Clematis "planters" around deck - a few questions

pbl_ge(5/6)July 5, 2014

Put this on the clematis forum, but it's gotten no responses. DH wants to start building the deck!

We are installing a deck on the back wall of our garage, and we intend to leave square(ish) gaps (cut-outs) in the decking so that we can plant clematis to grow along the wall of the deck. It will be a mix of Huldine and something else, perhaps Jackmanii since it's so reliable. We don't have a sketch of this yet, but here is the idea:
-About 2' between each cut-out space for the clematis.
-Thinking that the cut-outs need to be about 10"x10". What do you think? Bigger? Smaller?
-There's going to be a space of about 10" between the top of the deck and the ground below. Do you think a square column (same width) would be sufficient to hold the root system for that far? Or would you build larger boxes , even though the cut-outs may be smaller?
-What about the idea of getting plastic planter pots, with the bottom removed, to hold the roots in the 10" gap beneath every cut-out? How big would you make those?

Any other thoughts or ideas about this? Thanks for any help!

Edited to add:
Well, my DH modified his CAD drawing of the deck to include the built-in gaps for planters. Those are the spaces here that are mostly "ringed" at the bottom.

So the questions are:
a) Are these holes big enough? (10"x9")
b) How would you recommend bridging the gap between the decking and the ground 10" below?

This post was edited by pbl_ge on Sun, Jul 6, 14 at 8:35

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i dont understand the CAD at all.. is that the garage... or the side of the deck ...

10 x 9 inches not big enough for anything ... and might even change the zone rating of a perennial that is supposed to be in mother earth ...

if in the pic.. that is the top of the deck.. and you are building one foot boxes ... 10 feet below... i dont understand why you need the boxes ...

and finally ... how high are you expecting them to grow.. to get to the top of the deck...

i dont know if the 2 you chose are the type that need to be cut every year ... etc ..

could he perhaps... take a pic of the garage.. and real fast... photoshop some lines on it.. to give us a flavor of reality ... i am sure the CAD means much to you guy.. knowing the project ...

why do they have to be in pots?????


    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 10:24AM
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The picture is of the deck from above, and is a construction plan. Whole surface is flat, but the little boxes at the bottom would be gaps in the decking that allow the vines to grow up. Kinda like this (hard to find images of this, although I've seen it a lot--perhaps I'm using the wrong search terms).

Not sure how I could make a picture any clearer. A picture of the construction zone and the blank garage wall is definitely not going to help and would likely just confuse the issue.

Let me worry about the pruning types of the clematis. That's not what my question is about. Same with the height.

The surface of the deck is going to be 10" above the ground, which seems too far to me without some sort of container for the plants in that gap. So my question is how to bridge that gap. Pots are just one idea.

The actual space occupied on the ground by clematis seems pretty small. We have one going up about 12 feet, but the profile on the ground is only about 7" in radius.

Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 11:21AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Unless you are going to store them somewhere protected over the winter, I would plant them in the ground, not in pots. Jackmanii is not a small plant, and is going to need room to stretch out. So the opening has to be big enough that you can reach down and plant.

Training the vines through the opening should not be difficult.

They will probably require regular irrigation.

Jackmanii is not a small plant. A more reasonable spacing is along the lines of 8 to 10 ft. So there is room for about 3 plants along that wall.

So I'd recommend a lot fewer plants, with larger cutouts. 15" x 20" seems a big enough opening to reach through. A removal edging could easily get it down to 12" x 18" or so.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 11:46AM
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Apparently I'm not making myself clear. We **are** planning to put them in the ground. The problem is that the ground is too low. So what do you do to bring the ground to the surface level of the deck? We were thinking of building something like a planter under the deck.

(Look at the picture of the deck with the cut-outs above. Now imagine that the whole deck is off the ground by about a foot. That's our situation.)

The spacing recommendation came from the clematis forum, where people said they regularly space them only 2' apart. We want this to get full quickly, so we were planning on planting it more fully.

Removable edging is a good idea. Will have to ask OH if that's possible.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 12:21PM
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I get it. We need to custom make a box to slide in the holes. It needs to be of a material that can withstand watering over the long term. Maybe plexi glass. It needs no bottom.It needs to fit so you can't see it.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 1:03PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

You don't bring the surface up to deck level. You plant in the ground, a foot below. Plants grow. If they need a guide to find the opening, chicken wire cages are good.

You are making this a lot more complicated than it needs to be.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 1:44PM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

Well, you could bring the surface up to the deck level if you made a REALLY HUGE dirt mound, but that wouldn't really work now would it?

I'm with Ken. I have no idea what CAD is. I also don't know what OH is, but then I'm so totally confused I really shouldn't be commenting.

Never mind.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 2:09PM
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If you did make a box , get a post hole digger and amend the hole with grow medium,10 inches would be too shallow. Maybe you could put some small rocks as a border of the planter holes for match your wall. Then you could have allysum or lobelia....or whatever annual in the planter. Less of a trip hazzard with the soil close to the top of the deck.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 2:13PM
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Sorry, I'm really not trying to make this difficult.

