Climbers for covering the house (and elsewhere)

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Updated 27th April 2015

Covering the house (or garage, or shed, or fence or …) with plants
Clinging climbing plantscl
Twining climbing plants
Climbing plants needing tying
Planting climbers for success
Training climbing plants for best effectpc
Supports for climbing plants
Which climbing plants for which walls?

1. Covering the house (or garage, or shed, or fence or …) with plants

Do you hanker after romantic climbing roses around your door or an exuberant growth of Wisteria curtaining your walls? Or do you favour the more disciplined approach, with regimented branches of blossom followed by fruit? Whatever you choose, there’s nothing like a covering of plants for integrating a building into its surroundings. But remember to be practical too. Which climber will like the site? What is the plant to climb up? How will it climb? Will it need pruning and how will you do this once it’s grown up, up and away? Leaning out of upstairs windows is not to be recommended.
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Clinging climbing plants

Although these can get out of hand, you don’t have to climb up to bring them back to earth. Just cut through major stems at a low level and let them put out new shoots from there.

Because ivies can withstand poor and dry soils, they are ideal for planting at the base of a house wall. Ivy clings onto rough surfaces with ease, but can loosen poor material so only choose these plants for walls in good condition. Large-leaved types romp up walls, but can be just as quickly ripped down by high winds, whereas the small-leaved compact types mince their way upwards and outwards. A browse through a brochure will illustrate the choice of vigour, leaf shape and colour available.
Another clinger is the climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris). It loses its leaves in winter, but shows off with large creamy-white flowerheads in early summer. If it begins to take up too much space, prune it immediately after flowering to ensure more flowering stems can develop over the remainder of the growing season. Prune it in the spring and you’ll remove all its flowering potential.

Parthenocissus ivies consist of Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata – unrelated to the common ivies (Hedera), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and Chinese Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus henryana). These are also able to support themselves. Grown for their rich autumn colours, these are only suitable for those of you with 50 foot or more of wall to spare, unless you’re happy to nip them in the bud.
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Twining climbing plants

In the same way as clingers, these can get out of hand, but you can deal with them the same way too – cut them off low down and let them resprout.

Plants such as honeysuckle (Lonicera), Clematis, Wisteria, vines and hops all twine their stems or tendrils around supports, but not all are suitable for a house wall. Honeysuckle  and some forms of Clematis make very bushy growth with thick woody stems, soon becoming ugly unless pruned correctly. Let these ramble over a pergola or porch instead. Many Clematis are very suitable for house walls though, including the large-flowered hybrids which limit themselves to 8-15ft in height – far more manageable than the 20-40ft of many of the smaller flowered species (recognisable by their two Latin names).
Pruning Clematis is easy. Those flowering from late spring to early summer needn’t be pruned; those flowering from mid-summer onwards (ie on growth produced in spring) should be pruned to within 3ft of the ground in late winter. Those labelled as dual-purpose can be left alone for early flowering, or pruned in late winter to delay flowering until late summer.
Decorative grape vines (Vitis) are also a possibility if you have a lot of wall to cover. They give good autumn colour and, if the summer is hot, bunches of grapes too. The Russian vine (Fallopia baldschuanica) is best avoided though, unless you really want something that grows 20ft per year, every year, with no idea of when to stop. Wisteria is another plant that doesn’t know when to stop, but its spectacular flowers in May make up for this failing. Plant this where you’ve enough wall to do justice to it, but only if you are prepared to prune twice a year. Not any old pruning – but careful shortening of side shoots (leaving 2-3 buds) in late winter and, in summer, cutting back of leafy shoots (to 4-6 leaves) immediately after flowering. Otherwise you’ll have a leafy curtain hiding the beautiful flowers.

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Climbing plants needing tying

Some climbers need some help, such as so-called climbing roses, which are able to hook themselves on and over other plants in natural settings. But if you are thinking of covering a wall or other structure, you will have to tie them in, otherwise they will develop into an untidy heap.

Climbing roses are so popular because they flower for most of the summer, unlike most other climbers that have one brief burst of colour. Not all roses flower repeatedly though – so read the plant labels or catalogues carefully before choosing. And make sure that you dead-head and feed the plant regularly to maintain a long-lived show. A good framework of branches is also essential for a good display, so brush up on your pruning knowledge and get it right.

Ornamental and edible fruit trees and shrubs are also ideal for growing against the house, with the storage radiator effect of sun-warmed walls protecting blossom from frost and helping to ripen fruit. If you fancy an orchard on your walls, then have a look at one of the RHS’s book on fruit (including top fruit such as apple, pear, cherry, peach, apricot, culinary quince) for inspiration and information.

