However You Pronounce It, Clematis is a Terrific Cut Flower

In general, almost all Clematis species make good cuts in terms of vase life. However, they just don’t make good cutting: most being climbers, they form tendrils that grab every available stick, stake, or neighboring stem, so require more patience than the usual grab-and-cut method used for other flowers.

A number of Clematis species, however, grow shorter and more bush like, and while most still need staking, these respond to quicker harvesting and a little more roughhousing.

First on the list comes Clematis recta, a vigorous grower we sometimes bunch-cut three times a year, which yields 30 dollars in sales per running foot. Net and stake recta, raise the net as it grows (pay close attention, as it’s very quick on the draw), grab a bunch of stems at the base when its white, starlike flowers either bud, for long-term holding in the cooler, or form flowers, for immediate sales or use. It grows about three feet tall here in southeast Idaho, so you may not need the entire stem, but harvest deep to make the second harvest stems longer and easier to cut. Designers can substitute recta for jasmine, and its long vase life makes even traditional florists open to using it.

Clematis recta ‘Purpurea’ has dark leaves like Physocarpos ‘Diabolo’ or Lysimachia ‘Firecracker’, and flowers just like the species recta, but doesn’t yield much of a second crop, being less vigorous. It too needs staking, reaching three feet tall. ‘Serious Black’ is one of its cultivars.

Blooms of Clematis mandshurica, which look just like recta’s, come about two weeks later. We’re trialing this somewhat taller species this year, hoping for equal success.

The Integrifolia clematis (C. integrifolia) belongs to what is now taxonomically known as the Integrifolia group of clematis. Crosses with C. integrifolia yield a number of useful species, of which C. x durandii (C. integrifolia x C. lanuginosa) may be the queen, its four-inch, silver-blue flowers lasting ten days to two weeks in a vase. It’s a spindly plant that doesn’t intertwine, and requires double layers of net, but its three-foot stems reward the grower and designer with multiple harvests through the summer, almost as if it were an annual.

Other integrifolia hybrids include a mauve and white variety generally sold as a mixed bag. The white, according to propagators, is less vigorous, which explains why it’s hard to find. Since every designer wants white for weddings, if you can find a source for white integrifolia, jump at the chance to purchase. Both mauve and white integrifolia grow much shorter than durandii, requiring only one layer of netting, and can be cut in bud or with its bell-shaped bloom fully open. You can cut a stem at a time, but we like to bunch-cut to the ground, thereby pruning and harvesting at the same time, and preparing for a second and even third harvest. If you tire of the flowers, let it go to seed, as it forms a swirling, nebula-like head that many designers find irresistible.

‘Rooguchi’, another integrifolia hybrid (C. integrifolia x C. reticulata), poses more of a trellising nightmare than its siblings. We treat it like sweet peas, using vertical netting with T-posts and adding layers of twine to keep its rampant vines upright. ‘Rooguchi’ blooms prolifically, with purple bells that keep coming all summer. You’ll need a number of clients to keep up with even ten or fifteen plants.

Of the clematis we raise, C. heracleiflora (part of what is now referred to as the Heracleifolia group) grows unusually slowly, yielding flowers only in the third year but generously after that. Its silver-periwinkle blooms come late in the summer and should be harvested in fairly tight bud. It too needs to be staked, but only barely, its stems being much stiffer than any other clematis we know of. The leaves are attractive enough to use alone as foliage, though on our farm they tend to get the desert-blight that comes after a summer of sun and wind.

The integrifolias and rectas grow in full sun, while heracleiflora requires a little shade, according to recommendations.

Two vigorous species with small, white starlike blossoms bookend the clematis season. Neither are short by any means. Autumn clematis (Clematis ternifolia) flowers in September here, and ‘Paul Farges’ (also sold as ‘Summer Snow’) in late May and early June—later if pruned severely to delay bloom. Both grow and bloom prolifically, require innovative trellising and patience when cutting, but both work equally well in arches or vases—just pick your length of stem. ‘Paul Farges’ is said to grow up to fifty feet over time, but we cut ours back considerably in the spring and it still runs ten to twenty feet. You can’t be afraid when harvesting its intertwined stems. Cut, pull, and when you hear tearing sounds just keep pulling. You may damage some of the plant but there’ll be enough to go around, I assure you. You can harvest in bud or in bloom, depending on when it’s going to be used, and you can take four feet or ten, depending on how comfortable you are transporting it.

A number of other species and cultivars work as cuts: jouinana, hexapetala, ‘Arabella’ (also an Integrifolia hybrid); those listed here are a fraction of the possibilities. Use your imagination, turn your horizontal farm into a vertical one with clematis. You’ll be pleased with the results at sales time, though perhaps a bit petulant as you harvest.

Photo 1 – Clematis recta
Photo 2 – Clematis ‘Rooguchi’

Disruption is striking everywhere, including the cut flower industry, where small local growers are trying to upend the decades-long rule of megafarm oligopolies. With disruption comes chaos though, with mimickers and charlatans to obfuscate the offorts of the earnest and honest, the inept and unprepared crowding out the able and cluttering the pathways to success. Straightforward and no-nonsense, All Pollen, No Petal, sorts through the misinformation to give clear and realistic advice to prospective growers and those already on their flower farming journey.

For over twenty-years Ralph Thurston and Jeriann Sabin, as Bindweed Farm, have grown cut flowers in the short season, harsh desert climate of Southeast Idaho, and now operate Deadhead Cutflowers, an educational and consulting firm for small growers throughout the United States. After trialing over three hundred species and settling for the ninety that grow and sell best in their climate, soil, and market, they’ve come to know the intricate details of cut flower farming as a business. They hope their years of experience, as detailed in All Pollen, No Petal and expressed through their workshops, steer others away from the mistakes they made toward a much quicker success.

Ralph Thurston

Bindweed Farm

Ralph Thurston is co-owner, with Jeriann Sabin, of Bindweed Farm in Blackfoot, Idaho. Contact him at [email protected]