Over the years I’ve been asked about finding good sources for purchasing clematis plants. I cannot speak for other locales in the U.S., but sadly, here in Southern California, we have a rather limited choice of options. I was reminded of this quandary the other day when my daughter, Emily, remarked to me, “Isn’t it difficult promoting a plant that is so hard to find?” I must confess it is unfortunate that my genus of choice is not more readily available, but as with anything else the principle of “supply and demand” rules. The fact is if you don’t have gardeners enthusiastically wanting to purchase clematis the retail market for them will be limited, or worse yet, nonexistent. If you are one of those gardeners who would like to see clematis more accessible then you need to go out and let your voice be heard at full volume (remember the squeaky wheel theory!) and encourage others to do the same. Hopefully, with these increased requests nurseries (which are in the businesses of making money) will want to supply us with our clematis wishes. In the meantime, if your local independent nursery is not carrying clematis as part of their regular inventory, you have the option of asking them to special order them for you. If not, I seriously suggest you patronize a nursery that will accommodate your requests because nothing speaks as loudly as the almighty $.
Local Independent Nurseries vs. Mail Order Vendors
You basically have two choices when it comes to purchasing your clematis: mail order vendors and/or local independent nurseries. I use both of these sources for my clematis obsession. They both have advantages and disadvantages. Hopefully my insights below will help you make more informed choices when it comes to making your clematis-buying decision(s).
Local Independent Nurseries
I believe their best advantage is that they can offer you 5-gallon clematis plants (this is a wonderful option since I’m a huge advocate of buying the biggest clematis plant whenever possible).
Often the plants are in bloom, so you can see its flowers and coloring up close and personal.
There is the convenience of being able to take it home with you right then and there.
Sadly, some retail nurseries sell clematis that will not necessarily survive in your area (which in my experience has been C. montana which a couple of my local nurseries are selling to gardeners in USDA Zones 10 and 11) which means these plant become a pretty expensive annual.
You normally will only find a selection of the larger flowered cultivars so,if you want something different, your choices are very limited
Often the nursery staff is unfamiliar with the performance and cultural requirements needed to grow clematis.
There is limited or no signage.
Mail Order Vendors
Their best advantage is that they are the clematis aficionados’ candy stores because many mail order vendors offer a bigger array of very unique and interesting clematis. They have a greater selection of both cultivars and species.
They are most likely to have a knowledgeable staff.
Most provide care sheets.
Many provide guarantees.
Their plants are small.
Many nurseries still sell their clematis by “age” (i.e. 1 year, 2 years old) rather than by the “container size” (2-inch pot, 4-inch pot, quart or 1-gallon). Sadly, this “Unknown Root Ball Size Factor” means prospective clematis gardeners may be disappointed when they see how small 2-year old plants really are because they were no doubt expecting something much larger!
Shipping and handling costs can really add up, so make sure you consider them when shopping for your plants.
You cannot see the flowers in person, so what ends up in your garden make not look like the photos that appeared on a website. (Considering what I said about a larger selection, I think this is a risk worth taking in order to get something special).
With the plants being smaller you will need to babysit them for a while until you are confident enough that they have a larger enough rootball to put them directly in the ground.