How do climbers hang on?

As the weather has turned bitterly cold, nothing new is coming into flower just now, so I have decided to start looking at the way plants grow and their possible uses in the garden.

From time to time, I get asked for recommendations for a climber that don’t need support. This may sound like a contradiction in terms until you think of ivy. So does that mean that all climbers that need support hang on in the same way? No – read on.

So let’s start with ivy. Ivy makes aerial roots which attach themselves to the surfaces they find, usually a wall or fence. There are other climbers that use the same methods such as euonymus (a shrub but which will cling to an upright surface) or climbing hydrangeas (for example H. petiolaris). All these may need a little encouragement to make a start – I put a cane to trap any growth against a fence and the plant soon gets the idea and off it goes. Parthenocissus (Virginia creeper and Boston ivy) use suckers to achieve the same effect and need similar encouragement when newly planted.

Next come the plants with tendrils such as sweet peas and vines. The tendrils are touch sensitive and will curl round anything they come into contact with; this can be a trellis, netting or the stem of a host plant.

Many climbers support themselves by twining their stems around a support – honeysuckles and wisteria use this method. Some twist clockwise; others twist anti-clockwise so if your climber doesn’t seem to want to twist one way on the support you provide for it, try it in the opposite direction. A single wire or post is sufficient for these if you want them to grow straight up, but again use trellis or netting and fan the stems out if you want them to cover a wider area.

Clematis use sensitive leaf stems to wrap around their support (even other clematis stems while your back is turned!) which seems like a very efficient method. I find that training stems horizontally at first and then letting them climb is a good way of ensuring they cover a wide area and if the stems are tied in diagonally as well, it encourage even more prolific flowering.

The final group use thorns, hooks, spines and bristles to hang on. This is a less efficient method for attaching to an artificial support, but works well in the wild where the plant is clambering over other vegetation. Roses and brambles use this method and probably need more assistance in the garden by being tied to their support.

Once you know which method your climber uses, it s easy to work out what support (if any) it will need and how much help you need to give it.


2 thoughts on “How do climbers hang on?

  1. A very useful article and an enjoyable read too! Lots of helpful tips and advice for the next gardening year. Although, do gardens have ‘years’? Even today, the garden has a special wintry beauty that is every bit as lovely as on a summer’s day.
    Happy Christmas.


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