Wisteria, a climbing plant

Cloak your walls with climbers

Activity time:
More than 2 hours
Difficulty level:
Medium
Suitable for:
Balcony/roof, Small garden, Large garden
To help:
Bees, Creepy crawlies, Bats, Butterflies & moths, Birds

Growing climbing plants is a brilliant and beautiful way of bringing life to your dead vertical surfaces, like a wall, fence or pergola.

There are a range of climbers that you can plant at any time of year.

 

Increasing the amount of plants in our built-up, concrete and brick world provides a food source to all kinds of wildlife.

 

Are you doing this activity as part of your personal plan? Either take a look at your progress or create your own easy-to-follow personal plan to help you give nature a home where you live.

 

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What you will need

  • Spade or garden fork
  • Wildlife-friendly climbing plant
  • Compost
  • Watering can
  • Optional: a large pot
  • Optional: trellis or taut wires
  • Optional: toolkit
  • Optional: screws
Climbing plant

Step-by-step guide

  1. Select your spot. Identify where you have a bare, vertical surface and bring it alive with a climber. It doesn't have to have earth at the base – many climbers can be grown successfully in a large pot.
  2. Choose  your plant. As with all gardening, choose the right plant for the right location. We've got some excellent recommendations for you below, but start by being aware:
    • which direction your vertical surface faces ie north, south, east or west
    • how tall your surface is
    • whether you can fix a trellis or whether your plant will have to be self-clinging.
    Take extra care when choosing a plant for the outside of a house that it won't cause you maintenance problems in years to come.
  3. The best climbers for your house wall. If you can erect a support like a trellis, choose something like a wisteria or climbing rose that can be tied to the framework. Wisterias like sunny positions, plenty of space and will need sturdy support and annual pruning. Climbing roses like sun or partial shade, with some coping with north-facing walls or other shady positions.

    A self-clinging climber, like Boston ivy, is suited to north and east-facing walls. It's vigorous, but its clinging pads are less damaging than ivy's aerial roots. Beware of ivy and the damage its aerial roots can do to brickwork, should you ever need to remove them. You may eventually need to do annual pruning to stop them covering the roof or windows.
  4. The best climbers for a garden wall or fence. Ivy grows better in the shade, but its all-important autumn flowers bloom once it’s climbed as far as it’s able to and gets its ‘head into the sun’. If you can erect a trellis, try common jasmine or a passion flower. Trumpet vine (campsis) is self-clinging and grows best against a sunny wall. Avoid mile-a-minute plant, Cotoneaster horizontalis, and Virginia creeper, as these are invasive.

  5. The best climbers for a pergola. A few clematis species are excellent for bees (look out for the glorious Clematis rehderiana), hops are a food plant for the comma butterfly's caterpillars, and honeysuckles have beautiful flowers that offer nectar to long-tongued moths, plus berries for the birds.

  6. Erect any structure you need for the plant to climb up. 

    If your plant needs a climbing frame, like a trellis, put it up now.

    Don't skimp on this  you'll regret it if in a few years the trellis has rotted. Screw wooden trellis to batons so there’s plenty of space for climbers to wind behind. If your trellis is on batons, it might be easier to unscrew them and lower the climber to undertake routine maintenance, such as replacing a fence panel or painting a wall.

  7. Plant your climber. If you’re planting into the ground, dig a hole at least a foot away from the wall or fence (otherwise the plant will be in the rain shadow and struggle). Mix in some well-rotted compost. Plant the climber leaning in towards the surface it will climb up, firm in well and give them a good drink.

    If you’re planting in a pot, try and use as large a pot as you can – your plant will be happier and need less watering. Make sure there is good drainage (put some broken bits of pot in the bottom) and use a good, peat-free compost.

  8. Aftercare. Some climbers will need pruning – wisteria, for example, needs two prunes a year (in January/February and July/August). However, many can be left to 'do their thing', providing all the pleasure with very little effort from you. Keep those growing in pots well watered in dry weather.

  9. What you'll see. It will take a little while for your climber to become large enough to be good for wildlife, so be patient. Probably the first thing you'll notice is when your climber starts to flower and begins to attract bees. In the longer term,  as you climber thickens up, it will provide a place for birds to roost and nest. Why not tuck a robin nestbox in behind the cover, an ideal place for them.
Backfill hole
Back fill hole
Check level on pot grown
Check level
Adding mycorrhizal fungi
Add fungi
Firming in
Firming with toe
Watering in
Watering

Cloaking the walls with climbers

Climbing plants provide food and shelter for birds and insects. Watch our guide to find out which climbers might be best for you – and how to encourage them.

Cloak the walls with climbers/Prepare/Plant/Water/Enjoy

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