Is Clematis Considered an Annual, Biennial, or Perennial Plant?
Not sure if vining clematis is considered an annual, biennial, or perennial plant? In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen looks at the life cycle of clematis plants, and if they'll come back next season.
Clematis are popular plants with the home gardener for good reason. They are hardy in many climate zones, have showy flowers, and are reliable bloomers. But are clematis plants annuals, perennials, or biennials?
With so many different varieties, it can be confusing to lump clematis all into a single category. There are over 250 species: most are woody, but some are herbaceous; most are deciduous, but some are evergreen; most are vines, but some grow as herbaceous perennial shrubs. The one thing that all clematis seem to have in common is that they all have showy flowers.
So if you buy a clematis, how long can you expect it to live? Knowing whether you are planting an annual, biennial, or perennial will help you determine when to buy your plant, how to grow and maintain it, and where to place it in your yard.
The Short Answer
Most clematis are hardy perennials in USDA Hardiness zones 4-8. This means that if you live in one of these climate zones, your clematis should grow back year after year, for many years. Clematis are known to live for up to 50 years! If you are growing outside of this climate zone range, ensure you get a variety adapted to your region. Outside of its ideal range, you can grow any clematis as an annual or take extra precautions to protect it during the warmest or coldest months to keep it around as long as possible.
What Is An Annual, Biennial, or Perennial Plant?
Before we answer the question about whether clematis are annuals, biennials, or perennials, let’s look at some definitions:
Annuals are plants that complete their life cycle within one growing season. They can germinate, grow, and reproduce within one year, die back completely, and must be completely re-grown the next year.
Additionally, many biennial and perennial plants are grown as annuals by replanting each year. For example, kale and most brassicas are biennial plants that are grown as annual crops.
Biennials are plants that complete their entire life cycle within two years. The first year is typically devoted to growing roots and leaves. These plants bloom and produce seeds in the second year. Then, they die back completely.
Perennials are plants that continue growing year after year. They may die back partially but retain at least living roots and crown throughout the winter, from which the plant resprouts each spring. There are different levels of perennials based on their life span and hardiness:
- Short-lived perennials live for a few years and then die back. Columbines and lupines are examples.
- Hardy perennials are hardy through cold and frost. Daylily and coneflowers are examples.
- Half-hardy perennials tolerate some cold but will not survive harsh winter conditions. Geraniums and cleome are examples.
- Tender perennials will overwinter in only the warmest zones and should be brought inside in colder climates or grown as annuals. Impatiens and calla lilies are examples.
The Long Answer
There are many variations of clematis, but all can be grown as perennials. As long as you live within the hardiness zone requirements for your variety, you can treat your plant as a long-lived perennial. Clematis can die from other causes, so take good care of your plant and give it the conditions it needs to thrive.
Treat your clematis well so it will live a long time. Most varieties have similar growing requirements. Here is a brief overview of this plant’s basic needs:
|Sunlight||Full sun to partial shade, with a minimum of 6 hours|
|Soil||Rich, well-drained, organic matter|
|Moisture||Moist but not wet|
|Fertilizer||Heavy feeders – fertilize regularly|
|Pests and Diseases||Clematis wilt, root rot, clematis leaf spot|
Deciduous Perennial Vines
Most varieties of clematis are hardy, deciduous, perennial vines. These are vines that will lose their leaves and go dormant each winter. The vines may look brown and dead over the winter, but new leaves will grow back the following spring. ‘Jackmanii’ and ‘Rouge Cardinal’ are just a few of the many varieties of deciduous perennial vines.
Depending on whether your clematis blooms from old wood or new wood, you may need to do some pruning to encourage the best blooming. This large genus is separated into three groups based on pruning needs:
- Group 1: Varieties that bloom on old wood don’t typically need to be pruned.
- Group 2: Clematis that bloom on both old and new wood benefit from light pruning after their first blooms of the year.
- Group 3: Clematis that bloom only on new wood should be pruned heavily each winter or early spring.
There are a few varieties of Clematis that are herbaceous perennials. C. integrifolia and C. recta are examples of herbaceous perennials. Herbaceous species grow as clumping shrub-like plants or as non-climbing vines during the summer and die back to the ground each winter. If they don’t die from other causes, they will grow back from the roots the following spring.
Because these plants die back each year, they don’t require any special pruning. The plant will look quite dead at the end of the growing season but don’t worry; it’s just dormant. Cut back the dead growth to keep the area tidy and help remove places where pests can overwinter. Add some mulch for winter protection, and wait until spring.
Some vining species are evergreen. These are vines that will keep their leaves all winter. The evergreen species are better adapted to warmer climates and are cold-hardy only in zones 7-9. C. armandii and C. cirrhosa are both evergreen species.
The evergreens are also early bloomers and flower profusely in winter or spring. They are in pruning group 1, and since they bloom on old wood, they don’t require any special pruning unless you want to trim them back for aesthetic reasons.
If you live in a colder climate, you will want a variety well-adapted to severe winters. You could grow any clematis in a cold climate, but if it doesn’t survive the winter, it will need to be grown as an annual. C. alpina and C. occidentalis are two species that grow well in colder climates.
If you live in a warm climate, choose a heat-tolerant clematis. Many will do well in hot weather, such as ‘Henryi’ or ‘Duchess of Edinburgh.’
Clematis are sensitive to their roots drying out, so you must water regularly. You can also plant some low-growing companion plants around the base. These companion plants will help keep the roots cooler and shadier. They will also nicely complement the taller growing vines.
There are very many options when it comes to choosing a clematis. Do some research to learn about which varieties are available and how you can use them in your landscape.
Choose a plant variety that will grow well in your environment. Take care to set it in a sunny spot with good soil. Check on it regularly, water it to keep the soil moist, and fertilize it a few times each year. Put your plant in a spot where you can enjoy it for many years. The abundance of flowers produced by a well-cared-for clematis is worth the effort you put into it.
Clematis are a wonderfully diverse group of flowering plants. As long as you acquire a variety adapted to your climate zone, they are long-lived perennials. Put them in a place with sufficient sunlight and moisture, and pay attention to their growing needs, and you will be able to enjoy your clematis for many years to come!