Evergreen Clematis failure to thrive

PurplethumbedLes(8)January 18, 2012

I put in a young plant from Flower World last spring. It's leaves started turning brown and dropping off one by one almost immediately. I think there may be three left. No, it's not dead--not quite anyway. But I think it's not going to survive the winter.

It could just have been an unhealthy plant to begin with. But I want to give its replacement a better chance. Can anyone suggest soil amendment or other strategies? It's in a new planter of imported topsoil with plenty of organic compost, and I added a little steer manure I had on hand when it first started looking ill, to no effect.

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madrone(VancIsl BC)

If you are talking about Clematis armandii, these plants need to be planted in the ground in an almost frost free location with excellent drainage to thrive.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2012 at 5:56PM
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reg_pnw7(WA 7, sunset 4)

They will take some frost, and yours started dying in its first spring, is that right? no frost. They do require perfect drainage.

Sounds to me like the soil is too hot. Imported topsoil, plenty of compost, PLUS additional steer manure (salt!), sounds like too much. Letting the soil settle over the winter should help if that was the problem. When you plant the next one don't add anything without a soil test to tell you if something's lacking. Current recommendations for soil amendments is no more than about 10% organic matter ie compost and manures. And be sure any organic matter is already well decomposed when mixed in.

We expect them to look crappy over the winter, but they come back if they're well established and it didn't go absolutely frigid over the winter. But a new plant in spring should be growing, not dying.

There is a virus, I think it is, that affects a lot of the herbaceous clematis, where they die back when you plant them but they come back up the next year. I haven't heard of it on the evergreen one, but I haven't been messing with clematis for some years, so someone currently in the industry might know.

Rule: never fertilize a sick plant, unless you know it's a nutrient deficiency, and then only give it the nutrient that's deficient.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2012 at 12:00PM
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Noni Morrison

I have had my Clematis Armandi about 11 years. THe last two have been very hard on it. Last year I thought it was dead but finally had one bit of it regrow late in the season. Needs massive pruning out of dead material! However, in the good years it is heavenly when it blooms late Feb or early March. It has a wonderful scent when in bloom and the leathery leaves make a nice background on my fence. I am in zone 8b and we are 380 feet above sea level in Puget Sound. Right now it is VERY UGLY! Will prune out the dead wood this spring now that I am sure what is totally dead.

I suspect my conditions are marginal for it. I wouldn't grow it if I was any colder or higher elevation.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2012 at 12:03PM
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The fact that it started dropping leaves right away is interesting. Maybe they let the container dry out at the nursery just before you bought it. So most of the roots were dead, but it took time for the plant foliage to show symptoms. There is no way for you to know what happened, since it could have been watered after it dried out. This is typical of retail stores, where they don't water until the plants are completely wilted. I would be tempted to ask for a replacement.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2012 at 5:37AM
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There is certainly more than one type of evergreen clematis available locally, although C. armandii is by far the most common. With the exception of C. cirrhosa, most of them tend to be a bit less cold hardy than do the deciduous forms but as others have noted, browning and dropping of leaves so soon after a spring purchase can hardly be related to cold issues.

FWIW, Clematis armandii is not one I'd consider for container growing - it gets to be a BIG vine with an equally large root system and as also previously stated, needs to be planted in the ground. Clematis are not very drought tolerant, especially when in a container, and I'd suspect lack of water, even intermittantly either at the nursery or after purchase, is a primary culprit for its apparent failure to thrive.

I'd certainly consider trying again. Once established, clematis are not at all hard to grow here, even evergreen forms (I grow 3 different kinds of EG clems). The trick is getting them properly established and that requires some effort and patience. A large, well-prepared and well-drained planting hole is key, as is siting. Keeping evergreen species out of direct wind and in a semi-protected location will certainly help. Plant deep -- 3-4 inches deeper than in the nursery pot. This will encourage them to produce multiple shoots from the root crown and influence additional root growth, both of which will protect the vine from diseases, critter damage and increase both cold tolerance and an ability to withstand an occasional lack of water. But do keep attention on watering for the first couple of seasons. The commonly held belief that clems need their roots in the shade really stems from the actuality of them requiring a cool and evenly moist root run.....tough to accomplish in a container growing situation, especially with one of the larger growing forms.

And be patient :-) Vines take time to establish well and I'd not be expecting much from the plant until after its third season in the ground (even longer for some other types of vines!).

    Bookmark   January 23, 2012 at 2:53PM
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Thank you everyone for your suggestions. It sounds as if the spot the clematis is in is generally appropriate. It did seem to get parched when not watered daily last Summer now that you remind me. The few remaining green leaves all seem to have brown patches on them right now, but it sounds like that's not unusual, and it could come back in the Spring.? Did I forget to mention there's evergreen tree canopy overhead and plenty of needle drop, so a soil test and amendment, as appropriate, is definitely called for with any replacement. Or replace with a winter blooming jasmine instead--the adjacent one I planted next to the clematis is growing like gangbusters. :D

    Bookmark   January 23, 2012 at 4:57PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Amending of planting holes for woody and other long term plants is a dis-proven practice. Plant so there is the same soil throughout the entire rooting area, both future and present, with no zones or pockets of different soil.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2012 at 9:26PM
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bboy, I agree with you when it comes to bareroot stock. But with containerized stock, the plant is in a highly aerated medium already. If you just stick it into heavy clay soil, it is likely that the roots will just keep developing in the potting mix, because that's where the oxygen is. This is what I have seen when I dig out dead shrubs that were grown in containers at the nursery. The roots just go around and around in the mix, and when the mix dries out, the plant dies. So I make a circle of improved soil a couple of feet in diameter, using sand and compost. Then plant the containerized plant in the middle. Now the plant has a chance to get established before it has to root into the heavy native soil. It really works. It's important that the hole be deep enough that the potting mix is completely covered with soil at least an inch deep. Otherwise the potting mix will dry out very quickly, and the plant will die.

The other alternative is to shake all the potting mix off the roots before planting in the ground. But that's really traumatic for the plant.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 2:50PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

The roots were already going around and around in the mix before planting, due to the presence of pot walls. Textural differences between potting medium and natural soils in planting sites are best handled by bare-rooting the specimen at planting time, rather than amending planting hole back-fill and subjecting the newly planted item to yet more amended soil.

See the web site and books of Linda Chalker-Scott for more information about modern planting methods and other up-to-date thinking. Amending of planting hole back-fill when installing long-term plants is a long dis-proven practice that Carl E. Whitcomb was debunking in print by the 1970s.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 5:07PM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

While I agree with not amending holes for trees and shrubs I do not agree with Clematis. I have over sixty and the ones that I did not dig big holes for and amend have failed to thrive. Some are ten years old now and still struggling along despite pruning and regular water and fertilizer. The ones in big amended holes have all grown like gang busters.

However, the OP's clematis is in a pot which should be using potting soil not dirt for proper drainage.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 12:17PM
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