Walls of Greenery from Vines

Among vines, there are eager climbers and reluctant ones. You can coax up plants such as climbing rose, which despite its name is not a natural climber, by carefully weaving their stems through a supporting trellis or by tying their stems with string or wire to a support.

However, the classic climbers are a different matter. Provided modest assistance, they will ascend a wall with little further attention. You can buy vines in flats and plant them as you would ground covers (pages 69-70), or you can carefully detach established vines from their support as shown on page 243 and move them to a new location.


Climbing ivy and other clingers (below) may compromise weak mortar in a brick wall, allowing moisture to penetrate and weaken the wall’s structural integrity. Perform this test: Scratch a key against the joint. If the mortar does not scrape off or crumble, your wall can support the growth.



Periodic pruning will keep vines bushy and robust. Climbers are generally less vulnerable to pests and disease than are low-growing plants. An occasional hosing down of the leaves helps to discourage insects. But vines are susceptible to heat scorch and drought stress from excessive evaporation from the leaves. Water them more often than low-growing varieties. Many vines tolerate frost poorly. Check with a nursery for varieties suitable to your climate.

Three ways vines hold on

Clingers, such as English ivy and Virginia creeper (above, left), anchor themselves even to vertical surfaces with adhesive disks, tiny hooks, or rootlets. Moisture at anchor points can damage wood siding. Stem twiners (center) encircle downspouts, trellises, wires, and strings. Some, such as Hall’s Japanese honeysuckle, wrap their stems counterclockwise; others, like Dutchman’s pipe, twine in a clockwise direction. Tendril twiners, including plants like the sweet pea (right) and trumpet vine, extend threadlike spirals that wrap tightly around a thin support, such as a wire fence. Some tendril twiners also wind their stems around the support.



Thinning a climber

Prune a climbing plant in summer to improve air circulation and to permit new growth to strengthen the plant before the autumn frost. Clip and disentangle enough large stems (up to 1¼ inches in diameter) near ground level to allow light to reach all the inner branches. Prune other areas of the plant selectively, removing unhealthy stems without damaging sound ones.

Encouraging new growth

To induce lateral buds to sprout new shoots where leaves might otherwise appear, prune stems just above the buds. In general, vines that flower in the spring bloom on the previous year’s growth; prune them after they bloom to give the new growth time to strengthen before winter. Those that flower in late summer or fall bloom on the current year’s growth and are best pruned in late autumn when the plant is dormant or in early spring before any new growth appears.


Detaching vines from their support

When transplanting a clinger, tug gently near the adhesive disks, hooks, or rootlets that grip a wall (above, left). Unravel the tendrils or unhook the leaf stalks of a twiner that attaches to a string or wire (above, right). When unwinding the stems or tendrils, note whether they grow clockwise or counterclockwise, then wrap them in the appropriate direction around supports at the new location.


Tethering newly planted vines

To secure a clinging vine to a brick wall, hammer masonry nails into the mortar joints at 2-foot intervals. Loosely tie the stems of the plant to the nails with string or twist ties (left). For twiners, stretch string or wire between two nails to provide vertical supports for new growth to climb. Secure the plant stem loosely to the support. Check the plant periodically, trimming back any yellowed or wilted leaves near the top. When the plant can support itself, remove the strings or ties.