Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Case of the Collapsing Clematis

Victim: Clematis 'The President'
Crime: Isolated stems that have collapsed for no apparent reason
Clues: Droopy stems, weird buds, and few unusually skinny leaves
Attempted Solutions: Copper fungicide, cutting stems back, cussing
Suspects: Radioactive space weasels, freakish March weather, clematis wilt, damaged stems

This picture was taken last May 2011. The clematis grows near a Japanese holly in the front garden.

Abut a month ago I untangled the knot of clematis stems at the base and adjusted the soaker hose. I cut out quite a bit of dead wood. I should have taken a picture, but I forgot.

Maybe the main problem is that I expect it to look the way it does in May even though it's only April.

 Several stems have begun to wilt while the rest of the vine looks fine.

I cut the affected stems back to the ground.

It's really scrawny right now and I can't remember if it was this scrawny last April. I think I need more sleep! I pulled it out of the hollies and trained up a trellis. 

I sprayed it with a copper fungicide in case it's clematis wilt. A crazy mosaic pot I made last year is in the background.

There's something rather alien about this bud. I'm keeping a close, but not too close, eye on it.

These leaves are like supermodels - way too skinny!

I need you to help me solve this case! Whaddya think the problem is??


  1. You got me, haven't had leaves change like that. One of my clematis did have what I think was Clematis wilt....cut it back and did nothing else. I forgot ok?
    Anyhow it is doing well -- has two open blooms and lots of new growth.

  2. My first guess was that it is clematis wilt. I had that annoying fungal disease twice on my clematis that I was growing when we were still living in our old house. What is typical that it happens basically over night for no apparent reason and the leaves wilt very quickly. I wonder if you have accidentally nicked the stems when you were working with the clematis earlier this year, so that the fungus had an easy way to get into the plant material. What doesn't fit into the pictures though, is that the leaves are "skinny". Mr. President is a vigorous clematis so I hope it will recover for you this year. The photos from 2011 look very lovely! Good luck!

  3. Mnie w zeszłym roku grzyby zaatakowały clematis. Myślałam już, że go stracę. Zastosowałam środki grzybobójcze i później kwitł długo i ślicznie. Pozdrawiam.*** Last year I attacked clematis fungus. I thought by now that I lose it. I used fungicides and later flourished long and beautiful. Yours.

  4. None other than the elusive Clematis Wilt. It should grow from roots again next year, they are pretty reliable that way. Sometimes, like you have shown, only some vines are affected and others remain, often weaker than before, but will go to flower. It is common here for this to happen to Clematis.

  5. Wilt, rather than alien space weasels, seems the likely culprit, but I have no experience in this area. If all else fails, cut it back to the ground and if you planted it very deeply with two lower leaf buds buried as is recommended, it will regrow in a season or two and be healthy. You have to love a plant that gives you a do-over.

  6. i hope it will be beautiful for you again, but if not, there are always about a million other plants to try!

  7. Tammy, your clematis is so pretty in flower, what a shame that it is ailing this spring! I am no expert, but clematis wilt seems the most likely suspect ( although suspecting alien space weasels is far more intriguing.)

  8. Its a lovely Clematis - I hope it recovers for you.

  9. Ack! I had no idea about clematis wilt! Something else to worry about in our gardens! Sounds like an easy fix, though, just cut and wait, and cuss a little more!

  10. I struggle with this on my two clematis (clemati?), and I don't have any idea what happens, how it happens or how to fix it. I do know that it does grow back like nothing has ever happened...

  11. I'm positive it's Clemmy-wilt. Actually from my Master Gardener course (10 years ago) I remember that we were told that there is no cure for it. You just cut off the infected vines and let the vine grow back. The fungicide won't cure it. I remember reading that the smaller Clemmies aren't as susceptible as the large-flowered hybrids of which The President is one. I also remember learning that newly-planted clemmies are more susceptible than older, established ones. Yours is a real beauty though and I hope it looks as good this May as it did last. Keep us posted.

  12. Tammy, I wish I could offer a solid answer. Other gardeners have shared with me that clematis despise being touched and adjusted. You told us that you "untangled a knot" a month ago; did you notice any stems wilting then? Perhaps your clematis is just a bit in shock from the untangling and pruning of dead wood? If this little beauty was in my garden, I would play "wait-and-see" a while longer before doing anything drastic such as cutting it back further. Debra, Gardens Inspired

  13. Although I'm no expert on clematis, my guess (along with everyone else) would be clematis wilt. Apparently it's not a case of if with wilt but when. Hopefully the rest of the vine will be OK, it's got beautiful flowers!


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