Clematis Pests and Diseases

Clematis Pests

We sometimes find odd pests on our clematis...

Fortunately, clematis don't have many pests. Deer don't like them and neither do slugs! Rabbits and chipmunks are sometimes a problem, nibbling on young new shoots as they come up in the spring. If you have rabbit or chipmunk problems, the best solution is to protect the stems with a barrier of some type. One of the most effective barriers we've seen was a large soda bottle with the top and bottom removed. The bottle was then slit length wise and wrapped around the young stems. That provided protection tall enough that the plant was protected while it was young and tender. Another possible barrier is chicken wire, held out from the stems about 6 inches.

Frequently, we hear from gardeners who are concerned about Clematis Wilt. Usually only the large, early flowering varieties suffer from this issue, but there are other conditions that will show similar symptoms. There are several things we suggest you look for, before you write off your prized plant as a lost-to-wilt cause.

  • Vole damage is a possibility. Voles are related to moles, but moles eat insects in the ground and voles eat plant roots. Check the ground all around the plants for 3-4 feet and look for holes 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. The holes are flush with the ground and can be tricky to see. If you find any holes, voles are your problem. In that case, put some bait in the hole. Check out our sure-fire vole-bait. It is harmless to pretty much everything but small rodents, so your pets and children will be safe! Once you have baited, cut back the dead stems, water very well (several gallons) and fertilize the plant. It will take a while for your plant to recover, but they almost always come back. We have had some serious vole damage at times!

    Vole Bait Recipe
    1/2 cup peanut butter
    3 powdered vitamin D tablets
    Mix together and roll in oats or birdseed,
    place inside a 2 inch cardboard tube and
    bury in a tunnel or where damage is occurring.

  • Take a look at how much water your plants have had lately. Clematis use an amazing amount of water and, instead of wilting, leaves and even entire stems can turn dark and brittle if they don't get enough. They need either an inch of rain a week from Mother Nature or 4-5 gallons from us (for a mature plant - "babies" need somewhat less). The difference between lack of water and clematis wilt damage can be seen if you look carefully - clematis wilt usually happens very quickly and the plant wilts from the top down. If the clematis lacks water, it will turn brown from the bottom up, usually over a period of time.

  • Check the bottom of the stems for broken pieces just to be sure; Curtis the Wonder Dog broke one once, just by wagging his tail!

  • Finally, if none of these are your problem, you may indeed have Clematis Wilt. Wilt is caused by a fungus and there is no cure or treatment. The "authorities" can't even agree on which fungus causes wilt! It is more apt to bother young plants and they will sometimes "outgrow" it. Clematis wilt is one of the reasons we recommend the small flowered clematis over the early large flowered hybrids. Most of the early large flowered varieties we do carry are reasonably wilt-proof.

If your clematis wilts, there are a couple of things you can do. First, cut the wilting vine off well below where there is any wilting, then give it a large dose of water and perhaps some fertilizer. Second, some folks think that a good dose of a liquid seaweed product will help cure a fungal problem; it certainly wouldn't hurt to try some. Spray the foliage with it, diluted according to the package directions and maybe give it a dose next time you fertilize as well. We carry Sea Cure, made by the folks at Living Acres. We can't promise it will help, but we know several folks who swear by it.

We believe in the "Three Strikes and You're Out" rule with wilt. We'll give a plant two chances, but if it wilts a third time, we "shovel prune" it and replace it will a less difficult variety. There are too many good clematis to grow to waste time on the finicky varieties!

Powdery mildew is another fungal disease that sometimes affects clematis, along with roses and lilacs. It gives leaves the appearance of being dusted with flour. Watch for it especially during hot, humid weather. We've had pretty good results spraying them with an ounce of baking soda mixed with a gallon of water. You can add a drop of dish detergent; some folks think it makes the mix a tad more effective. We've also heard (but never tried) that milk, mixed 1:3 with water and sprayed on the leaves works well. Here's a web site with more information:
Powdery Mildew

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Hummingbird Farm
Brian and Cindy Tibbetts
202 Bean Street  Turner, Maine 04282
(207) 224-8220
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