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Climbers and wall shrubs

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last updated Feb 19, 2014
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Wisteria is a good option to train against a wall. Image: RHS

Climbing plants and wall shrubs cover walls, fences, unsightly features, arches, obelisks and pergolas. True climbers take up little ground space, and are excellent choices for smaller gardens, whereas wall shrubs require more ground space. Popular plants are: clematis, roses, wisteria and honeysuckle.

Cultivation notes Back to top

Climbers have a natural tendency to climb and some will even self-cling, without requiring tying-in to supports. Wall shrubs, by contrast, do not naturally climb. If left alone, they bush outwards and grow like shrubs. With specific pruning and training techniques, they can be trained to grow against walls.

Choosing a climber or wall shrub

When choosing a climber or wall shrub it is important to consider several factors:

  • Aspect: Sun-loving plants won’t thrive against a shady wall
  • Size: Match the vigour of the plant to the allotted space
  • Hardiness: Do not plant tender plants in an exposed situation
  • Climbing habit: Some climbers (such as Campsis) are self-clinging, but other climbers and all wall shrubs require supports and tying in

Planting climbers and wall shrubs

See our advice on trees and shrubs: planting for information on planting technique. Some climbers, such as certain species of Clematis plants such as Campsis, have particular requirements. Delay the planting of tender plants until the spring.

Aftercare Back to top

Water well during periods of dry weather in the first few years after planting. Remember that plants against walls or under eaves may not receive much rainfall.

In spring, apply a high potassium fertiliser (such as Vitax Q4) at the dose recommended on the packet, and mulch with organic matter (garden compost or well rotted manure, for example). Leave a 10cm (4in) collar free of mulch around the woody stems, to avoid risk of rotting the bark.

See our advice on container maintenance for further information on looking after climbers and wall shrubs in pots.

Pruning and training Back to top

Our advice on training and pruning of climbers on first planting gives information on putting up supports and training young climbers and wall shrubs to fill the space attractively.

Regular pruning keeps climbers and wall shrubs attractive, floriferous and tidy. Some climbers and wall shrubs have particular requirements, such as campsis, clematis, honeysuckle, any espalier and wisteria. Others can be treated more generically.

If pruning is not undertaken on a regular basis, renovation may be necessary.

Propagation Back to top

Climber and wall shrubs can be propagated by cuttings and layering; species plants can be propagated from seed, but named cultivars are unlikely to come true by this method.

Plant selection Back to top

For a sunny south or west-facing wall:

  • Trachelospermum
  • Campsis radicans
  • Solanum cripsum 'Glasnevin' AGM: Otherwise known as the potato vine, this cheerful climber has light purple flowers with orange centres and semi-evergreen foliage
  • Ceanothus is also known as Californian lilac
  • Coronilla valentina: This slightly tender evergreen wall shrub may need winter protection in colder areas; it has delicate foliage and bright yellow pea-like flowers in late winter-early spring

For a shady north or east-facing wall:

  • Parthenocissus: Also known as Boston ivy and Virginia creeper, this deciduous self-clinging climber has fantastic autumn colour but can damage the mortar between bricks.
  • Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris AGM: This self-clinging deciduous climbing hydrangea has attractive purplish bark, heart-shaped leaves and heads of white lace-cap type flowers in summer. See our hydrangea profile for advice on growing this plant.
  • Akebia quinata: This semi-evergreen climber, also known as the chocolate vine, has five-lobed leaves and scented brownish-purple flowers in early spring, sometimes followed by fleshy purple fruits.
  • Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’: Click here to see our advice this evergreen winter-flowering wall shrub.
  • Rosa ‘Albéric Barbier’ AGM: This deciduous rambling rose has a spectacular flush of scented cream blooms in June, followed by a few flowers later in the season.

Problems Back to top

Climbers and wall shrubs can suffer from various pest and disease problems including powdery mildew, aphids and scale insects. Popular climbers, such as roses, clematis and wisteria also suffer from specific pests and disease, as do wall shrubs such as pyracantha which can be prone to Pyracantha scab.

Quick facts

Group Climbers and shrubs or trees that can be wall-trained
Flowering time Various
Height and spread Various
Planting time Spring or autumn; tender plants in spring
Aspect Any, depending on the plant
Hardiness From tender to fully hardy
Difficulty From easy to moderate
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