Sweet autumn clematis brightens a fall perennial garden

Early fall often leaves our gardens gasping for breath and trying desperately to hang on another couple of months. Most plants are starting to show ragged edges and signs of impending death or dormancy for the remainder of the year. Sweet autumn clematis becomes a frothy blanket of sweet-smelling blossoms that can re-vitalize a garden and give it a fresh face. However, this is one plant that can become too much of a good thing. Where it is happy, it can become downright thuggish. With proper attention, it can still play nice and be a polite resident in the garden.

sweet autumn clematis on a fence

Managing invasive tendencies of sweet autumn clematis

Sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) is a native of northeastern Asia, which includes Korea, Japan, Chine and parts of Mongolia and Russia. It was brought to the U.S. in the late 1800's as an ornamental. It quickly escaped captivity and happily reseeded itself all along the Eastern Seaboard and the South. Hardy in USDA Zones 4-9, it is considered a Category II invasive in some areas, which means this plant has not spread to the point that it is endangering native plants like the infamous kudzu or mile-a-minute vine. It is simply an alien annoyance to be dealt with in some areas. Gardeners can successfully prevent unwanted spread with just a little diligence. Sweet autumn clematis blooms on new wood, so if the gardener cuts the plant back to about a foot tall after flowering, the seeds cannot ripen and spread. Actually, cutting the plant back is good in another respect because the vine turns into a dead, tangled mess after frost cuts it back naturally. (Ask me how I know this.) The seed heads are lovely though, and many gardeners adore the little feathery spirals, however they are easily lifted by the wind to settle and take root elsewhere. So, cut it back after flowering and it serves two purposes. The garden is neat and tidy and you aren't responsible for spreading an invasive plant. If a wayward seedling does pop up, remove it quickly as the roots can be impressive and tend to re-sprout.

sweet autumn clematis seed heads

Growing sweet autumn clematis

Grow sweet autumn clematis on a trellis, fence or even up a pergola. The vines quickly scramble up most any open surface. Mine grows on an old, rusty five foot wagon wheel. The vine covers it so quickly, visitors only see the wheel in the spring. It likes full sun for the best blooms. However, it will bloom in partial shade, except the flowers will be fewer and further apart. If you wish to fertilize, use one with a low nitrogen content, 5-10-10 is good, as nitrogen encourages green growth and the plant will put its efforts into more vine instead of flowers. Mine is planted near my back door and the fragrance is wonderful throughout the day, and even into the evening. Few pests bother it, However, the clematis blister beetle finds it especially tasty. I use flour on them. It gums up their legs, they fall to the ground and die. It is also harmless to bees and butterflies, so does not affect our threatened pollinator population. Mine gets absolutely no fertilizer and is dependant on whatever water falls from the sky here in my zone 7a garden and does just fine.

Toxic properties of sweet autumn clematis

This plant is toxic to humans and animals both. Do not plant it on fences where horses and cattle graze. It contains a compound called glycoside which is also toxic to dogs and cats, so pay attention if Fido likes to sample plants. Vomiting, salivation and diarrhea are the most common symptoms. Small children should be watched if they tend to sample plants as well. The plant isn't deadly, however it can cause some extreme discomfort if they sample the leaves. If you find any that has escaped cultivation in your pastures, remove it and make sure that it doesn't re-sprout from the roots, which it is more than likely to do.

sweet autumn clematis

Celebrate cooler weather outside in your garden

Sweet autumn clematis can be challenging to keep in bounds in favorable conditions. However with just a little supervision it can be a polite and lovely addition to your property. The frothy white blooms make a substantial statement just about anywhere and the fragrance is very nice. It pairs well with other fall perennials like chrysanthemums, celosias, asters, russian sage and joe-pye weed. Just remember to cut it back after flowering to prevent unwanted seedlings springing up. Autumn gardens should be celebrated and enjoyed. The weather is cooler and sitting outside enjoying it is much more pleasant than in the heat and humidity of summer, so plan for fall blooms next year as you put this year's garden to bed.