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It's Sweet Autumn Clematis Season Again!

January 11, 1970

My autumn clematis is covered with buds and is just starting to bloom -- I'm so excited I go out in the yard every few minutes just to sniff a few and giggle!

Probably one of my favorite plants and one of the best in my yard. Mine grows in 2' of crappy, unamended subsoil, with only natural water and partial shade. Every March I cut it down to about 6", and by June it's covered the 4' x 15' wire trellis I string up the fire escape.

This year it's even more spectacular than before. It's completely overwhelmed the trellis and has wrapped around the sides of the fire escape and is reaching for the steps. It's grown over the top of the railing and down the other side, and has grown almost to the top of the second floor apartment door.

If you haven't smelled autumn clematis before, it's absolutely heavenly. A rich, sweet, almost jasmine scent that manages to be heavy but not cloying. It wafts all over the yard; when I have both doors open I can smell it from the front porch! The flowers are tiny, creamy, star-shaped blooms, and after they've peaked they blow around the yard like the most delightful white confetti. I leave the vine up all winter, and the birds love to hide in there to avoid the cold.

Luckily, my upstairs neighbor loves it as much as I do, (a good thing, since it tends to block her kitchen door!) so next year we're going to extend the wire up and around the landing outside her door from the railing to the roof, to see if we can encourage it to grow to the top of the building.

A long ramble, but this is one of my all time favorite plants. I give the plant and Mother Nature all the credit -- I just stand back and reap the compliments!

Comments (64)

  • Joeray

    I bought a "Sweet Autumn Clematis" from a local nursery last winter and I've been anxiously awaiting the fragrant blooms. Well, it did bloom several weeks ago and they stank! I believe I was sold the wrong plant because you had to stick your nose into the blossom to smell anything and then what you smelled was unpleasant. Also, the vine itself has not been very vigorous. I'm going to shovel prune this plant and possibly order another one through the mail this coming winter. What a disappointment!

  • Rosynorm

    I had two huge plants; gave one away last spring. They got so large that they broke my trellises. Took an old wooden 16' ladder, cut about 6' off and painted the rest and use that to support it. My plant sends off many shoots and I've given many starts away. I also grow lots of roses but in the fall when this clematis is in bloom, it can't be beat. Fragrance is intoxicating.

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  • alison

    Joeray -- I'm so sorry your autumn clematis didn't work out; definitely give it a second try, though. Mine is incredible, and so little work. The scent and the flowers are wonderful, but the vine itself is a real workhorse; growing quickly and covering whatever structure it's on.

    Neighbors across the alley lost an enormous oak this spring, which means the south and west sides of the building are suddenly exposed to near constant sun in the summer time. The utility bills were astronomical. Now he's looking at my clematis, which did reach the top of the building (with ease!) this year; and thinking of planting several along the exposed wall. I can just imagine what that would smell like next fall....

  • mythyme

    I have a spectacular Sweet Autumn. It's covering the roof of the garage, has taken over the arbor and the rose trellis too. I love it - but - it doesn't have any fragrance at all.
    Strange! mythyme

  • aussie_clematis

    here in Australia we have a clematis called paniculata which is spring flowering. We also have C. maximowicziana, known as the Sweet Autumn Clematis, and that flowers in Autumn. Two different plants, I have both.

  • blooming_idiot

    No one mentioned my problem with my SAC , no matter what I do, by july,the bottom 3to4 feet of growth turns brown and makes the whole thing look awful!The flowers still look wonderful, and smell great. I live in central Texas, zone8b, could it be our HOT summers? I cut them back every spring, so I think I'm doing everything that I know of right. HELP!!!!!

  • Nonna

    I have been reading all about this clematis here, I live in SC (Myrtle Beach) and I have seen some climbing vines by some mail boxes in my neighborhood, but I always thought it was some kind of honeysuckle!! I have not seen it in the wild, only the wisteria and jasmine. I wonder if this clematis would grow in Ohio? Does anyone have a picture of this clematis? Sure would appreciate to see what it looks like. Thanks all, Nonna

  • Bill_zone6

    I was wonderering what an 'Autumn' Clematis was doing flowering in the spring. Unless it blooms both spring and fall according to the amount of daylight. I think Allison is on to something.

