How to Save a Withering Clematis

Expert advice on how to combat clematis wilt in your garden.


Clematis in bloom

Hardy clematis can sometimes fall victim to a fungus.


By Ann Wied, Brookfield, Wisconsin

Have you had difficulty with clematis blooming beautifully at the beginning of spring, but seeing leaves start to turn brown  or black, despite fertilizing?

If so, clematis wilt, a fungal disease, could be to blame, especially if you’re seeing the plant wilt and the entire stem die. Sometimes spots appear on leaves or stems just before the wilt. Clematis wilt can occur at any time, but usually happens just as flower buds begin to open.

Plants usually recover from clematis wilt the next year, if you prune out and destroy the wilted brown leaf and stem portions in late fall. Otherwise, the fungus can overwinter and then re-infect new spring growth.

Other possibilities that could be causing the difficulty: drought, overwatering, overfertilizing or a combination of those factors. Be sure to mulch the plants and keep the soil moist, especially in very hot weather, but avoid overwatering. Also be careful not to overfertilize


About our expert: Ann Wied is consumer horticulture educator for the UW-Extension in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. She teaches gardeners through workshops, hands-on gardening programs and presentations. Ann has a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and agricultural journalism.

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