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Gardener's Dirt: Climbers can bring color, fragrance to landscape

By Gerry Hornstein -
Feb. 23, 2012 at midnight
Updated Feb. 23, 2012 at 8:24 p.m.

This arbor, located at the Master Gardener Victoria Educational Gardens, is an example of a structure that is sturdy and large enough to accommodate heavy, thick-limbed climbers such as wisteria, roses, and bougainvillea. These plants are kept in check with rigorous biannual pruning to prevent them from becoming overgrown and unsightly.

Those of us who grew up before air conditioning was the norm remember porch swings and trellises being a part of our lives here in the South. In the early morning hours, there was always a beautiful blue morning glory vine on a trellis to be admired, and that same vine would hold off the hot rays of the evening sun.

No matter the time of day, friends, family and neighbors gathered on porches, swinging, visiting and telling stories beneath the shade of climbing beauties.

Color, Shade and Architectural Benefit

In addition to color and shade, climbing plants can provide architectural interest to your yard. Those with dense foliage can camouflage an unsightly wall or soften hard lines of brickwork.

Trailing climbers may cascade over rocks or terraced ledges. In all these applications, they will add vertical interest to a predominantly horizontal lawn.

Selecting the appropriate climbing plant or vine should take into consideration the growing conditions, available space, weight and growing pattern of plants being considered, and the desired architectural statement you want to make.

Recommended Growing Conditions

If climbers are to perform their very best, it is essential to provide the best possible growing conditions to meet their needs. Very few of us are blessed with the ideal soil. Fortunately, a wide range of climbers can be grown in most gardens, even where soils fall short of the ideal.

Since climbers are vigorous growers, with a demand of nutrients, they will benefit from the addition of a balanced general-purpose fertilizer.

I would strongly recommend that you consider the plant's growing pattern and its support when selecting its planting site.

Mostly Sunny Location - In order for them to bloom at their best, most climbers require locations that are in full sun for a large number of hours each day. This is usually the south or southwest side of your home. However, there are a select few that will tolerate a partial sun to shade site.

Growth with Support Structures - Choose a supporting structure that is strong enough to bear the weight of the climbing plant and is large enough to give the expanding plant room to stretch its tendrils. Existing fixed features such as fences work fine. For example, the Carolina jasmine climber performs well on chain link fences.

Decorative Structures - Consider adding a decorative structure upon which the plant can grow: a trellis against a bare wall, an arch over a gate or latticework in the middle of a perennial bed. You might be able to place a small structure in large containers as well. Just like the vines that grow on them, they are easily moved if you wish to use them somewhere else in the garden at season's end.

Selecting a Plant

Climbers can be used for seasonal bloom, desired color, and/or fragrance. Select and plant according to your preferred results.

Seasonal Blooms - You will discover that most climbers will bloom in the early spring and on through most of the summer. My favorites are those that bloom that time of year and reward me with a sweet smelling fragrance. Most of us are familiar with the following: American wisteria and the Rangoon creeper (both of which are also fast-growing), Armand clematis, Confederate jasmine, Nepal trumpet, honeysuckle and, of course, the beautiful climbing rose. There are, however, several that will start blooming in the early fall, right up and through early winter such as the Cup of gold vine and Madeira vine.

Inviting Fragrances - For a real treat, plant any of these near a bedroom or even along pathways leading to your home. The fragrances will welcome your guest in a way they will not forget.

Needless to say, there is a large selection of climbers that may have very little or no fragrance but will shower your garden with beautiful blooms.

'Humdrum' to Excitement

Check with your local nursery or go to publications/beaumont/vines.html for suggestions on climbers.

With a little imagination, there is almost no limit to how you can turn a humdrum garden and landscape into something exciting with the use of climbers.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at



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