Thursday, April 24, 2014

Plant clematis vines with care

Clematis are tempting for their beauty and are rewarding once they are established, but need to be planted with care. (Courtesy photo)

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At Woodland Community College Horticultural Center, 2300 East Gibson, Woodland

April 2: Spring plant sale and gardening workshops

9 a.m. to noon: Sale of heirloom and hybrid tomato seedlings, vegetable and flower seedlings for the summer garden, ornamental landscape plants and house plants

9-9:30 a.m.: Basic vegetable gardening

9:40-10:10 a.m.: Tomato growing tips

10:20-10:50: Installing a water garden

11-11:30 a.m.: Ornamental plants for a waterwise garden

11:40 a.m.-12:10 p.m.: Water-conserving irrigation practices

April 16

9-11 a.m.: Backyard and worm composting

May 14

9-10:30 a.m.: Summer fruit tree pruning

10:30-11 a.m.: Spring citrus care

At Central Park Gardens, Third and B streets, Davis

April 9

9:30 a.m.: Allergies? Plants to consider using in your garden

May 7

9:30 a.m.: Growing edible mushrooms

11 a.m.: Mediterranean gardening

June 4

9:30 a.m.: Attracting beneficial insects to the garden

11 a.m.: Lavender distillation

Q: I can’t seem to get new clematis vines going and keep them growing. They all seem to die in the first year. Any clues as to what could be wrong?

A: This time of year, promises of exquisite color are offered in the bare root sections of many garden centers. Clematis are very tempting for their beauty and are rewarding once they are established. If you yield to the temptation, follow package directions carefully and choose a root that hasn’t already exhausted itself by trying to grow out of the package.

Although most of the more than 200 species of clematis are deciduous, several are evergreen vines. Clematis needs five to six hours of sunlight. Place vining types next to a supporting structure such as an arbor, trellis or fence. For the large-flowered hybrids and some others, plant the crown 3 to 5 inches below ground level. Deep planting ensures that disease- or cold-damaged plants will resprout. Others can be planted with their crowns at ground level.

Handle the transplant (whether in a pot or bare root) with care to protect the root and any stems, which may be brittle. Prune spring-blooming clematis once blooms have finished, thin out weak or tangled stems, remove any dead or damaged growth to the first pair of healthy leaf buds. Summer- and fall-blooming clematis should be pruned when their leaf buds emerge, any time from late fall to early spring.

Cut all stems back 12 to 18 inches above ground just above a pair of healthy leaf buds. Twice-flowering plants bloom on the previous year’s stems in spring and again on the current year’s shoots in summer and fall. Prune lightly to thin out excess shoots or untangle stems in late fall or early spring and after early blooms fade, prune more heavily so new shoots develop for the second blooming.

Some gardeners are faithful to follow the old saying: “Plant clematis with their feet in the shade and their head in the sun.” This can be accomplished by properly mulching and watering the plant, thus maintaining cool roots with the vine getting the necessary sunlight hours.

Mark the location of the clematis with a stake so you won’t disturb it when first shoots appear in the spring. Shallow-rooted annuals and delicate ground covers are good choices for neighboring plants — plants that don’t compete with the clematis for nutrients.

Because there are so many different species, the Sunset Western Garden book is an excellent source of information about your specific clematis and for varieties that are more tolerant of local conditions.

Q: What are these bulbous root-like things I found when digging for my new vegetable garden?

A: Master Gardener Linda Parsons identified these when the advice-seeker sent a good picture to the Master Gardener office. You can do this, too; see contact information below.

What you found are the roots to an asparagus fern. It is not a true fern, but was so named as its fern-like appearance. Like edible asparagus, this plant actually belongs to the lily family, which includes such plants as tulips, hostas and amaryllis. It adapts well to many environments and will winter in our area, even with severe frosts.

Those bulbous tubers you saw on the roots contain sugars and energy for the plant to push up new shoots as the ground warms. Judging by the area described where you dug it up, it sounds like it has a very good hold in your yard.

As you noticed, the roots are very invasive and this presents a problem. Although not listed on the list of invasive plants on the UC IPM website,, asparagus fern does meet the criteria by definition as a non-native plant that has been introduced and prevents regeneration of natural habitats.

Asparagus fern is popular in the florist trade and it is well contained in a pot. It can be quite showy, with its dense foliage producing delicate white flowers in the late spring and summer and producing red berries in the winter. Put in a garden to roam freely, it will invade and choke out your other plants quite readily. It also can have nasty thorns that defy hand pulling.

As gardeners, it is important to know not only what works well in our local area, but what is compatible with native plants. We can do what is best for the environment by enjoying exotics on a smaller scale, their growth confined to containers.

— Send questions, addressed to the “Garden Doctor,” by e-mail to, voice mail to (530) 666-8737 or regular mail to UCCE Master Gardeners, 70 N. Cottonwood St., Woodland, CA 95695. Be sure to include your contact information, because any questions not answered in this monthly column will be answered with a phone call or e-mail to you.

Special to The Enterprise


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