01 Oct 2022

Green Fingers: Solving problems with demanding clematis

Green Fingers: Solving problems with demanding clematis

Clematis provide height and colour throughout the summer Picture: Pixabay

Most of the correspondence I receive in relation to this article is from avid gardeners who have encountered a problem they wish to understand or overcome in the garden. So, what I have decided to do in this week’s article is answer the most commonly asked question.

Clematis Wilt

I often get asked why a person’s large flowering Clematis has seemingly died in the middle of summer. It can be disheartening to see your pride and joy suddenly and unexpectedly drop all its leaves and fade away in front of your eyes. But all hope is not lost – there is a recovery plan.

Clematis wilt is caused by a fungus that enters the plant through a wound made by an insect or an abrasion, such as rubbing from a plant tie. It’s spread by water splash, and blocks the uptake of water in the stems, causing instant collapse. Place it either in your brown bin or burn them altogether. The early, large-flowering varieties are most prone to attack- ‘Nelly Moser’, and ‘The President’, with smaller-flowering species (eg, C. montana) being the most resistant.


The top of a clematis suddenly wilts, collapses and dies back, and the problem quickly spreads downwards through the plant. When the problem spreads from a leaf, its stalk turns black. The whole plant could turn black and brown in just a few short days. In some instances, it can even happen over 24 hours.

Organic Treatment

There is no known chemical prevention or cure for Clematis Wilt. However, regular feeding and watering mean the plant can build up strength and this means it is more able to fight off most diseases and fungus.

If you discover you have Clematis Wilt cut back affected stems to healthy growth, even if this means to below ground level, and the clematis should send up new shoots. Bin the infected material. Infected foliage must be disposed of immediately, as the fungus can survive on the plant if left lying on the ground.

Therefore, you cannot put the foliage into a compost bin. The fungus will continue to survive in the compost bin and could actually spread. If the problem recurs, replant in rich, fertile, well-drained soil, with the top of the rootball 8cm below ground. Avoid stressing the plant by keeping it well watered and shading the roots – try covering over the root area with slates or stones to keep it cool.

Finally, at a recent family gathering I was chatting to an aunt of mine. Actually, when I think back it was this aunt’s garden that first inspired me to seek out a career in gardening. And I know she reads this article every week. So, Phil, I wish you many more years and happy gardening!

Contact James by email -

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