  • alison

    I think autumn clematis is one of those plants where the Latin names are as confusing as the common ones!

    I know it's gone thru several name changes in the last decade, and I'm not sure which one has come out on top. I know I've heard C. paniculata, C.maximowicziana, and I think, C. terniflora?

    But to my knowledge, they all refer to the same plant, which blooms here in Ohio in the fall, on first year wood. (In fact, I cut down the old vines about 6 weeks ago, and already have about a foot of growth!)

    I think there is a similar looking clematis that blooms in the spring. Don't know if it has a scent, but I think I ran across it in a catalog; same profuse, small, white flowers. But if it blooms in the spring, then I assume it blooms on old wood, which would make it different from the autumn clematis I've had such (totally undeserved!) success with.

    If the lower portions are dying, then I think you're probably right, it's probably heat. It gets warm and humid here, but the roots are in shade, so it has a chance to recover!


  • Violet_Z6


    You may find the following site helpful for botanical pronunciations:

    Botanical Pronounciations and References

  • jnervi

    my autumn clematis is 6 or 7 years old and the last 2 summers has been reseeding like crazy! we dug 20-30 very vigerous seedlings from our perennial beds for friends, and continue to pull volunteers from the brick pathways, driveway gravel, and tomato cages. s.a. clematis rivals black-eyed susan, columbine, and nepeta for providing free stuff to share. want some?

  • frazier707

    Earlier this Spring, I was given an established (dug up) Autumn Clematis from a friend (master gardner) of mine. She told me all about what to expect, and sure enough, it "took over" my porch trellis and is now covered with buds. I can't wait for the first one to open, as I have never smelled one before. There are literally thousands of them, and I can only immagine the scent when it is in full bloom. It is in the perfect place for me to enjoy while sitting on the front porch swing!

  • galileo

    I've had one for ten years, prune it lightly in early spring (I hack anything that looks dead until I've killed three living and vital branches, then I quit). (That's not the way it's supposed to work, but my de facto method.) It gets as big as you'll let it through this method and I want it to cover a pergola (like an arbor) that shades my sliding glass doorway. It's a great way to have shade in summer, sun in winter.

    And it's gorgeous around Labor Day. This link is not to my garden, but shows how well it can look if you give it free rein. I found the image at google.com.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Sweet Autumn Clematis

  • alison

    Wow, this thread has legs! Testimony to what a great vine this is!

    I leave mine up all winter, as a screen for the bathroom window and shelter for birds. But I cut it back down to about 10" this year (it's gotten very woody)

    It's once again grown about 30' and is threatening to barricade the upstairs apartment. It's completely covered in buds -- and I'm leaving for vacation! Luckily the flowers seem to last 10 days-two weeks, so I'll be back to enjoy some of it.

  • deadheader

    I cut my sweet autumn to the ground this year to give Jackmani and Henryi a chance to show off. These have been planted against all the rules for several years and have never failed: poor soil, by the road and rely on natural water. It would have worked had somebody not knocked down our mailbox. By this time, sweet autumn was taking off and I dared not try to untangle the mess left by said vandals. We had to move the mailbox, but the fence behind it caught the sweet autumn and now it covers about 6 square feet despite being cut to the soil in spring. It's show is for a short period, but worth the wait. For 2-3 weeks, it's a traffic hazard with everyone slowing down to admire it. It has recently seeded in 4 spots in the yard and is moving right along.

    Does anyone know if I could let this grow on a slope without the weeds growing through it?........Terry

  • yossarian

    I planted 3 Sweet Autumn Clematis bareroots this past May from Wayside. We have a little growth -- 4-5 feet, but only 3 or so stems per plant, and so it looks a little scraggly. And there have not been any flowers. Is that normal for the first year?

  • blizzma

    we planted sweet autumn. this spring. and its covered with flowers. but they dont smell. do you have to wait a few years for the smell?

  • PotterHead

    Planted mine two summers ago, I was all excited about it finally blooming this fall. It lasted a whole 3 weeks.....was not impressed with scent at all either!
    I have mine in front of the house where it gets all of the sun...not too attractive until it blooms and it only does for 3 weeks!??? Rip off......i'm thinking about ripping it out and replacing with a spring/summer bloomer - any suggestons????

