it has always served me well.

Planting deep helps promote growth from below soil level which is good because it lessens the chance of your clematis becoming diseased and increases the speed at which they cover whatever you have planted them against or under. Our plants are well enough developed to be planted like this immediately.

If you buy very small clematis plants in liners - 9cm pots then, although you place the plant deep in the hole, you do not return the soil around the stem until it has become woody which is usually the winter following planting.

Think water

Until a clematis has established and is growing away well, it will need plenty of water. They are thirsty plants and (if you followed the instructions above) their roots were planted deep, so plenty really does mean that. Having said which, they also demand good drainage. This is one of the reasons they do so well on chalky and sandstone soils - the soil retains moisture, but never puddles.

If you do not have good drainage, then "Preparation" includes improving it to the point where you do (have good drainage).

If you are on heavy clay, plant clematis on a slope and dig a relief trench away from the planting hole, down the slope to help water movement. If none of that is possible, make a good sized mound - say 20 cms (12") tall and twice as wide and plant in that.

Sun up top, shade below

Most clematis love the sun, but only on their tops. There are a few that fade in direct sunlight but in the main a very light, airy place is good. For the top half, that is.

The roots, on the other hand, hate warm (and probably dry) soil. They must be kept shaded and cool. The traditional method for achieving this is by covering the root area with loose paving or stone slabs. Bricks also work well.

Less commonly seen, but I think easier on the eye and just as effective is to use ground cover or shallow-rooted shrubs. Plant something that will not compete for nourishment with the deep roots of the clematis. Hostas are excellent for this and so are the larger sedum, true geraniums and so on.

Once you get started, planting shade for clematis roots can become obsessive. This method has the beneficial side effect of covering what the late Christopher Lloyd described as a clematis bad legs.

Early pruning

It is tempting to plant your lovely, leggy (see above) clematis and let it get on with it. In fact all newly planted clematis benefit from being cut back to just above a leaf node no more than 12" off the ground. 6" is even better.

This first prune encourages the plant to sprout from the base and gives you a much bushier, healthier plant.

If you really must, let it flower, but sometime between planting and the following November, cut all clematis back hard.

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