Did non-vining clematis kill enkianthus?

butterclem(z6 W.PA)May 28, 2010

I have, or had, three enkianthuses in my garden -- two campanulatus and one perulatus. I planted a non-vining clematis near the perrulata, and last summer the clematis reached 4 to 5 feet and draped itself gracefully all over the enkianthus, which was planted in 2007 and was about 4-1/2 feet tall. This spring the enkianthus had living branches only at the very top. The bottom branches (3/4 of plant) were dead. Do you think the vine did it (despite the fact it has no clinging parts to grab the shrub)? Or could the soil not be acid enough for it (it's marginal, and I'm working on it), even though the redveins do fine here?

I'm thinking of letting the clematis climb a redvein, but I can't let this experiment get too expensive!


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You had 3 shrubs, the shrub that you think died was the only one the clematis had a chance to drape itself on?
If so, I wouldn't let it drape itself on another shrub just in case.
How could the shrub photosynthesize if it wasn't getting any sunlight due to the clematis covering it?
Also, the clematis is a water hog.
Soaks it up like a sponge, away from other plants.
So, you have to water it constantly if you have a vine next to a small tree or shrub.
Good Luck!

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 12:58AM
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mainegrower(Z5b ME)

"...the enkianthus had living branches only near the top." I'm not at all sure what you mean by this. The natural growth habit of enkianthus tends to produce bare trunks with the growth at the top - quite different than how they look in the nursery container. Second, how is the enkianthus killed if it still has living branches?

I think it's very possible that what you're seeing is a completely natural shedding of lower branches which has nothing to do with the clematis. The only problem I see is that enkianthus are adapted to acid soils while clematis are adapted to more alkaline ones. If both are growing well, however, this disparity may not be a problem at all.

Could a clematis vine actually kill a healthy enkianthus or any other shrub? I really don't see how. We're not talking about kudzu here which could completely smother the support plant.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 6:01AM
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butterclem(z6 W.PA)


So glad to hear from you! I took a picture of the damage; I think you won't think this is natural shedding of lower branches once you see it. But let me know if you do!

I have a couple of dozen clematises romping up itea, serviceberry, leucoethoe, etc. I do give everyone extra water; I know they're drinking for two. I've never had a problem before.

I realize this may be unrelated to the vine, but wanted to see if anyone else had had a similar experience. What do you think now that you've seen the shrub? Sorry I didn't post it earlier.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 12:14PM
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And I'd question the validity of clematis being a "water hog" - they are not. They like a moist root run but they do not soak up water like a sponge nor do they outcompete other plants for soil moisture. I grow all manner of clematis over and through a wide range of shrubs and trees, including some quite vigorous vining types - all combine quite easily and happily and do not require any extra watering.

I'm inclined to agree that the loss of foliage on the lower partion of the enkianthus is pretty normal. In fact various websites will indicate the plant will rather open at the base and with foliage clustered at the branch tips. The natural habit of this shrub is to grow in layers or with a 'stepped' appearance and as with most shrubs, it is not densely clad in foliage on the lower layers and this becomes more pronounced as the shrub matures.

And the alkaline soil requirement for clematis is a bit of a myth as well - they grow equally well in slightly to moderately acidic soil. If you are providing happy growing conditions for the enkianthus, the clematis will appreciate the same - a rich organic soil, good drainage and even moisture. I'd just question the amount of shade, as enkianthus prefers at least partial shade while the clem would be happiest in more sun.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 12:29PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

No idea about Enkianthus care but just to point out that the clematis was not a vine, but one of the herbaceous species ie C aromatica or similar. Secondly the clematis was not the only variable. The one which is looking peaky is the Enkianthus perulatus, not the 2 E campanulatus. Could that be significant? Thirdly the Enkianthus is clearly not dead, just a bit sparse. So if the clematis is kept off it it might recover.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 12:29PM
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mainegrower(Z5b ME)

It's not too easy to tell very much from the picture, but the green growth on the enkianthus looks very healthy and the plant is clearly alive.

I suppose it is possible that the clematis shaded the lower portion enough to accelerate the shedding or encourge the enkianthus to concentrate all its energy at the top where the light was strongest, but this does not look really atypical. My largest enkianthus has been in the ground 20+ years. About 15 to 18 feet tall, 4 trunks each about 4" in diameter and very little that's green lower than 8' up, then a 10 - 12' wide canopy which is kept to that size by pruning. I'd prune away anything obviously dead on yours and tell yourself how good the mottled bark looks. (I really do like it).

BTW: The true character of enkianthus is destroyed by pruning from the top down. Cut dead stuff off at the bottom. Head back horizontal branches if they get too wide. I've seen this genus pruned into the notorious green meatball shape and it's as if it's a different plant. The flowers are most effective when you can look up into them from below, as well. Growers are reluctant to let them assume a natural form in pots because it looks too different from other plants and they are pushing rapid growth with lots of fertilizer.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 12:47PM
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butterclem(z6 W.PA)

Very interesting stuff here!

I do know this is a non-clinging clematis; it's an integrifolia, as are all the clems I grow through shrubs.

I, too, wonder if the fact that this is a perrulata vs. a campanulata is relevant, but can scientifically determine it only by digging tthe shrubs up and switching them around. I'm not quite that interested in the scientific method!

The enkianthus does have partial shade (sun in a.m.; shade in p.m.). The clematis perhaps shouldn't be happy here, but it's reading different books. You can see it blooming away just propped up on a little wire fence.

I am really amazed, and relieved, that you all think this looks normal! I'm really surprised. But you have given me the courage to prune off the dead stuff at the bottom and see what happens. I would certainly be thrilled to have mainegrower's 15-footer with the canopy starting at 8 ft.

I wonder why my two campanulatas aren't losing bottom branches. Maybe because they're campanulatas?

    Bookmark   May 29, 2010 at 1:34PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

butterclem - I realise you knew what sort of clematis you had as you mentioned it in your original post. I reiterated that is was a herbaceous clematis because later posters referred to a 'vine', so I thought it useful to clarify.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2010 at 9:15AM
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