CAD is the name of the program that made the deck sketch. It's basically an engineering drawing program. It's not important--the only part of that drawing that matters is the framing/size of the holes by the garage.

OH just means Other Half, otherwise known as my dear husband.

Definitely agree that we'll need to amend the soil beneath the deck, especially as it's pretty crappy. This is one of the reasons we want this sorted out before we start building the deck.

Do people agree that the clematis can be planted a foot below the surface of the deck and be okay? This is really the crux of the issue, and it really seemed too far down to me. Perhaps it depends on the size of the plants we buy at the start?

Otherwise I'm liking the plexiglass box idea.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 2:24PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I can't see that the clematis would have any problem with being planted in the ground, 10" below the deck surface - as long as you give them something to use to climb up... Of course that assumes that light, soil, and moisture are appropriate for them. The problems are all regarding the gardener, not the plants! The cut-out in the deck definitely needs to be much bigger than those little squares originally shown - presumably you need to reach down through to plant and do maintenance. You need space to work... It might be a good idea to at least dig the planting holes before the deck goes in and put the soil that needs to go back into the planting hole into something easy to transport onto the deck when you are planting through the holes.

If you were making some sort of box 'sleeve' to raise the soil, you'd need to think about insulating it as the box would leave the roots exposed to freezing. Planting in the ground is definitely the better idea.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 4:11PM
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Campanula UK Z8

yep, plant below the surface - as long as the plants can 'see' a light source, they will reach for it and future pruning can allow for a permanent woody framework of canes to extend a foot or so above the deck level. You should source 2 year old plants which already have a decent size and the start of a structure - even viticellas, which are pruned hard every year, will keep a short stem above ground level so I see no need for enclosing boxes, planters or such. As long as you have enough plant left above ground after planting to reach the top of the hole (and I would expect to buy a plant which was at least 3feet tall), I cannot see a problem.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 4:20PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

pbl ge, I feel your pain, lol!

I (think I) know exactly what you mean, right from your very first post, even before you added the visuals, but I just don't have an answer for you, as I am new to clematis and have never planted them this way. But with others being so confused I felt I had to post, if for no other reason that to let you know *someone* understood what you meant, lol!

For what it's worth, and remember this is from someone who planted her first clematis last fall, I would go ahead and plant in the ground as you originally intended. I don't know that you would need that bottomless sleeve, but I would think you might have to have some support between the ground and the bottom of the deck so the clematis can start growing out of the hole. Actually, the sleeve/box might be worse, if it were permanent, in that it would accumulate leaves, soil, etc, which might (or might not??) hurt the plant as it would eventually make it quite deeply buried. If the sleeve/planter box were removable, or if you plan on cleaning them out each season, that may not be an issue.

I agree with campanula that if you have a big enough plant, the planting depth below the deck should not be an issue. And if big enough, you would probably not need any support between the ground and the bottom o the deck. Again, remember I'm a clematis newbie!

Sorry, I can't really help you with the spacing or the size of the holes.

I see you mention jackmani and Huldine. Do these bloom together? That would be beautiful if they do, but it might be nice to have a mix of early, mid, and late season clematis to have something going all season.

Sounds like this will be a beautiful project. I hope you will post pictures when you are done.

Good luck!

This post was edited by diggerdee on Sun, Jul 6, 14 at 17:05

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 5:02PM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

I know that you posted a few days ago and I have been thinking about your question.

I think the reason the recommendation to plant at least 2' apart is because the base of the plants spread about that much when they are mature so think a hole 10-12" is too small. A well grown mature plant will have many vines coming from the crown and they need to get through that hole.

I would plant in the ground and make a trellis that would fit through the hole so the vine can start climbing on it at ground level. If you don't do that use something else it can climb on to get out of the hole and connect to whatever trellis you are using. Some people use fishing line, string, or some kind of wire. I saw a posting on the clematis forum where a person used short metal garden edging for some trellising.p

What are you going to use as trellising? Is the idea to have all the clematis intermingling or will each have its own trellis along the wall? Have you gone to the clematis forum to look a photos of combinations and trellises?

Keep in mind that clematis grow slowly and can often take three or MORE years to put on a good display of blooms. Planting more clematis in the same space is not going to give you a full display sooner. What you may end up with is several sparse vines along the wall. And when mature too many plants can be a mess of vines. Counting the holes in the diagram it appears the garage wall is 16-20 feet wide. Consider how wide each of your clematis choices will spread when they are mature and then determine how many plants are needed to fill that space.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 9:22PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

CAD = computer Assisted Design ...