  • alison

    Are the roots shaded? It seems to prefer that. Rich, loamy soil and some shade. (Altho my soil's actually pretty poor.)

    I think three weeks is about all it blooms. I've never had more than that, but it's worth it for me.

    I think there must be some out there that don't have a scent; I know some people down the street have a plant that looks identical to mine, growing in similar conditions, that blooms at the same time -- but absolutely no scent. I don't know if it's actually a different plant or not -- could it be that some plants simply don't smell? Kinda like a bad mutation?

    I think mine looks great year round. It grows so fast in the spring, and has such rich color, and is very dense; it looks wonderful even when it's just the leaves. And I love the silvery seedheads; I leave mine up all winter to screen the bathroom window and give the birds a place to hide out. then just cut it down to nearly the ground in March.

    It sounds like you have a bum plant. The only other clematis I've ever been really happy with is "Comtesse du Bouchard" (sp?) I never got a lot of blooms at one time, but it seemed to always have a few. Unfortunately I had it in full sun and it always seemed a bit washed out. (I think baking all day was a little stressful!)

    Check out the clematis forum; they've got loads of advice, and can even recommend good companion plants.

  • Nan35

    April in Syracuse (Home of NCAA Basketball champs, by the way), and I am doing the first yard clean-up. My sweet autumn clematis has been a source of joy for about six years, but I have yet to figure out the best way/time to prune. My garden expert advises cutting back completely in the spring, but by the time I get to it, there is lots of green growth on high and long stems....and I am too chicken to cut it all back. Is there a correct way????

  • gardeningangel_z6

    I posted this on the clematis forum --so far only one follow-up--.Here in Ark. there's a native clematis which looks a lot like Sweet Autumn,but is not fragrant.Also it blooms earlier.It's L.virginiana,and called Virgin's Bower. I have one growing by our well house ,along with a native honeysuckle-L.flava,and a tender kiwi I grew from seed.The kiwi has survived several winters here!!

  • kitova

    hi guys,

    i'm a (1 year) newcomer to the clematis and gardening in general, and i have to say that sweet autumn is one of the best for beginners! i got mine from a friend who had seedlings pop up in her yard. it was 8 inches when i planted it last june and now a year later it is 8 feet tall! plus, i tried to root 5 cuttings of which 1 survived the winter is is growing rapidly now. it's a wonderful vigorous carefree clematis and after reading this thread, i can't wait until the blooms come out this august!

  • gardeningangel_z6

    Now I(underline ' I ') ,have a sweet autumn clematis !!!!!!!!
    I bought it at Wal Mart awhile back ,along with SEVEN other clematis!!!!!!
    I put them all in gallon pots as instructed ,on the clematis forum.
    Lord knows where I'm going to plant them all this fall!!!!!!
    Marian.....in Arkansas

  • lindanc

    When is the time to cut back SAC? When is the time to take a cutting? I live in middle piedmont of NC. Thanks, Linda

  • curmudgeon

    Its a spectacular vine when it blooms, but remember, each of those blooms produce fetile seeds and within a few years, will own your garden.

  • alison

    You know, I've never really had much problem with that. In fact, I'm rather envious of all the people who say they have tons of volunteers!

    I've had a couple come up in odd spots, like between the cracks between the steps and the porch, or 6-7 feet away in a narrow little bed, but never more than a handful. (And I let the seeds blow all winter long, before I cut it down in March.)

    My problem is when I dig up the volunteers to tray and transplant them or give them away, I never seem to get enough of the root.

  • floridagirl

    I found the best time to cut back sweet autumn clematis is the first of march before the new growth starts. Also that is a good time to start some new cuttings. I root them in the winter in the greenhouse and they do just fine.The hard wood is the best to root. I cut pieces about 12 to 18 in. and just put it in good soil and they soon root.

