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Spring-flowering clematis


Staff member
Mar 21, 2024
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Spring-flowering clematis

One of the best ways to extend your outdoor space is to use climbers and among the best of climbers, with their lush foliage and flamboyant blooms, are clematis. Traveller’s joy, our native clematis, can be seen gaily scrambling along the tops of hedgerows and up through tall trees. Its flowers are small and discreet and are followed by the delightful, fluffy, spidery seedheads from which its other folk name, old man’s beard, originates. Spring-flowering garden species are generally subtle in colour – white, pale pink and a range of understated purples – but increasingly there are cultivars that are almost as bright and showy as their summer cousins.

As you might expect from such prolific flowerers, most clematis are hungry, thirsty plants, so mulch them well around the base with compost, leaf mould or bark chippings. Feed with high potassium fertiliser just before they start to bloom too, around February for these spring-flowering plants.

Clematis thrive in a coolish, moist environment and don’t respond well if their roots dry out or become too warm. In these conditions they become more prone to clematis wilt, a fungal disease, so it’s important to keep them well-watered in dry periods. Gardeners sometimes place a few tiles or stones around the plant base to help keep the roots cool. Even more effective is to mulch generously as this adds nutrients too.

Another good tip is to plant them fairly deeply. This helps to keep the roots cool and if a plant does have the misfortune to succumb to clematis wilt it should be able to sprout anew from the underground, unaffected part. They’re also best placed 30-40cm away from wall or fence so as not to fall within the rain shadow. Gardeners’ World’s Monty Don demonstrates here:


Although adept twiners, clematis aren’t self-clinging so need something to wind themselves around, such as trellis or wires. Usually happiest planted in the ground, the smaller, less vigorous ones will survive in large pots. Feeding and watering well is essential for their health in this instance.

Clematis armandii

‘A good doer’ in gardening parlance, partly because it has two characteristics not often displayed by clematis – scented blossoms and large, rather striking, almost almond-shaped evergreen leaves. As if echoing this, the fragrance of its abundant creamy flowers calls to mind sweet almonds. Its name is not, however, connected to this but is for Father Armand David, a 19th century missionary and plant collector. Plant in a sunny spot or part-shade to bloom in March and April. It’s a vigorous plant in the right conditions, growing fairly quickly to approximately 5x3m. It has an RHS hardiness rating of H4 (-5 to -10 degrees C). The flowers of C. armandii ‘Apple Blossom’ have rosy buds which open to palest pink.

Clematis macropetala

Flowering from April to May, sometimes with a second flush in summer, C. macropetala and its cultivars have gently hanging, bell-like flowers in sky blue through to pale lavender, violet and mauve. Frillier and more frivolous in appearance than many other clematis because of their structure, the flowers are followed by fluffy seedheads with silvery tints. It’s relatively compact and will grow to about 2-3 x 2-3m. Plant in full sun to part-shade. Hardiness rating H6 (between -15 and -20) degrees C.

Clematis alpina

Happy in sun or light shade, C. alpina has nodding, delicate-looking, four-petalled flowers from April to May. If conditions are right, these may be followed by a few more flowers in mid-late summer. Usually pale blueberry in colour they are, like those of C. macropetala, followed by wild-looking fluffy seedheads. Another compact form at 2 x 2m, its mountain origins mean it can withstand cold winds and doesn’t mind poor soils. Hardiness rating H6 (between -15 and -20 degrees C). ‘Frances Rivis’ has deeper purple flowers, while ‘Ruby’ has glorious pink tones.

Clematis montana

Vigorous and fast-growing to approximately 9 x 5m or more, C. montana in full bloom is quite spectacular, smothered in largish, open, four-petalled flowers in shades of pink and white. Cleverly bridging the gap between spring and summer, it flowers from May to June. Watch it race up to cover an ugly wall, scramble over a shed roof or climb a tree. There are many cultivars, some of which are lightly vanilla-scented. This is a plant that reaches out and needs room to grow; it doesn’t respond particularly well to cutting back. It can, though, be hard pruned and revitalised if it really gets too big for its boots. Does best in a sunny spot although it will tolerate a little shade. ‘Freda’ has deep pink flowers and bronze-tinted foliage. Hardiness rating H5 (-10 to -15 degrees C).

Clematis koreana

Another spring/summer gap-bridger, C. koreana is smaller than C. montana at approximately 3 x 3m, so useful if your outdoor space isn’t quite up to a 9m spreader! Its nodding, bell-shaped flowers are similar to those of C. alpina and C. macropetala, appearing from May to June and then sometimes later on in summer, although not in great numbers. It’s also hardier than C. montana, tolerating temperatures of between -15 and -20 degrees C. The blooms are usually reddish-purple with creamy undersides, but ‘Amber’, unusually for a clematis, is pale creamy yellow, while ‘Broughton Bride’ is snowy white. Full sun to part-shade.


We may not have all the plants listed here in our stores, but please ask our staff for help – they may be able to suggest alternatives.


These spring-flowering clematis all fall into RHS pruning group 1 which means they don’t necessarily need pruning except to control their size. As they flower on the previous season’s wood, any chopping back should be done soon after the blooms have faded. This will allow time for plenty of flowering wood to develop for the following year. https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/clematis/pruning-guide

While the jury may be out on exactly how to pronounce ‘clematis’ (even the Gardeners’ World team is divided in its opinion), their worth as garden plants is indisputable. Spring-flowering specimens need relatively little maintenance apart from feeding and watering, their glorious flowers light up vertical spaces and the larger ones provide excellent hiding places for beneficial garden insects too.

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