Climbing plants

Thin Supports Make Life Easier for Climbing Plants

Tendrils wrapping around their support.

By Larry Hodgson

Most climbing plants cling to their support by twining, that is wrapping themselves around it. And most twining plants will readily climb fairly thin supports, but can’t always twine around a thick pole, a tree trunk or even the fairly wide bars of many trellises. 

Twining stem wrapped around a bamboo stake.
Twining stem. Photo: Frank Vincentz, Wikimedia Commons

Most vines with twining stems, such as morning glories and pole beans, prefer supports that are no more than 1 ½ inches (4 cm) in diameter. 

Tendril twisting in the air.
Typical tendril. Photo: Jon Sullivan, Wikimedia Commons

As for vines that climb by means of tendrils (specialized threadlike stems that twist like a corkscrew), such as peas, grapes and clematis, most are even less capable of clinging to thick supports: ¼ inch (5 mm) is about the widest they can handle.

Woman attaching morning glory to thick trellis.
Gardeners often find themselves attaching their climbing plant to its overly thick support. Photo: architecturaldepot.com

In spite of this obvious need for thin supports, many if not most supports sold for climbing plants (trellises, obelisks, pergolas, etc.), although in theory designed for vines, are simply too thick for them to cling to, forcing the gardener to attach them to their support by other means, with clips, twist ties or pieces of old pantyhose.

An even easier solution is to fix metal or plastic mesh (like garden netting or bird netting) to the support. Vines will climb netting with no difficulty. Or simply run a taut cord or wire from the ground to the top of the support so they can wrap around that.

But why should you have to work at fixing a design flaw in a commercial product? Make your life easier by choosing an appropriate support from the start: one with poles or bars that are thin enough for vines to wrap around them all on their own. Bring your measuring tape next time you shop for a trellis: think 1 ½ inches (4 cm) for twiners and ¼ inch (5 mm) for tendril climbers.

In gardening as it any other activity, you’ll always have less work to do when you use the right tool!

Article derived from one first appearing in this blog on June 8, 2015.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

5 comments on “Thin Supports Make Life Easier for Climbing Plants

  1. Judy Gobble

    Concerning plants with thick roots that climb as opposed to twine. (ex: pothos?, split leaf philodendron) They should attach to a thick pole- mine won’t. However they are happy to climb up a painted wall in my house even though there is no moisture, and it is a smooth surface. Any advice on that type of climbing plant?

    • True enough: I wasn’t thinking about climbers with aerial roots when I wrote the article. Have you tried a slab of wood or a moss pole? Something perhaps thicker than the pole you tried. Otherwise, I’m not sure why the roots aren’t clinging.

      • Judy Gobble

        I have tried those But after I sent comment- I found something on internet how to keep your moss pole damp- wicking the moss pole from a reservoir- It looks easy. I try that. Thanks

  2. El Pgal

    That’s an interesting observation. My Swedish ivy climbs the house walls but when I bring it outside, it trails downwards.

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