A wall of blossoms or a gorgeous lampost is achievable, thanks to Master Gardener Nancy Crowe's advice on growing clematis and morning glories.
In my neighborhood, we all have black wrought-iron lampposts in our front yards. That is because of the association covenants — not because, in a fit of conformity, we all ran out and bought the same model. Nor is it because a load of them fell off a passing truck.
It’s good to have lights consistently going on at dusk and off at dawn, as ours all do (though an occasional scofflaw has a burned-out bulb). The real beauty of it is that a lamppost is a great place to grow beautiful climbing flowers such as the clematis and morning glory.
Clematises climb up lampposts and cascade over fences, with showy blooms that last. Some are no doubt meticulously tended; others may have had no attention for years and still flower profusely. Clematises require at least six hours of full sun a day (though some dappled shade isn’t a bad idea), and they like a little mulch to keep their roots cool.
One clematis caveat: They can be a bit slow to get going, so don’t give up too soon. The clematis I brought home and planted by the lamppost did virtually nothing during that first season. In fact, it withered so much I thought the poor thing had died. So I planted morning glory seeds out there the following spring. Well, the clematis rose again from its earthly depths and began to wend its way up the trellis, doing its best to elbow out the morning glories doing the same thing. The morning glories responded by re-seeding. We then had dueling vines; think Joan Collins and Linda Evans in “Dynasty.”
Anyway — to get clematis’ roots established, Ohio State University suggests using a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio fertilizer annually. Information from the International Clematis Society says a 5-10-10 or tomato fertilizer, applied twice a year, is also acceptable.
The question of when and whether to prune a clematis depends on what kind you have. Some flower on last year’s vines (so you wouldn’t cut them to the ground in the spring), others flower on this year’s vines (cutting to the ground — no sweat). So it helps to know what kind of clematis you have. If not, Gardener’s Supply Company suggests leaving last year’s growth until mid-spring, and prune only when you can see which vines are dead and which are starting to leaf out.
Morning glories have their own particular charm. They’re pretty easy to grow from seed (soak seeds overnight before planting). You can start them indoors or direct-seed outdoors. They don’t seem to care. However, please note that morning glory seeds are poisonous, so be careful if you have pets or small children who may indiscriminately ingest them. Morning glories don’t care much about soil conditions, either, and they don’t generally need fertilizer unless they look like they’re ailing.
These plants thrive in full sun to part sun. They prolifically flower from midsummer to mid-autumn; each bloom lasts only one day, but they put on quite a show as you’re leaving for work in the morning.
Morning glories are annuals, but they produce a lot of seed — some of which can survive winter and surprise you as much as that clematis surprised me when it came back. These plants also can be invasive, so you need to watch for vines wending off where you don’t intend for them to go and the stragglers that pop up where you would never even think of planting a morning glory. They need boundaries: Stay on your trellis. No climbing on the neighbor’s hedges. No wandering into other parts of the yard. No mouthing off at the clematis across the street whose blooms are bigger than yours.
So make that standard-issue lamppost your own.
Master Gardener Nancy Crowe's Garden Spot column also appears in interactive format online.