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How Do I Choose the Best Winter Clematis?

C. Mitchell
C. Mitchell

Choosing the best winter clematis usually requires a buyer to have a discriminating eye when it comes to plant vitality, root strength, and overall heartiness. Although winter clematis blooms in the colder winter months, it is not usually any more weather-resistant than summer and spring bloom varieties. Gardeners who wish to use the plants outdoors would be wise to look for seedlings and starter vines with substantial growth and tough, dense stems.

Winter clematis can be planted at any time from the early spring to the late fall, but knowing when you intend to plant makes a difference in plant selection. One of the most unique features of the winter clematis is that is is dormant during the summer months, when most plants thrive. For this reason, plants introduced to the outdoors in the spring must usually be rather developed in order to survive. The roots must be strong enough to quickly acclimate and begin storing nutrients in order to make it through the summer dormancy with a burst of energy come fall. You should be satisfied with the way your spring-planted clematis looks in the nursery, as it will not change much once planted.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Plants introduced to the outdoors just before the first frost must still have strong roots, but can often be smaller or younger. If you are planting clematis near the end of the season, choose specimens with growth potential. Look for newly-sprouted leaves and young, light green protrusions at the base of the stems. These are signs of growth energy that, if properly nurtured, should lead to prominent winter activity.

Many gardeners take advantage of the plant’s tendency to climb by growing clematis on a trellis or against a fixture such as a fence. Choosing a plant that has only started to trail out is usually best for trellis work. The younger a clematis vine is, the more easily it will adhere to guided growing.

It is also important to make note of your garden environment before choosing a winter clematis. Winter versions, like their summer-blooming counterparts, do best in drier soil, preferably in full sun and on an incline. If you know that your plot is typically moist or tends to pool water, it is usually a good idea to set down bark or mulch before introducing your plant. Even the most developed winter clematis will grow sickly if water-logged.

Bloom color, while influential, should not be a major criteria when choosing winter clematis. Almost all blooms are a cream color, and though freckles or bursts of color may appear from time to time, these are often the result of seasonal fluke more than genetic coding. A plant with freckled coloring one season may be pure white the next. It is best to focus more on the overall health and strength of the plant rather than temporal attributes like bloom aesthetics.

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