Originally created 09/30/05

Clematis can be spectacular in fall

Say "clematis" and most people think of wiry vines drenched in blossoms early in the season. But you could also conjure up this flowery image for late summer and fall.

Nelly Moser, a well-known variety of clematis, usually blooms heavily in spring and lightly, if at all, in fall. The spring show is on the previous year's stems; the fall show is on new growth. So lop the stems back ruthlessly in spring and you'll get a heavier fall bloom.

This pruning does sacrifice the spring show so you could try to get the best at each end of the season by cutting away only part of the old stems in spring.

No such coddling is needed with a clematis variety such as Ville de Lyon or with a clematis species such as Clematis tangutica. These vines flower only on new growth, towards the end of the season, so whack all stems almost to the ground just before growth begins in spring. That severe pruning stimulates the vigorous regrowth that is needed for abundant blooms -- and also keeps the plant from growing too large.

Containing the plant is especially important with a rampant grower, such as the Sweet Autumn clematis. Every spring, cut all the stems of this clematis back to within a foot of the ground. Depending on the weather, it won't be long before the buds turn into lanky shoots reaching out and ready to grab onto whatever kind of mesh you've given them to climb on.

Aside from pretty flowers, Sweet Autumn Clematis also offers fragrance -- but not always. The reason for this sometime fragrance is because there are a few clematis species that, at various times and in various places, have been called sweet autumn clematis. By sight, they're practically indistinguishable from one another, and even botanists have not always been sure about telling them apart and naming them.

One reputable nursery even calls this fragrant, rampant clematis Virgin's Bower. But Virgin's Bower usually refers to a wild clematis that is yet another clematis species blooming in late summer. It's a worthwhile plant to consider especially for natural settings. Even the seedheads, which cover the plants like silky gray plumes, are decorative. The small, white, starry flowers do look very much like those of Sweet Autumn clematis. And like those of some Sweet Autumn clematis plants, they are scentless.

Scentless or scented, all these "sweet autumn" clematises put on spectacular late season shows.

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