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Home & garden.

Updated: 11 May 2022

Best climbing plants

Whether you're looking to cover a large space, such as a fence, or a smaller support, such as an obelisk, Which? shares our favourite climbers
Ceri Thomas
Climbing rose

Climbing plants are perfect for covering fences, walls, trellis, pergolas, arches, wigwams and obelisks.

Choose the right one for the size of the area you want to cover and check whether it's self-clinging or needs to be tied onto its support as it grows. There are plenty of choices, including both flowering and foliage plants.


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Flowering climbing plants

Climbing roses

Climbing roses are perfect for arches and training against fences and walls. They need to be tied into their support, as they don't cling on by themselves. Try to attach the stems to their support as near to horizontal as you can (wrapping stems around arches). This might sound strange when you want them to go upwards and cover their support, but it's important, as it will stop all the flowers being at the top of the rose, out of sight. Bear in mind that not all rose varieties are scented and that some flower only once a year in early summer - for flowers all summer look out for a 'repeat-flowering' variety. Our Best Buy varieties have been chosen for their beautiful flowers and also their ability to resist diseases.

Best Buy climbing roses

Patio climbing roses are smaller varieties that are perfect for growing on a support, such as an obelisk. You can even grow them in large pots using a Best Buy compost for containers with a Best Buy controlled-release feed mixed in.

Best Buy patio climbing roses

Rambling roses are more vigorous than climbing roses and are best grown up a larger support. They can even climb through a tree. They tend to flower in one spectacular display in early summer.

Clematis

There are clematis varieties for blooms almost any month of the year, including winter. The flower size varies but all put on a beautiful display. Strong-growing varieties, such as Clematis montana, are vigorous enough to cover large supports, such as fences, while patio clematis are compact enough to grow up an obelisk. They can even be grown in a pot, filled with a Best Buy compost for containers with a Best Buy controlled-release feed.

Clematis cling to their supports naturall,y so there's no need to tie them in after you first attach them when planting. Plant them deeply, as they'll regrow from underground buds if hit by clematis wilt or slug damage.

Best Buy clematis

Sweet peas

These wonderfully scented flowers are hardy annuals, so need to be raised from seed each year and planted in spring. Don't worry if you don't want to go to the bother of seeds, as you can also buy them as small plants. The best time to sow is October - keep the plants in a greenhouse or coldframe over winter - then plant them outside in March. They'll need a wigwam of bamboo canes or an obelisk to climb up. Tie in the stems just after planting and then they'll cling on by themselves. The colourful, perfumed flowers appear from June onwards and need to be picked regularly to keep the display going.

Best Buy sweet peas

Honeysuckle

Amazing scent is what most people associate with honeysuckle. This easy-to-grow climber twines up supports and produces masses of flowers in summer. Watch which variety you buy, though, as not all are scented, especially the red or orange-flowered ones. They like moist soil and grow in either sun or partial shade. They're vigorous plants, so be sure to prune them according to their variety.

Best Buy honeysuckle

Climbing hydrangea

Most hydrangeas are shrubs, but Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris is a beautiful climber that will cover a house wall with ease and is covered in white flowers during early summer. It will cling to its support by itself once established, but it will need tying in while it settles in. It can also take a few years to put on growth, so be patient with it at the start. It's especially good for a shady spot.

Best Buy hydrangeas

Wisteria

A stunning climber with long purple or white flowers in late spring that have an amazing perfume. It clings to its support and is a vigorous grower once established, so give it plenty of space, such as a house wall. If you don't have room for it to climb, you can also grow it as a shrub in a pot. It does best in a sunny, sheltered position facing south or west. It's tolerant of any soil.

Jasmine

Jasminum officinale is covered in heavily scented white flowers in summer. Be careful, as it's a vigorous plant and needs plenty of space and regular pruning to stop it getting messy. It's best in a sheltered, sunny, south-facing spot with well-drained soil. Watch out in a cold winter, as it's only frost hardy. Look out for 'Fiona Sunrise' if you like golden leaves.

Other plants to try

  • Trachelospermum (star jasmine) is a beautiful evergreen climber with highly scented white flowers in summer. There are also varieties with colourful, variegated leaves. It's surprisingly tolerant and will even grow in shade. It clings onto its support so shouldn't need tying in apart from when just planted. 
  • Passiflora (passion flower) does well in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. The intricate flowers appear in summer and are followed by orange fruits (which are sadly not good for eating). It's evergreen and a vigorous grower but can look a bit wild and messy. It clings onto its support by itself.
  • Thunbergia (black-eyed Susan) is an annual climber that's great for obelisks and can also be grown in a pot. Sow the seeds in spring for summer flowers.
  • Cobea scandens (cup and saucer vine) needs to be sown indoors in February to give enough time for it grow large enough to flower in late summer and autumn. It can cover a large suppor,t so give it plenty of space. It's an annual, so sow from seed each year. The blooms open greenish-white and turn purple as they age.
  • Rhodochiton has exotic-looking purple flowers and is best raised from seed each spring. 
  • Solanum laxum (potato vine) makes a vigorous white or purple-flowered climber that's best in full sun where it's fairly sheltered.
  • Akebia quinata is a vigorous climber with exotic-looking purple flowers that smell of vanilla. It's great for quickly covering arches or pergolas. Prune regularly to keep it under control.

One to avoid

  • Fallopia baldschuanica isn't called 'mile-a-minute' for nothing. Only grow if you have an extremely large support to cover and are prepared to cut it back when necessary.

Foliage climbing plants

Ivy

People are often wary of ivy (hedera) as it has a reputation for being too vigorous, but if you have a large support it's perfect for the job. It's also great for wildlife, especially when it reaches its adult non-climbing stage when it flowers and produces fruit. To keep your plant under control, clip in the spring and again in late summer. Choose between plain green and variegated leaves with gold or silver markings.

Golden hop

Humulus lupulus 'Aureus' is a strong-grower that's loved for its golden leaves, which are especially brightly coloured in autumn. Give it plenty of space and cut to the ground each spring.

Vine

Vitis coignetiae and Vitis vinifera are both stunning in autumn when the leaves turn bright red before falling. They cling to their support and can cover big spaces, such as house walls. Do any pruning to restrain them in mid-winter.

Virginia creeper

Parthenocissus henryana is less vigorous and so easier to control than its cousin Parthenocissus quinquefolia so is a better choice for many gardens. Both cling onto their supports and turn vivid shades of red before losing their leaves in autumn - make sure its planted in a sunny spot for the best colour. Cut it back in early winter if you to restrain its vigour. Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Veitchii' is also worth growing for its three-pointed leaves. 

Other plants to try

  • Actinidia kolomikta has colourful leaves in with green, white and pink markings. Give plants a couple of years for them to develop these leaf markings. The leaves fall in autumn but return each spring. Give it a sheltered, sunny spot.