Climbers are plants that have some means of supporting themselves to reach greater heights, either tendrils, curling leafstalks, adventitious rots or by twining. Some shrubs and roses are classed as climbers when they are trained up and tied in to artificial supports.

The site and the function of the climber will determine the type you can grow. Some climbers such as roses and clematis can be trained to grow through trees and other shrubs to give contrast in flower colour or to extend a flowing season by flowering when the tree has finished. Be careful what variety of climber you use though, some of the vigorous plants like clematis Montana or the Russian vine (Polygonum baldschuanicum) will quickly swamp the tree and even possibly kill it. Some climbers such as Ivy (hedera sp.) can make a good ground cover if left to grow with no supports. Many climbers such as Virginia creeper (Parthonesiccus quinquefolia) are just grown for their dense foliage rather than the flowers.

Buying climbers

Most climbing plants are sold as container grown. When choosing, check that there is growth at the base of the plant rather than at the top. It is much better to have one with short, strong shoots than one with long bare stems with shoots at the top.


As they are usually grown in containers they can be planted at any time of the year.

Good soil preparation is vital, especially if planting against a wall. (The soil in the vicinity of a house wall is usually the driest part of the garden as the rain does not penetrate past the eaves of the house). Because climbers are such vigorous growers they need all the moisture and nutrients they can get. Prepare the planting area 4 ft square by double digging and incorporating as much organic matter(either well rotted compost or manure) as possible. Supplement this organic matter with a generous feed of a general fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone.

Most plants will need to be planted to the same depth as they were grown in the pot ie. The soil at the same level. One exception to this is clematis. These need to be planted 4 - 6 inches (10 - 15cm) deeper than they were in the pot. This helps to combat a disease that clematis are prone to called 'clematis wilt'.

If planting to grow up a wall, make the planting hole a foot or so out from the wall and angle the plant back towards the wall. Provide temporary supports such as canes to train the plant towards the wall and the supports. Tie in if needed with soft twine.

After planting water well then mulch the area generously to help conserve moisture.


Watering - Most climbers will only need to be watered in very dry, hot weather. Climbers that are planted against a wall that is sheltered from rain by eaves will require extra watering.

Feeding - If the soil was well prepared at planting, the plant will only require a dressing of general fertiliser, usually applied in the spring.

Cutting back - Self clinging climbers may need cutting back if grown on a wall and they invade a window space. This can be done with shears at any time of the years but is probably best done in the spring.

Pruning - Climbers usually require pruning annually to improve their flowering. They can be basically be divided into two groups, the early flowering plants that need to be dead headed and pruned immediately after flowering, and the later flowering plants that need to be pruned the following spring. The chart below shows plants in each group.

Early Flowering Climbing Plants Later Flowering Climbing Plants
The plants in this group should be cut back or pruned immediately after flowering. The plants in this group should be cut back in the spring.
Clematis Montana
Clematis macropetala
Clematis 'The President'
Summer Jasmine
Clematis jackmanii
Clematis 'Ville de Lyon'
Clematis 'Hagley Hybrid'
Trumpet Vine
Russian Vine
Winter Jasmine
Chilean Glory Vine


Climbers basically fall into three categories. These are:-

Self-Clinging - Plants in this group will naturally attach themselves to a wall etc. and need little, if any, training. Simply point them in the direction of the wall and they will do the rest. Examples of plants in this group are Ivies (Hedera sp.) and Virginia Creeper (Parthonesiccus quinquefolia).

Twining Climbers - The plants in this group will need some sort of support system. This can be either a trellis, netting or training wires. All the plants in this group may need some assistance when first planted by tying in new shoots to the support but once the plants get growing they will attach themselves. Plants such as Honeysuckle and Wisteria will twist themselves around the support while plants such as Clematis will hold themselves up by entwining their leaf stalks around the support to hold the stems away from it. Plants such as the Chilean Glory Vine are equipped with tendrils which attach themselves to the supports and pull the plant upwards.

Wall shrubs - The plants in this category are not strictly climbers at all but they can be trained to grow upwards on supports. Roses fall into this group and are often grown up a wall or pergola. Other plants in this group that can be used as climbers are cotoneaster and firethorn.

None of the plants in this group have any way of supporting themselves, so will need to be tied in on a regular basis as the plant grows.

Whatever form of support you decide on, make sure that it is sturdy, and, if against a wall, is securely fastened to the wall. Some of the very fast growing plants such as Russian Vine can be a considerably weight when fully grown and can easily pull trellis away from its mounting points if not securely fastened.

© copyright 1999, P. A. Owen

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