Tips for Growing Climbing Plants

Most climbers are inherently vigorous as they scramble upward in pursuit of light. Learn how to choose the right climbers for your location.
Leafy Climbers

Leafy Climbers

Leafy climbers are the perfect plants to create a cool retreat. Here, ivy and hydrangea scale the house walls, softening the brickwork. Both are self-clinging, and need no additional supports.

Photo by: DK - Learn to Garden © 2008 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Learn to Garden , 2008 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Leafy climbers are the perfect plants to create a cool retreat. Here, ivy and hydrangea scale the house walls, softening the brickwork. Both are self-clinging, and need no additional supports.

However, woody varieties can take a few years to establish. Before they reach their required height and spread, you can fill the space with annual climbers for instant results. Sweet peas, morning glories, and climbing nasturtiums are all good choices for sunny sites, although the latter also tolerates some shade. Annual climbers are also useful for embellishing a vegetable garden, as their root systems are less invasive than those of woody or perennial plants, and they will not interfere with crop production. Sweet peas are ideal here, adding scent and encouraging pollinating insects, as well as providing a bonus crop of cut flowers.

Choosing Climbers 

While some climbers are quite small, reaching up to around head-height, others can extend to the top of large trees or over your house, so check the final heights of your chosen plants when making your plans. Also look for mature specimens in other people’s gardens or parks to see how they perform. 

To plant a few climbers together so that they intermingle, be sure their pruning requirements are compatible. A late-blooming large-flowered clematis, such as the dark purple ‘Jackmanii Superba’, makes a good match with one of the viticella types, such as the rich red ‘Mme. Julia Correvon’ or dark purple ‘Etoile Violette’, as both are pruned back to about 12 in (30 cm) in early spring. But neither makes a good match with early-flowering types, such as Clematis alpina, which can be left or pruned after flowering, from mid- to late spring. When pruning the late-flowering variety, you might remove the wrong stems and remove the flowers from your spring performer, too. Likewise, plant climbers with similar support requirements together; understanding how they climb will help you provide the best supports. 

Where to Plant Climbers 

In the wild, many climbers scramble up through trees and shrubs to the light at the top. To imitate these conditions in your garden, ensure that the climber has its head in the sun, and use other plants around its base to shade the roots. 

Climbers will also grow up established trees with light canopies, such as old fruit trees or robinias; light filters through the branches and encourages the climber to work its way up through the canopy. Good candidates for this type of display include rambling roses, such as blowsy pink ‘Albertine’ and creamy ‘Bobby James’, and summer-flowering, large-flowered clematis such as ‘Perle d’Azur’, which will start to bloom as the rose finishes. Around conifers, plant just outside the edge of the canopy, and use canes to guide the stems up to the lowest branches; plant a little closer to the trunk of deciduous trees. Try to plant on the windward side of the tree, so that unsecured young shoots are blown toward the stem. 

South-facing walls can be too hot for some climbers; choose a sun-lover, such as a passion flower, wisteria, trachelospermum, or a vine (Vitis). The soil will also be dry next to a sunny wall, so plant about 18 in (45 cm) away from it; then mulch in spring, and water in dry weather. 

Plant clematis and roses where they will receive the cooler morning or early evening sun, because both dislike the intense heat of a south wall, unless it is partially shaded.

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