Growing Clematis in Containers

Yes, you can! Even in the Frozen North, it is possible to grow clematis in containers, as long as you pay attention to a few important things. When you come right down to it, we grow Betty Corning, one of our largest clematis, in a container of sorts. And with the ever increasing number of clematis that are bred for container use, the options are nearly limitless.

Bourbon

Choosing the container

There are two important considerations in selecting a container for your clematis. The first is the size. "Standard" recommendations call for containers for small clematis that are a minimum of 18 inches in diameter. (Small clematis are 6 feet tall or less.) Here in the Frozen North, we think 24 inches should be the minimum. If your container is less than that, we recommend extra protection in the winter. (See "mulching", below.) And, of course, the larger the clematis is, the larger the container should be!

The second thing to consider is the material from which the container is made. Some materials (say, cement!) are heavier than others (like the resins). This is important if you plan to move the container once it is planted.

The material also affects the container's ability to stand up to harsh winter weather. Ceramic or terra cotta containers will not stand freezing temperatures without breaking. These containers, and the plants they contain, need to be moved to a spot where they will stay cold during the winter (so the plants don't try to grow) but where the soil won't freeze and break the containers. Wooden and some resin containers WILL stand freezing temperatures and can be left where they are.

Filling and Planting the container

We use a variety of materials to fill our containers. Brian has built a series of large, wooden boxes that hold some pretty big clematis in our courtyard. (Said boxes were necessary because of the bumper crop of Very Big Rocks that were in the way...) These boxes are at least 18 inches deep and several feet across. Due to their large size, and the fact that they are built in place and will never be moved, we filled them with top quality loam we bought from a local farmer. Smaller (whiskey barrel-size) containers are filled with Living Acres Light Mix, the same soil we use in the greenhouse. Whatever you use, make sure it is good quality - this is not a place to pinch pennies!

Once you've filled your container, follow our planting instructions just like you were planting your new clematis right in the ground.

Feed Me, I'm Yours!

If you've followed our planting instructions, you won't need to fertilize your clematis again the first year. After that, fertilize in the spring with top quality compost and a couple of doses of rose fertilizer a month or so apart - just like you'd fertilize a clematis planted in the ground!

Clematis in containers are apt to need significantly more water. The amount depends on the weather, the size and age of your clematis and the amount of water the soil holds. Check frequently, especially in hot, dry weather. When the top inch or so of soil is dry, it's time to water - and remember to give LOTS!

Wintering Container Clematis

Will your container stand freezing winter temperatures? If not, move it to a place where it will not freeze. If so, leave it where it is.

How old is the plant and was it in good shape this fall? We take extra care with young plants (planted during the current year) and anything that struggled during the summer.

To mulch or not to mulch? Your plant is healthy and in a freeze-safe container 24 inches or more in diameter? Don't bother to mulch, unless it will make you feel better. If the plant is in shaky condition or the container is less than 24 inches across, mulch away. You can mulch the soil surface, but the really important thing is to mulch around the outside of the container. Bagged leaves work well here. Important note: do NOT mulch until after the container has frozen. It's not being frozen that does the damage to the plant - it's freeze-thaw-freeze cycles. So let it freeze - then keep it frozen!

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Hummingbird Farm
Brian and Cindy Tibbetts
202 Bean Street  Turner, Maine 04282
(207) 224-8220   hummingbird@megalink.net
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