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Climbing plants can quickly clothe a fence or wall. Careful training and pruning on first planting will help ensure that a climber grows attractively and healthily, covering the wall efficiently and remaining easy to maintain.
Tying in a climber. Credit:Neil Hepworth/RHS The Garden.
All climbers, whether twining or attached by aerial roots or pads, benefit from initial training and pruning. Typical examples include clematis, ivy, honeysuckle, akebia and Russian vine.
Supports should be in place prior to planting. To allow plants to grow freely against walls and fences, fix supports about 5cm (2in) away from the wall or fence surface.
Possible supports include:
Do not plant right against the support, as it will create a rain shadow. If planting against a solid structure such as wall or fence allow about a 45cm (18in) gap between the plant and the wall. Otherwise, a 20-30cm (8in-1ft) gap is sufficient. Some climbers (certain clematis for example) benefit from deeper planting.
If you are raising your own plant from seed or cuttings, create a wigwam of split canes or slender bamboo canes within the pot as soon as the young plant needs support. Twine new stems up these, tying carefully with twine. Try not to let the shoots tangle together too much as they will need to be untwined when they go on their final supports. Add taller canes if necessary but ideally plant out as soon as the rootball is well developed.
Make sure you have put up support wires on the wall first.
The end result is a well-planted climber, fan trained along bamboo canes that have been tied in to the wire supports on the wall.
Tie new growth in regularly, and extend the canes as necessary. You could fill out the fan shape with new rows of canes, to accommodate lengthening main stems and new sub-branches. Eventually, when the climber has formed thick woody stems, you can remove the canes, and the plant will hold its fan shape unaided.
If your climber has spindly stems without many growth buds, you can shorten the main stems by about one-third, to encourage vigour and bushing out.
If your climber fails to thrive, it may be struggling to establish, perhaps because of difficult soil conditions, poor planting technique, or inadequate aftercare.
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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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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.