OH = Ohio ... but apparently not here.. lol ..

here is the problem i see.. and i am NOT a clem aficionado .... and will simply state the concern from my z5 MI point of view ...

i can think of ONLY ONE clem.. that climbs OVER 10 feet ... in my z5 MI .. and that is the species ... fragrant autumn clem ... and part of the reason is winter and snow load issues ... as well as the rather short growing season ... as compared to our southern friends.. with their 8 or 9 month growing season ... and then add on.. you probably want them to grow 5 more feet where you can see them .....

i just dont know... building issues aside... whether the clem idea itself... will work ... and in circumstances like this.. i wonder where the inspiration came from .... and its usually from a zone or place.. much different than your claimed z 5/6 ....

also ... pots in my MI z5 .. need winter protection.. unless extremely large ... its an issue of water accumulation .. the freeze thaw cycle.. the media used ... and the adaptability of the plant itself ... frozen pots can accumulate a lot of water.. and basically rot the plants inside ... there is a container forum when you wish to perfect such ...


    Bookmark   July 7, 2014 at 9:54AM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

Ken, it is ten inches below the deck, not ten feet.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2014 at 11:57AM
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babera(5a (Montana))

I have to jump in here. . . I *got it* in your first post. . . and I can visualize what you are trying to accomplish. . . One thing I didn't read mentioned is the vines (non-woody) get whipped against the wood on the deck floor it may rip away at them causing weak distressed plants. That is IF I'm reading this the right way.

Are you planning on using the handrail for them to climb on rather than a trellis? I'm thinking any plant would need better light in that 10" space from where it breaks ground until it gets up to the surface, in this case the deck floor.

I say this because when we built our deck I accidently left a plant in the ground and the deck (a garden level deck) was built on top of it. it didn't survive. . .

Good luck, I hope it works for you. . .

    Bookmark   July 7, 2014 at 8:45PM
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Thanks, all. Some take-aways here:
-Need them farther apart. Cheaper! Done!
-Plan on a few years before a good show (yeah, we knew that).
-They'll be okay 10" down if they're good size plants to start with.

As I've been thinking about this, I've been wondering about that last part. We usually buy from Bluestone (habit formed in its glory days a decade ago), but even the better mail order places I'm familiar with don't ship 3' tall plants. We don't have a good place to put them while they get bigger, and no, none of our local nurseries are good sources. So what would you folks do? Put the small plants down in the holes? Go back to that building up idea? Search wide and far for bigger plants?

My DH says he has the perfect trellis plan, but I can't remember what it is. We asked about that some time ago on the clematis forum and got good advice.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 6:52PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Could you grow them in pots for a season, till they got bigger? Bluestone stuff usually takes off pretty quickly and grows rapidly.


    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 8:00PM
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Growing for long periods in pots usually leads to death in my hands. :(

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 8:57PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Even just for one season? :)


    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 9:28PM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

I grow small clematis plants on by potting them and then dig a hole in the ground in a holding area and put the potted plant into the hole. Being in the ground helps keep with moisture and being in a pot keeps the roots contained. Works well for me even with seedlings. By fall or the next year I pull out the pot and plant as usual.

Edited to add: If you buy small you have to wait for them to grow so you might look for larger plants if you go somewhere on vacation or to a larger neighboring city. When you choose a larger plant check to see if roots fill the pot or are coming out the bottom of the pot. Some places will pot small plants into bigger pots giving the impression the plant is larger than it really is. Some of the big box stores sell good sized clematis.

This post was edited by mnwsgal on Wed, Jul 9, 14 at 0:06

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 11:57PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I would not give up on locating more mature Clematis. Bluestone will definitely not give you the size Clematis you need. I've ordered from them. I have considered buying more mature Clematis, and found that one local nursery does stock them. So keep looking. Ask about this on the Clematis forum and someone might have a mail order source too.

I would agree that if you have not grown Clematis before and you have this situation where the vines are going to be planted below a deck, I would definitely try to start off with well established vines.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 2:58AM
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kimka(Zone 6B)

One consideration for your cut out size is how will your vines get enough water? You really don't want to set yourself up to have to water constantly. If the cut outs are too small and the spacing on your boards are too narrow to provide enough rainfall year round to get enough water to the ground.

If the cut outs are large enough to collect enough water on their own, maybe 26" X 26", I kind of like the bottomless plexi glass sleeve idea filled even with the deck with good soil tilled into the original soil so the roots can penetrate and spread out. That way no leaves build up in the cut outs.

That would also solve the other problem I see with the small cutout idea if the ground is 10 inches below the deck and the cut outs have no lips. If something falls and rolls off the edge into the hole, how will you fish something out of the hole?

You have to think about how the trellis in each cutout will be held in place so that winter snowstorms or summer thunderstorms don't blow them over. It will take strong fastening. They also need to be made out of no maintenance materials. You could use these strong trellises to hold containers of annual vines like morning glories (I grow morning glories and moonflowers on my deck every summer in containers) to fill in in until the clematis vines get larger. Since the winter cold will kill the annual vines and they are in containers not the ground, they shouldn't interfere.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 9:22AM
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