Growing Up with Climbers

Climbing ornamentals, veggies and fruits can be a beautiful addition to your garden, adding color, fresh food and saving space. If not understood, however, these beautiful climbing plants can become a tangled or floppy mess. Many gardeners have become the victim of constant headaches when they don’t understand why their pole beans won’t climb a lattice frame or their clematis won’t climb a pole. The key is to understand how your plant climbs.


Tendrils are sensitive, threadlike modified structures of leaves, stems or leafstalks that reach into the air until it makes contact with a support structure. The tendril will then wrap around the support and create a coil. Some examples of tendril-climbers are passionflowers, grapes and sweet peas. These plants need horizontal support of less than a ¼ inch in diameter. Thin string, netting, wire, bamboo and poles are great options for tendril-climbers.


Plants with twining leaves or stems stretch out and latch onto a support structure but twist instead of coil. Young plants with twining leaves, such as clematis, can twist onto very slender string, wire, twigs or leaves. Plants with twining stems will twist around almost anything, including wires, poles, branches, posts or a trellis.  These include pole beans, jasmine, morning glory, honeysuckle and wisteria. Some will twine loosely and others will twine with a lot of strength, requiring a strong support structure, such as a strong obelisk. Wisteria, morning glory and jasmine are among the tight-twiners and can become very heavy. Wisteria is known for taking down awning and garden structures.

Adhesive Pads and Clinging Stem Roots

These plants will climb up almost any structure, including walls and trees. Plants with adhesive pads, including Boston ivy, have stem tendrils with sensitive, adhesive pads, which cling onto the surface. If not provided a structure to cling to, plants with adhesive pads will grow across your garden. Plants with clinging stem roots, including hydrangea and most ivy’s, produce a cluster of short roots that cling to the surface. Trying to remove established clinging stem roots could greatly damage the structure, so make sure you either want to keep them on the structure or that the structure can be disposed of.


Scramblers have long stems, resembling vines, but unlike vines they cannot climb on their own. Some have thorns that help them to grip onto nearby stems, but will need to be tied down with string or wire in order to climb a garden structure. These include Bougainvillea and rambling roses.


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