They decorate low walls, beautifully adorn façades or give colour to a porch. Very handy, climbing plants come in several species of which the leaves and flowers are each more beautiful than the next. They bring a real exotic touch to a garden. These plants, available in containers, can be found in garden centres and are planted from September to April. Regardless of whether they are perennials or annuals, they will decorate the mesh nicely and embalm your garden with their fragrance.

The name “climbing plants” includes a variety of plant species in the form of creepers. Some of these plants naturally resort to root suckers to cling to their stakes. Others use tendrils or wrap themselves around their stakes. Some of the so-called climbing plants require hooks or clips to hold them against their support.

Planting climbing plants

The majority of climbing plants now available in garden centres are packaged in containers. This facilitates their planting, which can be done all year except during periods of drought, high heat or frost. Fall planting is recommended. No special preparation is necessary. Just take care to break up the planting hole’s bottom. In case of heavy or clay soil, make sure you lay down a four-inch (10 cm) thick layer of gravel at the hole’s bottom. Tile or clay pot debris can also do the trick. Enrich the soil removed from the hole with peat, potting soil or heath soil.

Soak the rootball in a bucket of water before planting. Untangle the roots that are too large and wound in a bun. Set up the root ball by slightly tilting it towards the stake. Put the plant in the ground without damaging the root ball, and by burying the stem at a depth of 4 inches (10 cm). This stem will produce new roots and give the plant more vigour. Backfill the soil and tamp it in the shape of a basin to retain irrigation water. Afterwards, water thoroughly.

A sturdy stake

It is recommended to set up the stake well before planting. It must be sturdy, because some climbers like wisteria tend to tighten becoming woody with age. If the support is fragile, it may break. It is advised to cover the plant’s base with shards of clay, or to mulch it during recovery in order to avoid excessive evaporation.

Maintenance of climbing plants

In general, these plants can be pruned as soon as they are planted, when their height is about 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm), the exceptions being clematis and passion flowers. Given that species and varieties are numerous, and that their behaviours differ, it is better, when in doubt, to refer to the explanatory text included with the plant.

Climbing plants generally position themselves so that their head faces the sun and their base is kept in the cool. Most are frugal by nature. Thus, apart from the amendment at planting, no fertilizer is needed unless the soil is extremely depleted. However, the plant will benefit from an occasional supply of compost or slow release fertilizer. Hoe in the ground at the plant’s base, and water regularly, especially during periods of drought. Some plants, such as clematis, may require an annual supply of complete fertilizer at the start of vegetation.

Training is especially useful during the early years to form the plant. Use raffia ropes to guide them on their support. Early training can be carried out on species like wisteria which tend to wrap themselves around their support.

Climbing plants include such a wide array of species that it is difficult to generalize the pruning instructions. Perennials, such as clematis, need their current year’s shoots to be lopped in late winter. Other climbers only need a simple cleaning and a light pruning of branches in the fall. Ordinarily, a plant that blooms in spring is trimmed just after flowering (autumn), while a plant that blooms in summer is pruned in winter to stimulate the following flowering.

Selection of climbing plants

Climbing plants are convenient to hide unwanted elements in the landscape, such as posts or mounds. Species and varieties are chosen for their foliage, their bloom, their fruit or their fragrance. They are also chosen on the basis of the orientation and sun exposure. If the Virginia creeper or the honeysuckle prefer a façade exposed to the east, Solanum and Ipomoea feel better when facing south.

On the other hand, wisteria and climbing roses are planted facing west. While most climbers that decorate buildings are woody plants, there also is a wide range of herbaceous annual climbing plants (Ipomoea, sweet peas, nasturtium). They are sown each year in the greenhouse before being transplanted in the garden to brighten it up during spring and summer.

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Published in Flower guide by Alexander on 06 Jul 2011