The Best Climbing Plants to Cover Your Garden Trellis

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I have written before about how trellises are essential to your garden layout to create height and divide spaces; a trellis takes a garden from flat to immersive. Once those trellises are up, finding the right plants to cover them becomes the next challenge. You want to choose plants that will grow enough to cover your trellis without being so aggressive you still have to constantly prune them. You also want to consider if you’d like the effect of the vining plant temporarily, permanently, or seasonally. 

Annual vines will cover a trellis without becoming a problem

An annual plant is only good for the season, and it will die at the end. Sometimes, these plants perennialize, meaning they could come back year to year. For instance, nasturtiums are a wonderful climbing plant if you chose the right variety (there are climbing nasturtiums and trailing nasturtiums) and train them. I use gardening Velcro tape to train the nasturtium shoots up any vertical surface, and they grow magnificently on a tunnel if you spend a little time training them at the beginning, weaving them through the tunnel in the direction you want them to go. 

For a noticeably short season, there is nothing that compares to sweet peas. Easy to start, easy to train, these climbing vines can crawl to almost nine feet and if you prune them correctly, will last a few months, bearing incredibly sweet-smelling flowers. The key to keeping the sweet peas alive that long is consistent deadheading. I am out every third day cutting sweet pea blossoms to prevent the plant from going to seed, but that means everyone around me always has a bouquet this time of year. 

Vining beans are aggressive climbers, but not so much that they will be a problem for your structure. At best, they survive three or four months, and can grow as tall as 12 feet. Start by ensuring you are growing pole beans and not bush beans. Traditional filet, haricot vert, or shelling beans all thrive on a trellis with some support. Each year I grow massive trellises of white cannellini beans and Greek Gigantes beans. Beans such as pole runners, which are often grown simply as hummingbird bait, have colorful flowers and grow prolifically. 

If you like petunias, you will like their lookalike vine thunbergia, also called black-eyed susan vine. A vigorous climber, I really like thunbergia for poles, using Velcro tape or a Slinky hung from the top of the pole to create support. A nice feature of this plant is that when it runs out of support, it flops over on itself instead of seeking out new structure. 

Perennial vines come back year to year

If you’re looking to cover a good amount of space and create a feature that will come back year after year, there are a wealth of options. The issue with perennial vines is that they keep growing. That means you must be careful about pruning and ensuring that they are not intruding on the structure they are trellised again, and that those trellises are winter hardy. 

Roses may seem pedestrian, but the last twenty years have seen an influx of designer roses, even in the climbing rose variety. They can be deeply scented, and colorful and climbing. I am particularly drawn to Floribunda roses, which look like peonies rather than a stereotypical rose. Roses require some attention because you need to really train and maintain them. They need specific food and specific pruning. But if you have the right space, few things are as majestic as a wall of roses. There are hundreds of varieties; depending on which of the three pruning groups a variety falls into, it can be extremely aggressive or less so. The flowers can look wildly different, from blooms that resemble lilies to tinier flowers that resemble jasmine. 

Of all the vines I’ve planted over the last ten years, the passionflower vine was the best choice. It grows aggressively, doubling in size year to year, and requires very sturdy trellising. But the flowers it produces are so interesting-looking and last year I was finally blessed with one picture perfect passionfruit. Passionflower would thrive on a wire wall trellis, but it is not the most winter hardy. 

Climbing hydrangea is a slow burn. It won’t grow fast, but it will reliably climb a trellis and spread over the years. What I enjoy about my climbing hydrangeas is that they consistently have a great cover of foliage in spring and summer without requiring a lot of care on my part. I never prune them. 

Grape vines are the ultimate climbing perennial. While they will, of course, produce grapes, they can form a gorgeous structure as well, providing edibles through the fruit and the leaves themselves. Grapes need a lot of care, and anyone who plants them needs to be vigilant about maintenance. The grapes themselves can also attract wildlife if you don’t pick the grapes and clean up the fallen ones. 

Evergreen vines have year-round foliage

More than just a perennial, evergreen vines will keep some foliage all winter long instead of all the leaves dropping. This opens up some interesting options for long-term vines in your yard. 

If you have a yard, that yard should have jasmine in it. While I’ve never been drawn to the artificial jasmine in perfume or candles, real jasmine is magical when you get a whiff of it at twilight, when it is most fragrant. A prolific growing vine, jasmine is surprisingly hardy through the winter, too. 

Once you realize you love hummingbirds, it is just a hop and skip to honeysuckle vines. If you buy different varieties, you can always have one in bloom all spring and summer. The flowers vary in color from yellow to red and blazing pink, and the trumpet-like flowers are a siren for birds and bees. Like jasmine, these plants need solid support throughout the year. 

One variety of clematis (clematis armandii) is evergreen. It’s a little harder to get ahold of, but if you can find it, this white-flowered vine will stay green through most of winter. 

Please don’t grow these vines

There are some vines you should avoid—not just for you, but your neighbors and the local environment. Some vines are just too aggressive to be unleashed in the wild, no matter how much you like them. 

Wisteria, though absolutely beautiful, will damage any structure it’s on. It is such an aggressive climber and can grow into attics and through your siding.

Only real jerks plant ivy. Almost all ivy will become invasive, choke out other native plants. A pervasive spreader, it’ll quickly become your neighbor’s problem. 

No one purchases kudzu, but it may pop up in your yard and is a serious problem across a growing part of the U.S. if you find it in your yard, you need to begin aggressively working to remove it entirely. In some place it is not even legal to keep it.

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