Supporting your plants

All vines, including this jackman clematis, need trellises. Illustrates GREENSCENE (category l), by Joel M. Lerner, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Aug. 29, 2008. (MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Sandra Leavitt Lerner.)

All vines, including this jackman clematis, need trellises. Illustrates GREENSCENE (category l), by Joel M. Lerner, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Aug. 29, 2008. (MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Sandra Leavitt Lerner.)

WASHINGTON - All vines or climbing plants need a trellis - an ornamental arrangement of woven wood, rods or poles that are crossed to form a lattice structure. I use the term loosely to describe any support for a plant that can be trained onto a structure, so the "trellis" could be a deck, porch, shed, pergola, house wall, fence, pole or arbor. The type of climber being trained will determine how it should be attached to the structure.

Aerial roots

Climbing hydrangea is an ornamental, woody vine that can be used in shade gardens. It has aerial roots that will attach to any solid wall without training. If planted on a trellis with an open framework, it should be tied to the supports until the rootlets from its stems self-attach.

Twining Clematis, native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) and American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) will train themselves onto anything they come into contact with. The challenge is keeping them under control. Vines such as these can kill a tree or shrub by entwining too tightly around it, killing the live tissue, or cambium, just under the bark and cutting off the tree's vascular system. Keep twining vines off trees.


Grapes have spiral, springlike stems called "tendrils" that curl around wires and other narrow supports. Beans and peas grow from leaf stems and curl around wires and poles in the same way grapevines do. They will train themselves onto an arbor or over a lattice.

Tendrils with modified connectors

Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) has modified connectors, called discs, at the end of each tendril that attach to structures with a type of natural glue. This disc will pull the vine up to the structure, and a new section of stem grows to the next spot where the connector can attach. This type of vine prefers to grow on solid structures such as walls and trees.

Shrubs that aren't natural climbers can be trained on trellises to show off their interesting leaf color, berries, flowers, branching habits or other outstanding characteristics. Vigorous growers with scandent habits that will take hard pruning and dependably renew work best. Roses and pyracanthas can be trained as climbers. Pruning keeps them tightly against trellises and full of flowers, fruits or berries.

Trellising non-climbing plants and keeping them narrow are excellent approaches for tight spaces. This technique is called "espalier" and was developed by the French as an intensive gardening practice for fruit production in small areas. By using espalier theories, almost any branching pattern can be achieved.

There are a variety of types of supports for vines and climbers.


Many styles are available at garden and home improvement centers and through catalogs. Built from wood, plastic, fiberglass, metal and combinations of materials, they are frameworks that can form a variety of patterns.


Galvanized pipes or rebar can be set two feet apart in concrete and extended to the eaves of a house or garden structure. Wires can be strung across the bars, creating a ladder effect.


Cord can be strung from one stake to another, creating a ladder for beans, peas, cucumbers or other vining vegetables.

Wire mesh

Plastic-coated or galvanized reinforcing wire can be attached to fences or walls. Mesh that comes in six-inch squares works well.

Walls and fences

Some vines will attach themselves to walls or fences without training. Before covering wood fences with greenery, make sure the wood is pressure-treated. Otherwise, plantings should be installed on supports a few inches away from the fence.

Here are some suggestions for vines:

• Boston ivy - New growth emerges maroon in spring. A fast grower in sun or shade, it will cover walls in a season or two. Green summer foliage is excellent background for water features, sculptures or other plantings. Fall color is an outstanding red.

• Clematis - One reason to choose the Jackman clematis vine is the red, purple, pink and white flowers, 5 to 6 inches big, that bloom profusely in late spring. The anemone clematis (Clematis montana) grows vigorously and cascades over fences, walls or trellises and is covered with white to pink flowers in May.

• Climbing rose - I can recommend two I have grown for many years. Aloha is one I have planted between two structures. It receives about six hours of light each day and has taken care of itself. Zephirine drouhin is another one we enjoy at home that is free of thorns.

• Cross vine (Bignonia capreolata) -Try this spring-flowering perennial vine in partial shade to full sun. This semi-evergreen vine grows eight feet or more in a season and flowers pink to dark red, depending on the hybrid. This twining plant will grow on any trellis or arbor.

• Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md., and author of "Anyone Can Landscape"(Ball 2001). Contact him through his Web site,


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