Mentor reminder: No need to buy, just make more clematis

I was my bemoaning difficulties with seeding lavender... (when my strong minded aunt said,) "Oh for goodness' sake, pull yourself together... this is what you do..." She began ripping off sizable pieces. She jabbed them into the ground... walked away... every one lived.
- Elsa Bakalar, in her book A Garden of One's Own -

Even a world class gardener like Elsa Bakalar appreciates a reminder from a frugal English aunt now and then: No reason to buy more of a good plant. Once you have one you can make more. With a thank you to Elsa's aunt and so many of our mentors we demonstrate here how to turn one clematis vine into many.

It's April. The gardeners here planted a clematis on the arbor when they moved into the house and left it right there for decades. When it came time to move, Frank and Ila wanted to take the vine with them. Unsure of the procedure, wanting this special plant to move smoothly, and wishing to also divide it if possible, they asked us for help.

It's April. The gardeners here planted a clematis on the arbor when they moved into the house and left it right there for decades. When it came time to move, Frank and Ila wanted to take the vine with them. Unsure of the procedure, wanting this special plant to move smoothly, and wishing to also divide it if possible, they asked us for help.

Step one, dig it up. Clematis are said to have shallow roots but we've come to expect roots at normal depth and look for at least a bushel basket sized root ball. Once we have lifted the roots we'll tease out all the Campanula that's infiltrated the root mass.

Step one, dig it up. Clematis are said to have shallow roots but we've come to expect roots at normal depth and look for at least a bushel basket sized root ball. Once we have lifted the roots we'll tease out all the Campanula that's infiltrated the root mass.

When people ask "Will it be easy to dig it?" I almost always say, "Sure." Because if you tell someone how big and heavy some perennial root balls may be they won't try it, and wouldn't even discover that once you start digging you simply find a way!
- Janet -
This vine has just one stem (upper arrow) but many roots growing directly from that trunk (such as indicated by lower arrow), on both this side you can see, and the other.

This vine has just one stem (upper arrow) but many roots growing directly from that trunk (such as indicated by lower arrow), on both this side you can see, and the other.

We used a sharp knife to split the stem in two. Each half has a great root system. Ila promised to keep the roots moist and covered until it goes into the ground in a new place.

We used a sharp knife to split the stem in two. Each half has a great root system. Ila promised to keep the roots moist and covered until it goes into the ground in a new place.

Now it's late June, not an ideal time to transplant. Yet we face the same kind of situation: This clematis had to move. It was in the way of a replacing the outdoor lamp. While we have it out of the ground we won't simply move it, we'll make more of it.

Now it's late June, not an ideal time to transplant. Yet we face the same kind of situation: This clematis had to move. It was in the way of a replacing the outdoor lamp. While we have it out of the ground we won't simply move it, we'll make more of it.

There are many stems so we have lots of options where to cut. We took the easy route and used a sharp spade to cut the ball in half. From the cut interior it will be simpler to see where next to cut to make more divisions.

There are many stems so we have lots of options where to cut. We took the easy route and used a sharp spade to cut the ball in half. From the cut interior it will be simpler to see where next to cut to make more divisions.

After splitting this cluster of stems away from the mass we rinsed the soil from the roots -- for no other purpose than to show you what we consider to be a very well rooted division.

After splitting this cluster of stems away from the mass we rinsed the soil from the roots -- for no other purpose than to show you what we consider to be a very well rooted division.

See the stubs of old canes? Given the prevalence of clematis wilt in large flowered hybrids like this, there’s a good chance some of those died after being infected with wilt fungus. So we will cut away the stubs to reduce the bank of spores that may be moving with this plant.

See the stubs of old canes? Given the prevalence of clematis wilt in large flowered hybrids like this, there’s a good chance some of those died after being infected with wilt fungus. So we will cut away the stubs to reduce the bank of spores that may be moving with this plant.

More about clematis wilt disease in Clematis Wilted.

Here are several smaller divisions we sliced out of that root ball. All viable! The smallest will need attention for a longer period of time than the others, but since it's already high summer they all will need more attention than a spring- or fall transplant. The key is to watch them and keep them from drying o

Here are several smaller divisions we sliced out of that root ball. All viable! The smallest will need attention for a longer period of time than the others, but since it's already high summer they all will need more attention than a spring- or fall transplant. The key is to watch them and keep them from drying o

Look at the half-root ball division in comparison to the three smaller bits. You can see that we could make dozens of new clematis from this one. We won't, because we have no need. But we could, and then wouldn't that frugal aunt be pleased!

Look at the half-root ball division in comparison to the three smaller bits. You can see that we could make dozens of new clematis from this one. We won't, because we have no need. But we could, and then wouldn't that frugal aunt be pleased!

There's a how-to propagate clematis by layering, in What's Coming Up 43.

If you aren't able or willing to dig out a clematis you can propagate it by layering. Separate a stem from the rest and lay it down, bury part of its length in moist soil, prop the tip up and wait. Do it now in spring and by fall you'll have a nicely rooted piece you can simply cut loose from the mother plant.

If you aren't able or willing to dig out a clematis you can propagate it by layering. Separate a stem from the rest and lay it down, bury part of its length in moist soil, prop the tip up and wait. Do it now in spring and by fall you'll have a nicely rooted piece you can simply cut loose from the mother plant.