Growing Vertically

When deciding to grow plants vertically, several important concepts should be remembered. When installing a structure such as a pergola or arbor, the installation should be considered permanent. The structure should be carefully sited in the landscape. Annuals, perennials, shrubs and small trees can be moved around the landscape with relative ease. Larger structures, such as pergolas and arbors, may be cemented into the ground. They are not easily picked up and moved to another part of the landscape.

Because these structures are permanent, the soil needs to be prepared before planting. Plenty of compost and other organic matter should be added before planting. Perennial vines will last for years. Once the plants are established, altering the soil becomes difficult. If a trellis is located next to the house, have a soil test done every year or two. Lime leaching from the foundation may raise the soil pH to unacceptable levels. Frequent soil tests allow the homeowner to monitor the soil pH before plant damage occurs.

If a structure such as a arbor or pergola is used, it must be securely attached to the ground. When covered with vines, these structures become vulnerable to the wind. The leaves act as tiny sails that catch passing breezes, and if not secure, the structure can topple over. These structures also catch the eye of young children who look at arbors and similar structures as fancy monkey bars.

The best step to success in vertical gardening is to match the proper plant with the right structure and location. The final size of the vine should match the size of the structure. A Trumpet Vine (Campsis x tagliabuana) (Figure 9) will quickly outgrow a 6-foot fan trellis, and Sweet Peas (Lathyrus latifolius) will be dwarfed on a 20 foot long pergola. If the structure is in an exposed area, a sun-loving plant will be necessary. If located in a shady corner of the garden, a shade-loving vine is called for.

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Figure 9.  The Trumpet Vine (Campsis x tagliabuana) will quickly overgrow
a small support.

Finally, be sure the vine selected has the ability to climb the intended structure. Tendrils need a narrower support than twining vines. No amount of hoping will allow a tendril-climbing vine to climb the side of the garage without some added support around which the tendrils can attach.

Table 1 presents a list of vines suitable for use in the landscape. Their climbing method and final height are indicated. Many can be easily found in nurseries, garden centers or by mail order. Others may be a bit difficult to locate, but well worth the trouble.

Return to Vertical Gardening

How do vines climb?
Table of Climbing Vines

Horticulture Projects