Climbing plants can be one of the most impressive plants in the garden. Understanding how they grow and what their natural tendencies are can reward year with great displays of flowers, foliage and even fruit with just a small amount of effort.
What Are Climbing Plants?
A distinct group of plants evolved naturally to scramble and produce longer stems in order to compete with other plants for light and air.
The energy taken in by climbing plants all goes toward producing vigorous shoots that in most cases aren’t strong enough to support themselves. To counter this, climbers utilise support from other objects, plants, trees and structures.
In a garden setting, climbers can introduce height and interest by growing up and along walls, fences which would otherwise be bare. Freestanding structures like obelisk and arches can have climbers trained up them.
Climbers are also particularly good at providing a backdrop in the form of a mass of foilage for other planting or concealing parts of the garden by growing up sheds or trellis that act as dividers.
Types Of Climbing Plants
There is a whole plethora of species and varieties of climbing plants and there is always an option of having one even with limited space. There are both annual climbers and perennial climbers so they don’t have to be a permanent feature
Different climbing plants utilise different methods to support themselves when climbing up structures.
This can range from simply having long stems that drape over nearby objects to plants that have specialised parts such as aerial rootlets that allow them to cling to walls with no support.
These considerations along with size, position and required conditions will help you find the right climbing plant for your garden so let’s first take a look at how climbers attach themselves to support
Many climbers do not have specialised means of climbing but simply grow particularly long shoots that drape and rest on the structure they are climbing. Eventually, with enough growth, they can climb a suitable support with only a small amount of input from the gardener.
Rambling or climbing rose are a type of scrambling plant, they do need tying into supports at times but their prolific growth will enable them to cover large areas. Rambling roses are often grown over trees and many have thorns which help them hook onto objects.
Names of Scrambling Plants
- Climbing Roses
- Rambling Roses
Twining & Tendril Climbers
These types of climbers use shoots, leaves and leaf-stalks to wrap around stems, wires, poles and pillars to support themselves. These specialised shoots essentially tie the plant into the support without the need for intervention, although some guidance as to the direction to grow will be needed.
Types of Twining Plants
- Hop Vine
- Dutchman’s Pipe
Types of Tendril Plants
- Grape Vine
- Sweet Peas
Some climbing plants have evolved clinging aerial roots along their stems or adhesive pads that allow them to cling to trees, walls, masonry, fences and other flat surfaces without any additional support.
English Ivy is a good example of a plant with clinging roots along their stems. This allows the plant to cling to a wall where the stems contact it. These aerial roots do not draw moisture or nutrients and are simply to anchor the plant into the structure.
Types of Clinging Plants
- English Ivy
- Boston Ivy
- Climbing Hydrangea
- Virginia Creeper
Evergreen, Semi-Evergreen & Deciduous Climbing Plants
Depending on the type of setting you are trying to create you may want to choose an evergreen climber or a plant that will drop its leaves.
Evergreen climbers will provide a green backdrop all year round, even in the depths of winter. A more tender climber that will drop its leaves during the winter but will likely have an abundance of flowers or foilage providing colour and interest for part of the year.
Along with these, there are some semi-evergreen climbers that depending on the conditions may retain some of their leaves.
Depending on the climate you live in there may be a choice of either within the same species such as honeysuckle or clematis which has varieties that are evergreen as well as deciduous.
English ivy, Boston ivy, passionflower some species of honeysuckles, clematis, jasmine
Climbing hydrangea, wisteria, grapevines, hop vines, Virginia creeper most roses, clematis, honeysuckle,
Routine Tasks & Training Climbing Plants
The routine tasks involved in growing climbers isn’t all that much. Depending on the vigourousness of the climber you have you may need to focus more on pruning, especially for plants like Ivy growing on masonry.
Starting New Climbers
Guiding the new growth on a young climbing plant is essential to getting the best shape, coverage and direction of growth.
In general, the new shoots of a young climbing plant should be spread out in a fan shape and tied into the nearest support. This allows plenty of air and light into the base of the plant and encourages the plant to cover the full spread of support provided rather than forming a column up the middle.
For tendriled or twining climbers this will guide the new growth onto the supports and allow the tendril or shoot to take hold, further growth will support itself.
Other climbers like roses or scrambling plants will need tying in periodically to guide and support the new growth.
Aim to guide some growth horizontally rather than straight up and this will encourage more flowers on the new growth that comes from these horizontal branches.
If you are growing a climber up a column or obelisk try and spiral the climber around the structure rather than straight up to achieve the best impact and a more productive plant.
Tying in fragile new shoots needs care as tendril and twining plants, in particular, can be easily damaged by rough handling.
Periodically Check Ties
It is a good idea to check ties every once in a while.
Make sure there are no ties constricting growth or stems, any ties that have come loose can be retied and any new ties that might be needed can be added.
Cutting Back Congested Growth
Climbers natural habit means they produce a lot of stems and a lot of growth in an effort to find support and climb upwards.
This means a plant can quickly become congested over the course of a year or two and this prevents air from getting into the centre of the plant.
Cutting back congested growth with a particular focus on removing crossing stems that are likely to rub together will improve light, airflow and result in a much healthier plant.
Removing Dead or Diseased Growth
If you spot diseased or dead growth this should be removed as soon as possible to clear space for airflow and prevent the further spread of any disease.