Clematis: A Shade Garden Superstar

Short on sun? Browse the seemingly endless options for this woody blooming vine.
'Silver Moon'

'Silver Moon'

'Silver Moon' features incredible silver-pink frilled petals with yellow stamens. 

'Silver Moon' features incredible silver-pink frilled petals with yellow stamens. 

The old gardeners’ adage goes that clematis “love their feet in the shade and their faces in the sun.” 

While there’s some truth to that sweeping statement, what clematis actually love most of all is moist soil—which may or may not be present if the plant is forced to compete with the roots of a nearby thirsty tree or shrub. And yes, like most flowering plants, they prefer sunlight for producing the best blooms. 

Yet, there are many varieties of clematis that flower nicely with only a couple hours of indirect light. So if you think this woody vine is a lost cause for your shade garden, guess again. 
A member of the buttercup family, clematis—you say cle-MAT-is, I say clem-a-tis, depending on where you live—include about 250 species and hundreds more hybrids. With those kinds of odds, there’s bound to be a vine for any situation. Flowering in blue, purple, white, pink, mauve, red and yellow (and combinations thereof), most clematis are perennial, though some, such as the Armand clematis, are evergreen.

Clematis prefer their roots to remain evenly cool and moist, so give the vines plenty of water and keep them heavily mulched to retain that moisture. Most types flower best when basking in at least three to four hours of direct morning sunlight from spring through fall.  But plenty of others will tolerate less and more indirect light. Also factor in that some varieties flower early in the growing season—before many trees put out their leaves and shade them out—while others bloom later.

Among the shade-tolerant types are the alpine clematis, Clematis alpina, and sweet autumn clematis, Clematis paniculata (terniflora). Here are some others to consider:

  • ‘Nelly Moser’—Pinkish light mauve flowers with deep lilac stripes. Thrives in shade. Blooms in May and again in August.
  • ‘Sugar Candy’—Another repeat bloomer with bright pink flowers with darker pink stripes that can reach 7 inches in diameter.
  • ‘Alabast’—Big white to pale green rounded flowers in May-June and again late summer.
  • ‘Pink Flamingo’ (Clematis alpina)—One of the earliest to bloom with dangling pinkish flowers.
  • ‘Silver Moon’—Large, mauve flowers that bloom throughout the summer.
  • ‘Dawn’—Creamy white flowers with pink-edged petals. Repeat bloomer. Performs well in containers.
  • ‘Pink Fantasy’—Compact with light pink flowers and darker centers. Blooms until frost.
  • ‘Amanda Marie’—Dark red blooms that turn pink with time. Green and white variegated foliage.

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