Add Dimension With Climbing Plants and Wall Shrubs
Learn how to select and care for your climbing plants with this helpful guide.
There are many beautiful climbers and wall shrubs available and plants for both sun and shade, but whatever you choose, make sure you know how yours climb, and provide them with appropriate supports. When purchasing your plants, look for ones with lots of healthy stems, and remember to remove plastic or metal ties attaching them to their canes before planting.
Climbers have developed a range of methods by which they scramble up vertical surfaces, and understanding the one your chosen plant uses will help you to provide the right support for it. Twining climbers, such as clematis and honeysuckle, need trellis, wires or a large shrub or tree to cling to, while some vigorous climbers, including wisteria, become very heavy over time. Make sure the supporting structure will hold their eventual weight.
A self-clinging plant, such as ivy or Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus), will climb over a house wall without your help, but once established, these plants need to be cut back regularly and may damage gutters and downspouts.
Climbers have a variety of methods to cling to their hosts, from sticky pads to twining stems and tendrils. Read the labels on plants when you buy, or examine stems and shoots to decide what support they need. Even the self-clinging types will require some canes at first to guide the stems to their supports.
- Aerial roots: Self-clinging climbers, such as ivy and climbing hydrangea, use aerial roots to fix on to surfaces. Ivies will scramble over anything in their path, from trees and shrubs to walls, fences and posts.
- Hooks and thorns: Plants such as roses use hooks and thorns to latch onto taller plants. They will grow well through a host plant but will need to be tied to trellis or wires against a wall or on a structure like a pergola.
- Adhesive pads: Some self-clinging climbers, including Virginia creeper and Boston ivy, produce adhesive pads that stick the plants to their supports. They will need no other help from you after they have attached themselves.
- Twining stems or tendrils: Popular climbers, such as passion flowers and honeysuckle, thread their way through a host plant using twining stems or tendrils. Cover a structure, such as a fence or arch, with mesh or wires for them to cling to.
Covering Walls and Screens
To cover walls and fences, roses and twining climbers like clematis will usually need additional wire or trellis supports. If using trellis, attach two wooden slats to the vertical surface, and screw the trellis onto them. This creates an air space behind the trellis, which allows climbers to get a better grip.
When attaching horizontal wires, drill parallel sets of holes at 18 inches intervals up the wall or fence posts, and insert anchors into the holes (these are not required in wooden posts). Screw in vine eyes, and attach heavy-duty plastic-covered wire. Tighten the vine eyes to pull the wires taut. To encourage your climber to cover the surface evenly, spread the stems out, and attach them to the wires or trellis with soft twine. Rose stems flower more profusely when trained horizontally, so train as many as you can along the wires.
Wiring Up Posts
The posts of a pergola or arch are easy to wire up. Simply twist in four screw eyes on each side of the post at the top, and repeat at the bottom. Fix plastic-covered wires between them, and twist the eyes until the wires are taut. Alternatively, give climbers more support by wrapping wire or plastic netting around the posts and securing it with metal pins.
The flowers of climbing plants are eye-catching, but those with berries should not be under-estimated for late-season ornamental value and a long season of interest. Good choices include the glossy violet, red, pink, or white berries of Billardiera longiflora, which make an unusual garden feature, or the red, bead-like rose hips that stud the stems of rambling roses, such as Rosa ‘Seagull’ and R. ‘Albertine’, adding to their appeal after the flowers have faded.
Alternatively, choose Ampelopsis brevipedunculata, whose white berries shine like pearls before maturing to a rich purple-blue, or the bright orange, red or golden berries of wall shrubs such as Pyracantha, which will bring a splash of color to a gloomy corner.
Wall Shrubs for Year-Round Interest
Woody plants that can be trained on a wall or fence but have no ability to climb are known as wall shrubs. There are beauties for all seasons, with the blue-flowered Ceanothus, such as C. ‘Concha’, which bears abundant clusters of blooms, and the flowering quince, Chaenomeles, leading the way in spring.
In the summer the golden-yellow blooms of Fremontodendron ‘California Glory’ (flannel bush) will brighten up a sunny wall. Alternatively, try the dainty bell-like, pendent flowers of the evergreen Abutilon megapotamicum, or tender Carpenteria californica (tree anemone), with its fragrant, cup-shaped flowers.
Fall color comes in spades from the profuse berries of pyracanthas and cotoneasters, while winter is the time when the silky tassels of Garrya elliptica appear. The variegated evergreen foliage of Euonymus fortunei cultivars, such as E. f. ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’ and ‘Silver Queen’ are also useful in the winter, adding interest to a shady wall.
Climbers take a couple of seasons to fully establish and may need extra water during this time. Water every week during dry spells from early spring to fall; evergreens may need watering during the winter too. Turn the tap halfway on, and aim your hose at the base of the plant to thoroughly soak the root area. Alternatively, attach a rose to a watering can, and empty the whole can around the plant.
Each spring, apply a mulch of organic matter, such as well-rotted manure or garden compost, leaving a gap around the climber’s stems. If your soil is reasonably fertile, most plants will not require additional feeding once established. If growth is slow or your climber is lacking vigor, apply an all-purpose granular fertilizer in spring. Tie in young stems throughout the growing season to ensure supports are covered evenly.