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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.
Wisteria is a good option to train against a wall. Image: RHS
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.
When choosing a climber or wall shrub it is important to consider several factors:
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.
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.
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.
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.
For a sunny south or west-facing wall:
For a shady north or east-facing wall:
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.
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In this fully revised edition, you’ll find updated advice by the RHS experts on what, when and how to prune.
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