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Janet Macunovich

Dig, divide, move a clematis

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A while back we were asked "can you split a clematis?" To which we answered "Sure can. Often each cane has its own roots. We'll post some photos next time we dig one."


At my talk today in Saginaw at Abele's Greenhouse in Saginaw, Frank and Ila Ezop asked "Can we move a clematis?" I said, "Sure!" and asked them if I could come help them do it so I could nab the promised pictures. Here they are, to help you picture what you'll be doing before you get into it.


This is a Clematis jackmanii, about 5 years in place. We'll dig this one (orange arrow). We'll cut it off at the blue line since there's no reason to try to take the whole top, even if you could untangle it from trellis, wire and neighbor vine without cracking most of the canes.



(We like to prune out at least one cane of a clematis at ground level each spring to encourage new growth from the bottom. That helps keep the nether regions clothed in leaves, and keep flowers coming from the lower half. This vine hasn't been cut back in a couple of years, so now its foliage is concentrated at the top and most of its bloom will be up there, too.)


I sliced down all the way around, then trenched along outside that line so I could insert the shovel at some depth under the roots. Then I popped it loose. I expect a root mass about as wide and deep as a bushel basket under a mature Clematis. About like this, maybe deeper. The thick red-brown roots belong to the Clematis. The thinner, white roots here and in the next photos belong to the groundcover, which is Serbian bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana). The bellflower will grow back from any thick pieces that remain.



"When you replant it at your new house," I told the Ezops, "set it deeper. Bury the bases of these canes." (Right to the orange line on the photo below.) "Each will then have a couple of nodes in the moist dark. Those will grow their own roots and probably spawn additional canes."


"Can we split it? Should we?" They asked.


"Sure you can," I told them. "See that the right hand part of the crown has its own roots? (Orange arrow, photo below.) "Get a serrated knife -- something that will cut without slipping, and split this woody base (along the dashed blue line). If the vine had been set deeper when first planted, or if it was an older vine with a few cane bases that had relaxed and splayed to lay on loose soil at the base, there might be five or six sections with their own distinct roots."



Ila Ezop then told me about a clematis she had admired as a child, big and healthy then and still growing strong now... we won't say exactly how long but more than 50 years!


To which Frank Ezop added his story of seeing Jackman Clematis with canes as big around as his wrist, when he visited Poland (some of the best clematis varieties are coming from Poland these days. One of the old time great varieties, still one of the best, is 'Polish Spirit').


Okay so here it is split. Just replant each section. I'd set them deeper.



"Should we do something to seal the cut?"


You can wipe it with water with a bit of bleach in it, or dip it in cool wax, as they might do with something being shipped. But if it's going right back in the ground, it can go just like this, no problem.



Today was an excellent day to move a plant -- cool and overcast, no wind... What a happy coincidence that these two should have one to move and be willing to let me stop in at the drop of a hat, when we needed these photos!

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