  • growershower

    Hi All! Please be very careful if you're thinking about planting sweet autumn clematis. It is a VERY INVASIVE plant (at least here in Baltimore.) I am renovating a garden for a neighbor and spent the better part of 3 days removing huge mounds of this stuff from the garden/yard. There was a great deal of "dead wood" buried under the current year's growth. An 18 x 30 yard yielded 9, 39 gallon bags of debris. I was pleased to discover a brick edge that seperated the yard from the garden under all that. There are volunteer plants all over the neighborhood, I removed more from another neighbor's garden that was choking out the hollies. The flowers are beautiful and fragrant, but this one has to be watched like a hawk! Having said all this, there is still a sweet autumn clematis in my garden. :)

  • skete

    Just tuned in to this forum. I moved to Iowa in 1976 and bought a house. The people that had the house before me had been there 7 years and never mowed much less planted anything. The people before them had lots of flowers. There was a small spindly vine growing in the plants on the north side of the house. I thought it was a weed so I kept pulling it up, breaking it off, etc for several years. It kept coming back so finally I decided to plant it on the south side of the house beside the porch and see what happened. It is now a large beautiful sweet autumn clematis. I cut it back sometimes in the fall, sometimes in the spring. Sometimes it gets watered, sometimes it gets fed. It has nevered "invaded" as others have said and it smells just beautiful. I love it. This plant is somewhere between 30-50 years old. It also has to live next to 2 very large pine trees to the east of it so it does not get morning sun.


  • ademink

    I know this is an old thread but just had to throw in my love of the SAC!!! I also have it all over my yard, volunteers, transplants, you name it! It smells heavenly, I've NEVER had ANY signs of disease or pests and it will grow in shade or sun, through the worst winters and hottest summers - I LOVE IT! :) Highly recommended! (By the way, Skete, the original vine is around 50 years old also :)

  • tommyc

    NONE of the linking image pages are working. Anyone know one that works?

  • ethancote

    Can someone shed some light into my situation. I found this thread while doing a google search.

    I too have this clematis for a good 2 years but I made the error of cutting it back to about an inch off the ground during the fall last year. This year, I have not seen any new growth coming out of it. I live in zone 5.

    It is now mid May and yet no sign of growth. Is it dead? Now I read around before cutting any clematis since I also made the same error with 2 other clematis. I cut the stems which I thought was dead but were not upon closer inspection.

    Should I try digging up the roots to take a look? Any suggestions would be grealy appreciated.



  • foofna

    I'm confused. I've seen what I thought was SAC also called Virgins Bower, terniflora, maximowicziana and paniculata. Are they all one in the same? Is one fragrant and one not? One invasive and one not? Does anyone have a definitive answer? Please help!

  • alison

    Chi -- I always hate to give up on clematis. Mine old plant broke dormancy pretty late this year as well. Cutting back to an inch might be a bit drastic; now that mine has a significant amount of wood at the base, I cut it off at about 10-12" I don't know if it makes any difference, but I don't cut mine off until early March. Maybe there is a chance the stumps rotted under now cover?

    foofna -- I've always heard that terniflora, maximowicziana and paniculata are all different names for the same plant. Virgin's bower is one of those names that is applied to several plants; most specifically C. flammula, which is also fragrant. Looking at the pictures and reading the descriptions, they sound exactly alike. But I found a few sites that list the flammula and one of the others as seperate plants. So....

    What complicates it even more is that sometimes, you'll get a plant that just isn't fragrant, even if the variety usually is. If you can, buy something like that in bloom, so you can check it out.

  • catsmom6

    I just bought one of these at Lowe's for $8.00. It was kinda pot bound so it was 1/2 price. I planted it with a Jeanne la Joie rose to grow up my trellis. Is it going to be ok there and not kill my rose, do you think? It's already looking pretty healthy.



  • alison

    Just had to post some pictures of my clematis. Unfortunately, the old guy (8-9 years?) didn't do very well this year; in the past it's completely covered this fire escape, and grown up another trellis up to the roof of the building.

    Luckily, a 3-year old "volunteer" is doing quite well. I'm glad my neighbors enjoy it, since there's nearly as much plant on their side of the fence!


    Between the clematis, the royal standard hosta, the jasmine and the citrus blooming, it smells fantastic right now!

