So you need to remodel the porch. Or the old arbor collapsed. Or your clematis isn't happy in its present location. For whatever reason, you need to move a clematis. If there's anything that stresses a gardener to pieces, this is it!
Never fear, with some effort, most clematis can be moved and, although it usually takes a year for them to recover, they will be good as new. Maybe better, if they were in a spot they didn't like!
Here's what you need to know:
If possible, move your clematis in the very early spring - as soon as it starts to show any green buds. You CAN move a clematis later in the year, but the plant will experience more stress.
If you have to move your clematis after it has done some growing, cut the top back to 1 to 2 feet tall. Yes, that's a very scary thing to do - but it's a lot less scary than moving all those stems and leaves. Besides, the stems will all break before you're done anyway. And no, if you're careful, you won't kill the plant.
Before you dig the plant up, prepare its new hole. In other words, dig and prepare a new hole, just like we describe in our Planting Instructions. You will want to prepare a very large hole, because you're going to be transplanting a very large root system.
Fill the hole with water (yes, all the way to the top) and leave it to drain while you dig the clematis.
Go get your big wheelbarrow - or borrow the neighbor's. Place it next to the clematis you are about to transplant. Add a couple of inches of water to the wheelbarrow.
Dig up the clematis. The root system will be at least as big around as the top of the plant and at least two feet deep. DO NOT SKIMP HERE! Get all the root you can - this is essential to the plant's survival.
Place the root system in the wheelbarrow (you may need a buddy to help) and fill the wheelbarrow with water. Let the plant soak, out of direct sunlight, for an hour or so while you rest your back! No, the plant won't drown.
Move the clematis in the wheelbarrow to its new home. Aren't you glad you put it in the wheelbarrow? With your buddy's help, carefully lift the clematis into the hole. This may be messy, as things should be pretty wet, and some soil may fall off the root ball. That's OK.
Fill in the hole around the root ball, being careful to pack the soil so there are no air pockets. Make sure no roots are showing above ground. Water thoroughly again.
In the immortal words of Elizabeth Zimmerman, the great knitting guru, now you should, "...lie down in a darkened room for fifteen minutes to recover."! And have that glass of wine for a job well done!
Your plant will need a LOT of water for the first season after transplanting. Plan on watering deeply twice a week. And don't be surprised if it doesn't grow much for a year or so; remember that it is repairing and regrowing lots of roots! As long as you put lots of compost and Bulbtone in the planting hole, it should NOT need any fertilizer for a year after transplanting.