Climbing plant ivy
Whilst climbers are not always our most obvious choice of ‘go to’ plants for our gardens, this article looks at why these plants can be such positive additions to our green spaces and the role they play.

With a growing habit that belies what we originally envisioned from the plants we nurture, climbing plants can appear daunting.

That’s why some people may feel climbers are best left to the experts to make sure these plants do not become too unwieldy. Or we ourselves are forced to put extra effort into pruning correctly and providing trellises and ties to allow them to reach their full potential.

However, have you seen a more captivating flower than that of a passion fruit in full bloom or surrendered yourself to the evocative scent of honeysuckle in early summer?

This article looks at why climbing plants are such positive additions to our green spaces and helps us to understand them better and the role they play in our gardens.

  • For those with little garden space, climbers provide a good way of maximising what is available. Suddenly vertical elements of a garden are available for consideration, whether it be trellised fencing or a balcony, climbers give more scope to develop a garden plan
  • Climbers can conceal parts of the garden you may want to hide from view such as a dead tree trunk, dilapidated fencing or a worse for wear wall. By giving the space to climbers, you can instantly cover up something that would take time and effort to remove and in its place have a plant that can provide fascination and intrigue
  • Climbers can add further appeal to living plants. Many trees can benefit by having, for example, a rambling rose or clematis wrapped around their boughs
  • Ivy in particular can play an important role for insects visiting our gardens as it is one of the last flowers available to bees as winter draws in. There is plenty of cover and food, from the flowers and berries, for a host of other insects as well. And where you find insects, you will also find birds to feed on them who can then find nesting spots in a sturdy climber’s branches
  • Climbers can improve insulation to the walls of our houses and can have either a drying effect (by preventing damp getting to the wall and sucking out any moisture within the walls) or prevent damp from drying out on a wall (by preventing the wind and sun getting through to the wall itself)
  • Climbers lend themselves well to having cuttings taken from them - particularly semi-ripe cuttings in late summer or early autumn
Climbing plants clematis
  • Of all the tasks to be done in the garden, the one that can spark the most wonderment in both adults and children alike is propagation from cuttings. The fact we can take a cutting from one plant and use this to create a new plant that remains true to the original is something that for many of us never ceases to cause amazement
  • Climbers also offer children many opportunities to test their green fingers in a safe environment
  • Child friendly climbers include peas and beans. As well as involving the children in the planting process of seed sowing, you can also encourage them to observe the growing habits of these plants and how they like to reach up to get the most sunlight available. Whether it be a bean shoot winding itself around a bamboo cane or peas using their tendrils to grab hold of a makeshift support of old trellis and string. The added advantage here is that the children get to eat the results of their labour too
  • As with all planting schemes, make sure you choose plants that work for you rather than you having to work for the plants. If possible, avoid plants that need a lot of tying in but will be able to successfully climb unaided, such as ivy and euonymus
  • If you do find you want something to tie into a bamboo frame or trellis, there are options other than string you can use. Thin plastic-coated wire is one way of attaching your plant to the structure you are using or alternatively you can buy specialised clips for tomatoes which could possibly work on other thin stemmed climbers. Do remember not to tie your plants in too tight!
  • It may be advisable to avoid vigorous growers like wisteria that need a lot of cutting back during their growing period. Instead choose plants that adequately fit the space you have available. A climbing rose, once it has reached full size, needs very little strong pruning and, as an added advantage, sits at a manageable height to deadhead at a sitting or standing position
  • Plants climb because they are reaching towards the light and, because of this, many climbers can also function as ground cover in beds, therefore making less space for weeds to grow.
  • Consider using ‘cut and hold secateurs’ which work by holding on to the cut stem once used. This can then be put straight into your trugg or bucket without having to bend down later. There are a variety of other secateur options available on the Carry on Gardening website.

Adapted roots: An example of this is a climbing hydrangea which uses its roots to grab hold of and stick to walls as it works its way upwards. An important point to be aware of when removing ivy from the side of a wall is that it can hold on securely enough that it may also remove mortar as it’s pulled off.

Tendrils: Tendrils are in fact adapted leaves that reach out to ‘grab’ what is around them to secure the plant and pull it up.

Twining stems or petioles: This is where the stem of the climber wraps itself around the structure it is climbing. Wisteria and honeysuckle are both effective at this method of elevation.

Adhesion: These plants have remarkably alien looking adhesive pads that help them stick to what they are climbing. These are noticeable in Virginia creepers.

Climbing plants virginia creeper
Virginia creeper

Before planting, think about where you want your climber to grow. Plenty of sunlight is a consideration for climbers that require it such as wisteria or campsis radicans, so make sure these are placed on a south facing wall. The wall behind them will also work in your favour by conserving heat. North facing walls, or positions that have less direct sunlight, do well to have plants such as a climbing hydrangea or clematis attached. Both of these also require minimal pruning.

Planting into the ground is recommended but if you are growing on a balcony, planting in a pot will restrict root growth and therefore the size of the plant you are growing, which could work in your favour depending on the space you have available.

Make sure you provide plenty of nutrients by adding compost or manure to where you are planting, leave a good 30-40cm gap from the wall you are planting against and water your plants well after the first few months of getting them in.

Popular climbers

Below are some examples of popular climbing plants:

  • Jasmine
  • Ivy
  • Wisteria
  • Honeysuckle
  • Clematis
  • Climbing rose

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