  • Vicky5

    does anyone know of a place in Indiana that sells this clematis? I am assuming Sringtime would be the best time to plant? I have a beautiful large pergola my husband built me, and I have a wistera growing up one side, and would like to plant two to three clematis on the other end so that they it will always be blooming. The Autumn joy I have seen here in northern Indiana. Can anyone suggest two other varieties to plant with it?


  • grammahony

    Here's mine. Growing up some chicken wire on my deck at the cabin. I love this one. It does soooo well, despite the neglect. It never fails me. And it smells soooo good.

  • aunt_millie

    I was glad to find this thread. I bought a house with Sweet Autumn growing on the back fence and didn't know what is was for a couple of years. Now I know-and since I have not cut it back in four years is has devoured a 6 foot by 50 foot fence. The roots look more like tree trunks. Does anyone think it will be possible to dig this up and relocate it? In fact I think there is more than one plant in there and would like to spread them out a little, do you think I will have success?

  • sandiburford

    I would LOVE to have some seeds/starts of SWEET AUTUM CLEMATIS. Does anyone have any to spare??? Will pay postage..send SASE. Which ever you prefer..please & thank you. :-)
    Contact me at missusdh@hotmail.com or reply here.


  • michi81

    I was sent two plants from a trade of mine for free. Man! I am excited to see what happens with them. I planted them next to two trellis'. great!! I am looking forward to seeing what happens.

  • milehighgarden

    I wish my sweet autumn clematis would bloom. I have a 3 year old plant which receives morning to late afternoon sun. Its roots are shaded by a retaining wall from the hot, late afternoon sun. I am in zone 5 but so is my mother-in-law and her SAC blooms profusely. The first year deer ate it off to the ground so last year I covered it with a sheet at night. I did prune it back as suggested. The foliage appears disease free and is robust. Any suggestions on why it does not bloom.

  • helenh

    I have not read all of these posts, but what I've read has all been positive. This is an invasive vine that will come up all over your yard. It will smother shrubs. Blister beetles love it and in rainy weather it will get ugly leaves. I have it climbing all over and I do not like it even though it does smell good.

  • ben_lurkin

    I have been searching the web trying to identify a wild clematis in my yard and came across this thread. A thread that has been going for eight years.

    Tonight I have learned that there are several similar species and some are known by several names.

    Clematis terniflora has at least two synonyms:Clematis maximowicziana and Clematis paniculata. And at least three common names: Sweet Autumn Clematis, Sweet Autumn Virgin's Bower, Japanese Clematis. It is a native of Japan and in some areas is an invasive weed. In other areas it is loved like most on this thread love it.

    There several similar species called Sweet Autumn and virgin's bower. But, vary in number of leaflets water and light requirements. Some have no odor, some have complete flowers and some male and female flowers are on different plants.

    In western US the native Clematis ligusticifolia is very similar. Same rambunctious growth habit and similar scent. There are at least three cultivors of this species.

    One of them is naturalized here in Missouri. I am now searching to determine which I have.

  • richard2768

    Hello everyone: I am a new to the SAC ! I got a small 1/2 gallon SAC this summer" July 2008", planted and its in bloom right now " beautiful 100's of tiny white flowers but no scent" no perfume, I bought it not only cause the showy flowers but more for the sweet aroma, and mine doesnÂt have the aroma, any one can give me a hint? Why mine doesnÂt have the sweet smell? I got mine from a very reputable seller on my area ERIE PA,
    Thanks very much in advance.

  • ohio_gal

    My SAC has outgrown & broken its puney trellis! The problem is its vines are wound in and out and throughout the trellis openings. I never have cut it back much at all in the spring, just cleaned it up a bit. Much of the lower vines/branches are thick and woody. How and when should I attempt to cut it back enough to be able to replace the current trellis with something much more substantial??

  • Della Ortiz

    My Sweet Autumn looks like it is dying the bottom is turning brown frist the leaves turned yellow we thought it was getting to much water we live in Denver and for the frist time in a long time we are getting rain all most every day now the bottom is browning what can we do have we lost are beautyful clematis Help.

  • alison



  • violetsnapdragon

    Old thread--I see. But....I was over at Dave's Garden and people there were FREAKING OUT about how invasive this plant is. I was wondering, since it is recommended for sun to shade conditions if the gardeners who have it in shade have less of an invasive issue?

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