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A Clematis That Loves the Yukon
by John Harmon
November 24, 2002

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Winter is a reality in the Whitehorse area even though it's only a half-hearted effort so far. Winter means that soon the seed catalogs will be arriving in the mail. One plant you might want to add to your landscape is Clematis. This is a good time to get some started for spring. Some varieties just love the Yukon.

According to Jane C. Martin at Ohio State University, Horticulture and Crop Sciences "the Clematis is a member of the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family. The word is from the Greek and means "vine." This genus includes approximately 250 species and numerous garden hybrids. It is a varied genus, made up of mostly woody, deciduous climbing plants, though a few are evergreen and a few herbaceous. There is great variety in flower form, color, bloom season, foliage effect and plant height. Leaves are opposite on the stem and mostly compound with three to five leaflets. The leaf stalk twines like a tendril and is responsible for giving the plant support. The flowers are showy, having four (sometimes five to eight) petal-like sepals (no true petals) in numerous colors and shades. There are three general flower forms: small white flowers in panicles or loose and irregular spreading clusters; bell or urn-shaped flowers; and flat or open flowers. The fruit is often showy as well, being a ball shaped, "feathered" structure. Clematis are hardy plants (many are hardy to USDA zone 3) and can survive for 25 years or more. The one fault of clematis is that they are not attractive during winter, when they are a tangle of bare stems."

Never mind about the zone three stuff, some Clematis will also grow well here in Whitehorse. You may have noticed them growing on the side of the building that houses Folknits on Second Avenue. It's the log building with the two moose on top. Wendy Chambers who runs Folknits planted the original Clematis by the corner of the building six years ago. The variety she planted is Clematis tangutica. It has yellow one and one-half inch flowers shaped like a nodding bell. It has since spread along the fence and across the front of the building. It even grows and flowers right along the sidewalk with little or no help. Wendy doesn't do anything special to help them along, in fact she said, "it grows like a weed." For a look at the summer blooms visit www.folknits.com.

It re-seeds itself easily. That's because the seeds are like a fluffy ball of slightly gray cotton and can take off on the wind like dandelion fluff. With many varieties of hybrid Clematis the seed is notoriously difficult to germinate but this one is open pollinated and germinates easily. The original plants are still producing every year. Wendy told me, "I prune them right down early in the spring. They produce flowers on the new growth." They are not very attractive now that they have turned brown and gone to seed but the seed heads are still nice to look at. If you want some Yukon acclimated seed Wendy told me she doesn't mind folks gathering some up from her plants.

Starting this Clematis is easy and now is a good time to get some going if you have artificial lights to grow them under. This seed likes to go through a few freeze/thaw cycles to break dormancy so if you collect seed leave it outdoors for a while before you bring it in. If you buy seed check to see if it's been pre-treated and if not put the seed in a baggie of starting mix and into the refrigerator for a month or two or outside in a spot where the mice won't get it.

Start them in a good potting soil in fairly large pots, four-inch at least. The rule of thumb is that Clematis perform best with a cool root area and their heads in the sun. Most Clematis enjoy being exposed to at least 5 to 6 hours of sunlight daily. It shouldn't be any problem finding cold soils here! After they are up and have at least three true leaves you can top them to promote branching. Stake them for support as they grow. Remember that it's a climbing vine and needs something to cling to. Plant them out in a sunny spot after the danger of frost is past which the way the weather has been going that could be anyone's guess. They will do better with a constant supply of moisture and they are heavy feeders. Don't keep them soaked all the time to avoid problems with stem rot which they are susceptible to.

For more information on Clematis check out The American Clematis Society's webpage at http://www.clematis.org/home.html. They also publish a very good book on Clematis called "The American Clematis Society's Guide to Growing Clematis in the United States" for gardeners who want a more extensive look at how to grow Clematis. It includes chapters on both how to prune & propagate.

Another good place to find information is the International Clematis Society's webpage at http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/clematis/.

If you're into Internet Garden Forums, don't forget to check out the Internet Clematis Forum at http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/clematis/. For more books and reviews go to http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/clematis/clemindx.htm.

Once you have this "easy" variety going in your yard you might want to try some of the over 250 other varieties. Some of them are bound to grow in the Yukon as well as this easy variety.


John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write to John at The Real Dirt, c\o 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, YT., Y1A 2E4 or e-mail tropnorth@polarcom.com.

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