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vines on pergola

Outdoor Climbing Plants: A Guide To Creating Natural Shade

Published Date: Mar 29, 2017

The first day of spring just passed, and your mind is likely focused on seasonal joys like blooming flowers and fresh air. Not to mention, it's a reminder that you'll need to gear up for summer and the heat it brings.

A well-placed pergola in the backyard or garden can be a great way to add some additional shade to your outdoor living space, as well as give the whole area a more inviting vibe. To make your pergola even more verdant and vibrant, you can adorn it with a variety of hanging plants. These types of plants are relatively easy to grow and transplant to your surface of choice. Plus, they don't take much work to maintain, meaning you can spend more time enjoying the backyard with family and friends.

Before planting atop your outdoor pergolas, be sure you are familiar with the basics and have chosen the best climber for the job.

Climbing plant basics

We often think of plants as stationary objects, but in reality, they are just as alive and active as any other four-legged creature you might find in your backyard. Many plant species show a remarkable affinity for movement, and the climbing plants - also called climbers or wall shrubs - are some of the most common in home gardens. 

The Royal Horticultural Society of the U.K. explains that climbing plants take many forms, from dedicated vines that easily attach to walls, to smaller shrubs that must be properly pruned and "wall-trained" to achieve the right scaling affect.

To choose the best climbing plant for your pergola, you need to take factors like sunlight and location into account. Some climbers need ample sunlight to do their thing, so placing them in an already shady area isn't advisable. Climbing plants also have different growth and hardiness characteristics. Home gardeners wouldn't want to choose a climber that grows aggressively outward unless they have a sufficiently sized pergola. 

Gardening Know-How provided some great plant-pergola pairings for wall climbers:

  • Clematis plants are some of the best climbers for pergolas. They are known by many different names but fall within the buttercup family. Clematis plants are all generally favored by gardeners for their quick vertical growing ability and are also very lightweight. That combination makes them a perfect pick for a pergola.

  • Passionflower is another wise choice for pergola-climbing. Their purple and white flowers also adhere to structures with ease, and Gardening Know-How noted that some species are even frost-resistant. Home gardeners could try pairing passionflower with an early blooming clematis for full, vibrant coverage of a pergola.

  • Wisteria is another common climber for pergolas, but one that comes with a few quirks. Namely, wisteria needs a full day of sun to thrive. The Royal Horticultural Society also noted that wisteria has a reputation as more difficult plant to prune, so it must be looked after on a regular basis. For a little hard work, though, wisteria will reward with a full bloom of purple that's hardy enough to withstand whatever Mother Nature dishes out.


Care and maintenance

Climbing plants have a knack for finding their footing without much help, but in most cases, gardeners will need to do some tending to keep plants under control. This is especially true when growing with limited space like a smaller pergola.

  • In the case of easy climbers like clematis, gardeners will want to provide support in the form of a trellis or mesh in addition to the pergola itself. This will encourage the plant to cling and grow. Plus, these natural walls will add extra privacy, creating a true outdoor room.

  • Most plants, including climbers, should be planted in spring. Soon after, climbing plants will need to be pruned to ensure they grow in the right direction and don't become messy or scraggly.

  • Climbing plants are susceptible to a number of common pests, like insects, mildew and the occasional furry animal. A number of natural and artificial pesticides can be used to prevent these, but be especially careful when using any form of pest control while the plants are in bloom.

If you're ready to breathe new life into your backyard or garden, speak with an expert at System Pavers to learn more about the best pergola for you.

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