Arbors are not just beautiful outdoor structures; they are gateways to enchanting garden spaces that evoke a sense of wonder. One way to elevate the allure of your arbor is by adorning it with climbing plants. These green wonders not only add visual appeal but also infuse your outdoor living area with a touch of nature’s magic. In this article, we will explore the best climbing plants for your arbor, along with essential tips to care for them and achieve maximum visual impact and (maybe) help feed the pollinators.
Understanding Arbors and Their Role in Landscaping
Before we delve into the world of climbing plants, let’s understand the significance of arbors in landscaping. Arbors are arch-shaped structures, usually made of wood or metal, that serve as gateways or passages in gardens. They provide shade, create focal points, and act as a framework for climbing plants. When adorned with the right climbers, they transform into captivating natural tunnels, making your outdoor space truly magical.
Selection Criteria for the Best Climbing Plants
Choosing the right climbing plants for your arbor is crucial to ensure their successful growth and visual appeal. Consider the following criteria:
Climate and Location Considerations
Take note of your climate and the specific location of your arbor. Some climbing plants prefer full sun exposure, while others thrive in partial shade. Matching the plant’s preferences with your arbor’s location is key to their vitality.
For example, nasturtium comes in many varieties and has a vining growth habit, which makes climbing nasturtium (not mounding) an excellent choice for trellis frames. But they are vulnerable to frost damage and grow as annuals only in all but the warmest USDA zones. Bonus: The graceful blooms make an attractive garnish (and you can eat them) and they attract hummingbirds. Bougainvillea is suitable for drought-tolerant landscaping in areas such as Southern California, but it doesn’t do well in freezing temperatures. It will die back during the winter if temps drop too far.
Other examples are sweet pea and morning glory. Both are climbers and morning glory is easily planted from seeds, but both plants need a full day of sun, or they won’t live their best lives. On the flip side of the sunshine lovers, you’ll find honeysuckle.
Honeysuckle likes to wear sunscreen and doesn’t do as well in full sun, so plant it where it can get partial shade.
Honeysuckle’s fragrant blossoms are a bee favorite, so they’re a win in the pollinator column (and if you’re not allergic to bees!). Some honeysuckle species are considered invasive, such as Japanese honeysuckle, Chinese honeysuckle and Hall’s Honeysuckle. Your county or state agricultural extension is the best resource on identifying what’s invasive to your area and most will have a quick reference like this one from Purdue University extension. Honeysuckles can come in shades of yellow, red, white, pink or purple, and the plant itself can grow up to 20 feet tall, which can be dramatic on an arbor.
Growth Patterns and Suitability for Arbors
Each climbing plant has its unique growth pattern. Some may require sturdy support, while others cling effortlessly to structures. Select plants that are well-suited for climbing on arbors to avoid disappointment and frustration. Know the difference between twining vines, such as wisteria, and vines that climb by means of tendrils, such as passionflowers. There are also vines that climb by aerial rootlets. The point is to be familiar with how climbing vines work biologically.
“Climbing plants need to attach themselves to an external support—typically neighboring plants—in order to grow vertically to a significant extent and enhance light acquisition,” according to biologist Ernesto Gianoli’s research on the behavioral ecology of climbing plants. “Trellis availability influences climber diversity in and climbers that fail to encounter a trellis often show reduced growth and/or reproduction compared with those successfully climbing onto an external support.”
Heavier plants will need a sturdier support, writes Happy Sprout gardener Kayla Leonard. Light vines, such as clematis, can grow over an arbor or trellis frame of almost any size, shape, or material, but vegetables need more consideration. Leonard writes, “arches and A-frame trellises are the sturdiest shape and metal is the strongest material. A thick wooden trellis may also hold up, but it needs to be sealed properly to prevent weather damage.”
If you’re growing more than one plant on your arbor, remember the structure must be strong enough to support the combined weight of all the plants growing on it, not just the dominant one.
Flowering and Foliage Varieties for Visual Impact
For an awe-inspiring display, opt for climbing plants with captivating flowers and foliage. Different colors, textures, and fragrances can create a stunning visual impact that enhances the overall beauty of your arbor.
Red, yellow, orange, pink and purple flowers go well together, and you can support pollinators with a combination of zinnia, arrow, lantana, bee balm, dill, fennel, and milkweed on or around your arbor.
Scarlet runner beans hasgorgeous bright-red blooms that attract an abundance of bees and hummingbirds. Specific scarlet runner bean varieties, such as Painted Lady, has resplendent red-white or red-pink flowers and the White Dutch Runner features white flowers and beans.
Passionflower offers delicate flowers with white, purple, or creamy blooms, which can be a beautiful backdrop to vibrant red annuals or perennials grown at the base of an arbor.
Top 5 Climbing Plants for Your Arbor
Rose Vines: Elegance and Fragrance
Nothing exudes romance and elegance quite like rose vines. With their velvety petals and intoxicating fragrance, they add a touch of classic charm to any arbor. Choose from a variety of climbing roses, such as ‘Climbing Iceberg’ for pristine white blooms or ‘Blaze’ for fiery reds.
“All climbing roses will reach for the skies (although some climbers are relatively short, growing only to six or eight feet, while other more vertiginous cultivars such as ‘Cecile Bruner’ or ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’ can happily clamber up to the second story of a house), and they tend to have larger flowers and are often repeat-flowering” according to Gardenista. “Enduring favorites such as ‘New Dawn’ are popular for a reason, with beautiful pink flowers, healthy growth, and delicious fragrance.”
Legacy rose company Jackson & Perkins has advice on climbing rose care here.
Clematis Delight: Bursting with Color
Clematis is a versatile climber known for its vibrant flowers. With options like ‘Nelly Moser’ and ‘Jackmanii,’ you can enjoy a burst of colors ranging from soft pastels to rich purples. Pair different clematis varieties for a stunning color medley. Consider these tips on how to best care for your clematis.
