The Best Climbing Plants for Your Backyard Pergolas, Fences, and Trellises
Take your garden vertical with these varieties.
While pergolas, fences, and trellises all make wonderful additions to a landscape, they look even better when looped with beautiful botanicals. That's where climbing plants come in. Choosing the correct variety is key, since not every vertical-growing plant works across every structure—some are too strong and will pull your fence apart, while others are too heavy for a stand-alone trellis—which is why we talked to expert Justin Hancock, a horticulturist with Costa Farms. Ahead, he shares which crawling botanicals are best suited for your yard's structures.
A trellis is a freestanding structure that comes in many sizes and shapes, including flat, fanned, and square; they work best with climbing plants that won't become heavy as they grow. If your trellis is located in a hot, sunny spot, Hancock says mandevilla is the way to go. "This tropical vine blooms nonstop, producing trumpet-shaped flowers in pink, white, and red," he says. "The flowers are attractive to pollinators like bees and hummingbirds, so you're providing habitat, as well as beauty." This plant won't survive the winter in areas that see a frost, making it a good choice for planters and other spaces where you don't have room for a large perennial vine.
If you are looking for a perennial vine, however, Hancock says clematis is a classic. "While it doesn't bloom as long as an annual like mandevilla, it does come back every year," he says, adding that if you have a big enough area, you can plant a mix of early-, mid-, and late-season varieties to provide a spring-to-fall show of buds. "Clematis comes in a wide range of colors, from white and cream to blue, purple, pink, and red," he adds.
Trellises: Arabian Jasmine (Jasminum sambac)
Arabian jasmine can look like a shrub if it is not properly trained, but it's another great climbing pick for trellises. "It produces sweetly scented white flowers on and off, spring to fall," Hancock says. "If you live in a cold-winter climate and have a bright spot indoors, you can bring it in come fall and enjoy it over the winter as a houseplant," he says. "Indoors in high light, it blooms sporadically year-round."
If you're in the market for an exotic vine that is easy to care for, Hancock suggests growing passionflower on your structure. "There's a ton of choices, so you can get flowers in just about every color—and many are fragrant," he says. "As a bonus, some varieties produce edible fruit."
A pergola has four columns and an overhead covering, and these structures are usually placed over patios and other outdoor seating areas. If you have a sturdy one, Hancock says you can opt for a big vine like wisteria. "One thing that makes wisteria especially good for pergolas is that the flowers hang down from the vine, and sitting beneath them can create a magical atmosphere," he explains. "Wisteria does best in a spot with all-day sun."
Do you live in a hotter climate? If so, Hancock suggests adding bougainvillea to your structure. "This evergreen vine practically explodes into bloom with colorful paper-like bracts in hot, showy colors," he says. "It's also fantastically heat- and drought-tolerant. Unfortunately for those of us in cold-winter climates, it doesn't survive exposure to frost or freezing temperatures."
Fences: English and Boston Ivy
Most of the plants that Hancock recommended for trellises, including mandevilla and jasmine, will work well on wire and chain-link fences. "But if you have a solid wood fence, you'll probably want a vine that self-attaches to, rather than wraps around, a support to climb (since walls don't give them much to grab onto)," Hancock says. "Boston ivy is a classic choice. It has lush green leaves in spring and summer that turn stunning shades of red and purple come autumn." In areas where it's not considered invasive, English ivy also works well on fences and buildings. "Just remember that it is problematic when grown outdoors in some areas, and some municipalities have banned it for planting."
If you're on board with a vine that has to be replanted every year, Hancock suggests thunbergia, which produces masses of happy red, yellow, orange, white, or pink flowers all summer. "It's fabulously heat tolerant and I've never noticed much of a problem with pests," he says. "It also doesn't tend to drop a lot of seed like some other annual vines do (such as morning glory), so it's not one to become weedy."