Sweet and easy clematis

Our 3 favorite new varieties and how to care for them
Sharon Cohoon and Lauren Bonar Swezey

New clematis varieties are showing up in nurseries now. Here are three favorites to plant:

• 'Cezanne' tops out at just 3 to 4 feet with full-size blooms.
• 'Bijou', a true dwarf, is excellent in containers.
• 'Hyde Hall', a vigorous, full-size clematis, has a high bloom count.

Clematis care

Clematis vines need only basic care to thrive; follow the guidelines below. To learn more about these beautiful plants, see Simply Clematis ( American Clematis Society, 2004; $25 plus tax and shipping), by Edith Malek, founder of the American Clematis Society. For retailers in your area, go to www.evisonclematis.com.

Plant deeply. Although many plants like their crowns slightly aboveground, clematis prefers to burrow in. Position the plant so its crown is 3 to 5 inches below ground level. This gives the vine a better chance of recovering from stem rot or other surface damage.

Water and feed like roses. Regular moisture is essential for growth and bloom. Rose food works fine for clematis; follow package instructions, applying fertilizer in the same amount and with the same frequency as for roses. Both plants like being well fed.

Keep roots cool. Apply a thick layer of mulch (at least 2-3 in.) around plant roots, or plant a groundcover around it; choose one that has no invasive tendencies and lies lightly on the ground, such as sweet alyssum, scabiosa, or true geranium. Both mulch and groundcover help shade the soil and conserve soil moisture.

Provide support. For plants in pots, use an obelisk-, tripod-, or trellis-shaped support. Plants in the ground can also climb over arbors or pergolas, or weave their way through roses, shrubs, or woodier vines.

Prune. Conventional pruning advice for clematis is often more intimidating than it needs to be. Light pruning ― simply cutting back all dead and damaged wood down to the first healthy leaf buds ― is sufficient for nearly all clematis, Malek says. If you have a very tall clematis you'd like to restrain, prune back all stems to 12 to 18 inches above ground. Or compromise and prune some stems lightly and some hard. This technique, she says, promotes blooms at various heights, which is attractive and has a built-in margin of error. In all cases, prune when the leaf buds begin to show ― as early as November or as late as March, depending on your climate.