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Planting climbers for success

  1. Thoroughly water the plant 24 hours before planting – leaving it in soak for an hour or so will not harm it
  2. Excavate a generous planting hole and refill with John Innes no.3 potting compost
  3. Plant at least a foot out from the wall, and make sure that the soil surrounds the roots firmly
  4. Include a watering tube in the planting hole, placed vertically with the open end above soil level to avoid blockages
  5. Pour in plenty of water (a couple of gallons) every week during spring and summer to help the plant establish in its first year. Water during subsequent droughts too
  6. Clematis prefer cool roots, so shade them if necessary, using a loosely placed paving slab.

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Training climbing plants for best effect

Remember that horizontal growth encourages plenty of flowering side shoots, so tie stems of woody plants into position when they’re young and pliable. Then you’ll have a beautiful show plus good coverage of the wall. Left to their own devices, most plants tend to grow straight up, rather than out, and flower only at the top.
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Supports for climbing plants

Choose either trellis, wires strained between vine eyes, or use individual fixings for tying plant stems to brickwork or wood. Whichever you use, lean a cane from the plant to the first support to lead the climber upwards. Remove the cane when it’s no longer needed. Wire stretched between vine eyes provides an unobtrusive support. Choose the correct vine eyes for hammering into mortar joints or for screwing into a wall plug in brickwork. Stretch galvanised wire (16 gauge for light material, 12-14 gauge for heavy fruiting plants and windy sites) between them and thread it through intermediate fixings to prevent sagging. Use wire tensioners to take up the slack. Place wires parallel to the ground at intervals of about 2 ft. Trellis is decorative in its own right, making it useful for supporting plants which drop their leaves in winter and expose the walls. Choose an appropriate colour and place the sections in an attractive pattern to enhance the wall. Use spacers to ensure air circulation between the wall and plant. To maintain access for painting, screw trellis onto battens and hinge the base so that the support plus the plant can be swung down and away from the wall.

Tie plants to supports using one of the many designs of tie available in unobtrusive black or green. Use a figure of eight of twine or wire around the stem and the support so that the stem is not tied flat against the support. More substantial wall ties and fixings have a spacer included to stop the stem being damaged.
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Which climbing plants for which walls?

North-facing:

Ivy – evergreen clinger
Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris)– clinger
Clematis– some types – twiner
Cotoneaster – not a climber but woody and self-supporting, so prune and train new growths by tying into place
Euonymus fortunei – green-leaved types – evergreen, not a climber but woody and self-supporting, so prune and possibly tie in place
Firethorn (Pyracantha) – evergreen, not a climber but woody and self-supporting, so prune and possibly train by tying into place
Morello cherry – some types – not a climber but woody and self-supporting, so prune and train by tying into place
Rose – choose those that can tolerate the lack of direct sun, eg ‘Aloha’ (pink), ‘Danse de Feu’ (red), ‘Gloire de Dijon’ (yellow), ‘Handel’ (cream with pink margins) – unless they are able to grow through another plant, their thorns are not enough to support them, so tie in

South-facing:

This is the easiest aspect to plant up – most climbers and wall plants thrive against a south-facing wall or fence, but do check the requirements of particular cultivars.
Actinidia kolomikta (twiner)
Ceanothus – most are evergreen, not a climber but woody and self-supporting, so prune and train new growths by tying into place
Clematis– some types – twiner
honeysuckle -ties&cate=456&hilo=hi” title=”Compare honeysuckles from the Gardening Masterclass shop”>honeysuckle (Lonicera)

West-facing:

Clematis (twiner)
Cotoneaster – not a climber but woody and self-supporting, so prune and train new growths by tying into place
Euonymus fortunei – green and variegated types – not a climber but woody and self-supporting, so prune and possibly tie in place
honeysuckle -ties&cate=456&hilo=hi” title=”Compare honeysuckles from the Gardening Masterclass shop”>honeysuckle (Lonicera) – twiner
Ivy (evergreen clinger)
Morello cherry (tie in)
Rose (tie in)
Top fruit (tie in)
Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) (tie in)

East-facing:

Ivy (evergreen clinger)
Clematis – some (twiner)
Climbing hydrangea (clinger)
Cotoneaster (tie in)
Euonymus fortunei – green and variegated types (evergreen, tie in).
honeysuckle (Lonicera) – twiner

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