Up, Up and Away with Climbing Vines

By Kerry Ann Mendez

Climbing vines contribute a valuable third dimension to a garden, an especially valuable component in small spaces or where tall blank walls cry out for decor.

In addition to creating an enchanting floral panel, they can also be highly functional, serving as privacy screens, hiding eyesores, or providing shelter from hot afternoon sun. But before you choose your long-legged beauty, you first need to know how it climbs. This will determine the type of support you need to give it. Is the plant a twiner, scrambler or clinger?

Twiners

One group of twiners wrap their stems entirely around a structure. These climbers vary in size, from pole beans to Wisteria (that can have massive stems). Other woody vines in this group include Actinidia (Hardy Kiwi Vine), Lonicera (Honeysuckle), and Aristolochia macrophylla (Dutchman's Pipe). All of these larger twiners need a substantial support, such as a chain-link fence, large trellis or arbor. When training new vines onto a support, look carefully to see which way the stem naturally wants to coil. If you try to train it in the wrong direction, it will just remain on the ground.

Other types of twiners use tendrils or leaf stalks (petioles) to twirl around slender supports such as chicken wire, netting, string, fishing wire or trellises. Clematis, Morning Glory and Thunbergia (Black-Eyed Susan Vine) are in this group. Most climbers fall in this category.

Clingers

These vines attach themselves to solid surfaces by aerial roots or adhesive discs. Potential supports include large trees, masonry surfaces, wood fences and other rough surfaces. Climbing Hydrangea, Schizophragma, Campsis (Trumpet Vine) and Hedera helix (English Ivy) fall into this group.

Scramblers or Ramblers

These plants don't actually climb on their own. They have long, flexible stems that can be tied to a support. Climbing roses fall into this category.

Estabrook's carries many varieties of climbing vines: woody, perennial and annual.

About the Author

KERRY ANN MENDEZ is an award-winning garden educator, author and design consultant based in southern Maine. Her latest book is The Budget-Wise Gardener. You'll now find her at Estabrook's consulting on garden design, answering your gardening questions and much more.

Kerry Ann Mendez