Trellising 101: Climb, Plant, Climb!
Wednesday May 17th, 2023
Growing a garden is the ultimate act of faith. After all, you never know if your plants will thrive or if they will cease to be long before reaching their full potential. Hopefully, with diligent care, and a little luck, your plants will grow big, strong, and glorious. When it comes to growing climbing plants (often referred to as “vines,” “climbers,” or “lianas”), two of the most important parts of their success are having the right kinds of things to climb and the right help to get started on their way up.
What Is a Climbing Plant?
The term “climbing plant” is kind of a giant catch-all term that includes a range of plants with long, flexible stems, and some mechanism that allows them to reach great heights in their native environments. However, some climbing plants will also just become shrubs if they have nothing to climb, and others will climb for a while, then set roots where they land before shedding their climbing tools altogether.
But in most cases, when people think of climbing plants, they think of plants that are vining. These plants climb over structures and other plants using several different mechanisms. This can include stems that twist around supports, leaves that twist around objects or one another, curly tendrils that wrap around supports, long roots that help them cling to solid surfaces, or hooks like thorns that help them move upward.
Although it’s common to see vines sold as ornamentals, there are also a number of climbing plants that are part of the vegetable garden. For example, cucumbers and tomatoes are vining plants, making them perfect for vertical gardening.
Trellising Vining Plants
Climbing plants can be easy to grow, if you give them appropriate things to climb and help them get a foothold when needed. Trellising a plant isn’t difficult, but choosing the right trellis can be sometimes. Not every plant will respond to every trellis, so it’s very important to consider the method by which your plant climbs before choosing a trellis for it.
For example, if your plant climbs with tendrils, it will do best with a wire trellis with frequent horizontal cross pieces. Because it needs to be able to reach up and wrap the tendrils around something substantial but narrow, the thick, flat trellises can be difficult for this type of vine to climb. On the other hand, if you’re trying to grow something that uses its roots to climb, like Virginia creeper, you need those trellises with the wide, flat components. It’s very difficult for this kind of plant to climb up narrow trellis material because it has to have some significant space and texture to allow it to really grab on with its roots.
So, whether you choose your trellis first (maybe you already have one in mind) or you choose your plant first, they need to be compatible. For many climbing plants, something as simple as mesh fencing can make a magnificent trellis.
How to Train Your Vines
Training vines to their appropriate trellises is surprisingly simple most of the time. As long as your trellis is close enough to the ground that your vine can reach it quickly in its growing process, often all you have to do is wait and let the plant do its own thing. If your plant is a bit more resistant, that’s ok, there are ways to encourage it to grow up.
A common technique for training vines onto a trellis is simply to wait for it to grow long enough for you to start winding it through the trellis material. Be very gentle, as you’ll need those delicate growing tips to remain undamaged, but loosely weaving it through the trellis as it grows will help it establish a framework for where it should be hanging out, so to speak.
With vines that need to attach to flat areas using their roots, you may be able to tie them on loosely until the root has firmly secured the plant. Use a cloth tie if at all possible to reduce the risk of damage to your plant. Before you know it, you’ll be able to untie the plant and let it get on with growing.
Still Need Help Moving Your Plants Up?
If your vining plants are still giving you trouble, or you simply don’t know which vine is right for your really magnificent arbor, it may be time to consult a landscaper or other plant expert.
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