The best spring climber for flowers

With so many clematis to choose from in the summer, it’s easy to overlook one of the best climbers for spring colour. Clematis armandii is a real winner when it comes to flowering and will cover a fence, wall or garden shed with its beautiful blooms in late March and early April. Admittedly it is a bit of romper, but I love it for its exuberance and large glossy, evergreen leaves.

My particular favourite variety of this is Clematis ‘Apple Blossom’ – a wonderful variety in the Armandii Group. The massed flowers are borne in dense clusters, predominantly white, but tinged with pink. And they are richly and sweetly fragrant which, as they are carried in such abundance, means that they fill the garden with scent. This climbing plant is not a suitable candidate for a container, however large. It needs to get its root down into the soil – and it will cope with all but the very driest and wettest – where it can power its way into glory.

Great climbing plant for a north wall

The plentiful foliage of this clematis means that it can mop up plenty of available light during the growing season. This makes it able to cope with a north-facing position. This aspect often gets 3-4 hours of sunlight first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening anytime from late April through until the end of August. Unless your north wall is shaded in other ways, this climber will reward you by growing well.

But whichever aspect you have available, a Clematis armandii will be happy – as long as it has its roots in the shade. Like all of the plants in this genus, a cool, moist root run is preferred to hot, dry soil. In sunny spots it pays to cover the root area with large cobbles or tiles to keep the soil cooler. Alternatively plant thickly around the base with leafy border plants.

How to plant climbing plants to grow on a wall or fence

Whether you are planting a clematis or any other sort of climber, it is a good idea to plant the roots at least 20cm (8in.) away from the base of the wall or fence. This means that they are less sheltered from rainfall right at the base of the structure you want them to climb up. This effect is called the ‘rain shadow’. I always err on the side of caution in a north- or east-facing position as these aspects are protected or ‘shadowed’ from the prevailing wind and rain that comes in from the south west. Use canes or strings to train the new stems back to the wall or fence where they can then grow to cover it.

Climbers are likely to be in their position for many years and so it is good to prepare the soil well. Use a spade to dig out a large planting hole – about three times as wide as the pot that the plant is growing in and half as deep again. Fork the base of the planting hole is the soil is hard. Next mix 2-3 spadefuls of bagged compost or homemade garden compost into the soil you have dug from the hole. Soak the roots of the climber thoroughly in bucket of water, before you knock it out of the pot.

What depth should I plant clematis

Set the rootball of the plant in position, aiming to leave the top surface of the compost level with the surrounding soil after planting. Add some of your soil/compost mix into the bottom of the planting hole to get the level correct. The exception to this is with all clematis – including C. armandii. These all benefit from being planted deeper than they were grown in the pot in which you bought them. Instead of the compost surface being level with the top of the surrounding soil, set it at least 10-15cm (4-6in.) below the soil surface. This will help protect the plants from Clematis Wilt disease.

Once in the hole, fill in around the rootball of the plant with the soil and compost mix. Add this in 5cm (2in.) layers, firming it with your fingers as you go. Water the newly planted clematis or any other climber with at least a bucketful of water, pouring it on slowly to allow it to soak into the soil around the roots.

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