Planting Climbers Outdoors


When to Plant

Most container-grown climbers can be planted at any time of the year, as long as the ground is not frozen, water-logged or very dry. However, climbers that are not fully hardy (such as Japanese Nightshade - Solanum jasminoides) should be planted in spring, so that they are well established before their first winter. Herbaceous and evergreen climbers are more quickly established if planted in spring when the soil is warming up, but they may also be planted in autumn if the weather is mild or they are positioned in a protected situation.

Selecting the Right Position

If you are planning on growing a climber through another plant, you will need to bear in mind that the two plants will compete for food and moisture; to minimise this, plant the climber so that its roots are as far away as possible from those of its host. The exact planting position will depend on the host plant; if it has a mass of rhizomatous or shallow roots, the climber should be planted 45 cm (18 in) from the main root spread. However, a host plant with deep roots will allow you to plant the climber fairly close to its main stem. A cane tied to the host plant, inserted just behind the climber's main stems, can be used to train the climber towards the host at an angle.

As solid fences and walls produce their own rain shadow, any climbers trained against them should be planted at least 45 cm (18 in) from the foot of the support. This will ensure that once they established, they will receive enough rain to be grown without additional watering. A pillar or free-standing trellis will not create the same density of rain shadow and so the planting distance need be only 20-30 cm (8-12 in).

Preparing the Ground

Make sure that all weeds are removed from the planting area, if necessary, use a systemic weedkiller to kill perennial weeds. To lighten the texture of heavy clay soils and to improve the water retentiveness and fertility of sandy soils, dig in some bulky organic matter. Finally, fork in a dressing of slow-release fertilizer, at a rate of 50-85 g/sqm (2-3 oz/sq yd).

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Digging the Hole

To allow the roots sufficient room to spread, the planting hole should be at least twice the diameter of the container in which the climber was grown. However, if the climber is to be grown through a tree or shrub, this may not be possible. In this case, dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root ball and leave plenty of room for the roots to spread. Make sure that the hole is slightly deeper than the pot and loosen the soil at the sides and bottom with your fork.

Preparing the Plant

Before removing the plant from its pot, make sure that the compost is moist; either water the plant well so that the root ball is thoroughly wet, or sink the plant in its pot in a bucket for an hour or two. Leave it to drain for at least an hour.

Remove the surface layer of compost to get rid of any weed seeds, then hold the compost around the base of the plant and invert the pot, taking care to support the plant as it eases out. If any of the roots have begun to curl around inside the pot, gently tease them out. However, any protruding, damaged or dead roots should be cut back to the edge of the root ball.

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Position the plant in the hole, leaning it slightly back towards the fence or wall. Make sure that the top of the root ball is just level with the surrounding soil. Gently spread the roots at the bottom and sides of the root ball away from the wall.

If you're planting clematis or climbing roses, the crown of the plants should be planted slightly below the level they were in their pots. Climbers that have been grafted (such as most wisterias) should be planted with the graft union 6 cm (2 1/2 in) below soil level. This will encourage the scion to root, and will reduce the numbers of sucker growths from the stock.

Refill the planting hole with soil, firming the soil around the roots of the plant in stages with your hands to exclude air pockets. Finish off by gently firming all the way around the top of the plant with your hand or heel.

Securing to the Support

Insert 3 or 4 canes at the base of the plant and secure them to the support. Fan out the main shoots, selecting the strongest to tie loosely to the canes (and the support if they will reach) with twine. Do not tie too tightly, as this will damage the stems.

Tendril climbers, such as Sweet Peas (Lathyrus odoratus), will readily attach themselves to a support, but the shoots may need a little assistance and some tying in until they become firmly established. Twining climbers, such as Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), will soon fasten their shoots to a support in their natural direction of growth (clockwise or anticlockwise) but may also need initial tying in. You will need to tie in the shoots of scramblers that do not support themselves at regular intervals to the support.

Watering and Mulching

Water the newly planted climber well, and then apply a 5-7 cm (2-3 in) layer of mulch to a radius of about 60 cm (2 ft).This will ensure that the area will retain moisture, giving the roots a chance to establish themselves. Mulch will also suppress any weeds that would compete with the newly planted climber for moisture and nutrients.

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