Honeysuckle Harmony: Beauty and Benefits
Honeysuckle vines are a popular choice for their sweet fragrance and attractive trumpet-shaped flowers. Besides their aesthetic appeal, they also attract beneficial pollinators such as hummingbirds and butterflies, adding life to your garden. Here are tips on how to care for (the right) honeysuckle vines.
Jasmine Dream: Aromatic Ambiance
If you seek an arbor filled with heavenly scents, look no further than jasmine climbers. With their small, star-shaped white flowers, jasmine varieties like ‘Star Jasmine’ infuse the air with a sweet fragrance that lingers during warm summer evenings. Here are Happy Sprout’s tips on jasmine care.
Wisteria Wonder: Cascading Beauty
Wisteria vines are renowned for their breathtaking cascades of flowers. With racemes of purple, blue, or white blooms, they create a magical spectacle when draped over an arbor, evoking a sense of fairytale enchantment. Despite its’ beauty, this perennial vine with wonderfully fragrant flowers, often lavender, that grow in clusters, similar to grapes, is an invasive species from China.
According to University of Florida botanists, Chinese wisteria is a black hat player and should be removed, if it’s already present. Other varieties of wisteria are friendlier and less problematic.
“American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) and evergreen wisteria (Millettia reticulata) are two lovely, non-invasive options for your home landscape. The native American wisteria cultivar ‘Amethyst Falls’ has deep blue/purple flowers and blooms in the spring and summer,” according to researchers at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture. “The blooms may not be quite as fragrant, but won’t need the constant pruning and caution associated with Chinese or Japanese wisterias.
Consider these wisteria care tips.
2 More Alluring Climbers for Your Arbor
Trumpet Vine Triumph: Attracting Wildlife
Trumpet vines, with their trumpet-shaped flowers in vibrant hues of red and orange, attract not only the admiration of humans but also hummingbirds and bees, making your arbor a lively wildlife hub.
“Native to the eastern United States and now spreading to the West, the trumpet vine (Campsis radicans), also called trumpet creeper, gets its name from clusters of showy, red-orange, trumpet-shaped, three-inch blooms that appear from early summer to fall. Hummingbirds swarm to the tubular blossoms,” according to Southern Living magazine. “It climbs trees quickly and ascends 40 feet or more using aerial rootlets. Its flowers form seeds that drop to the ground, making more vines that do the same thing. The safest way to grow trumpet vine is on a column or arbor where it can’t reach other plants or structures.”
Good stewards of all its trumpet vines, the Morton Arboretum, outside Chicago, has a good profile of the vine for you to consider.
Passionflower Passion: Unique and Exotic
For a touch of exotic flair, choose passionflowers. Their intricate blooms and unique foliage come in various colors, such as purple, blue, and pink, bringing a fascinating and tropical vibe to your arbor.
“There are more than 500 species of Passiflora, and most produce show-off flowers with otherworldly silhouettes: stiff antennas on central coronas, surrounded by 10 cray0n-colored petals,” according to Gardenista. “In one growing season a passionflower vine can engulf a fence, wall, or pergola [or arbor!]with exuberant green foliage and prolific blooms.”
Nurturing Your Climbing Plants for Maximum Growth
Preparing the Arbor for Planting
Before planting your climbing wonders, ensure that your arbor is sturdy and securely anchored. This preparation sets the foundation for the healthy growth of the climbing plants.
Proper Planting Techniques
Follow the planting guidelines specific to each climbing plant to promote strong root development and ensure they establish well on your arbor.
“Most vines prefer a full sun location for best growth. There are a number of vines that will do well in part to full shade. Flowering vines will survive in a shaded growing site, but flowering may be reduced considerably. The soil should be well-drained and prepared with ample amounts of organic matter prior to planting the vine,” according to the University of Illinois extension. “Vines are generally planted at the same level there were growing in the pot with the exception of clematis. These should be planted so that at least two sets of leaf nodes (buds) are below the soil line. Water well after planting.”
Although this is good general advice from Illinois agronomists, it’s always best to check with your local extension or nursery for what prep is best in your area.
Watering, Feeding, and Pruning Tips
Regular watering and fertilization are essential to sustain the vigorous growth of climbing plants. Pruning, when done correctly, helps shape and manage their growth for a tidy and aesthetically pleasing look.
When to prune and fertilize varies with the type of vine and its growth rate. Some vines must be heavily pruned every year to keep them from appearing overgrown, but others only need occasional pruning to reduce size, or balance and direct growth. If you’re growing vines for flowers, remember that flowers are more abundant on horizontally trained shoots rather than vertically trained shoots.
Some excellent general advice for pruning, as well as fertilizing, can be found on your local county or agricultural extension website, such as this one for the University of Illinois Extension.
Training the Climbers for Optimal Coverage
Guide the climbing plants along the arbor’s framework using ties or supports, encouraging them to grow in the desired direction for optimal coverage and a lush appearance.
For plants that need a little boost to climb, such as climbing roses and bougainvillea, weave the rose or vine through the support (gently!) and it will start growing in the direction you’ve trained it. For small, delicate vines, use twist ties, garden twine or outdoor hook-and-loop fasteners, such as Velcro, to secure it to your arbor. Redirect any wayward vine growth by weaving it back into the arbor and securing with hook-and-loop fasteners or twine.
Creative Landscaping Ideas with Arbor Climbers
Combining Climbing Plants for Visual Harmony
Blend different climbing plants thoughtfully to create a harmonious and visually striking arrangement that complements your garden’s overall aesthetic.
Honeysuckle and sweet rocket is a deliciously scented combination, complete with purple biennial flowers mixed with the pop of honeysuckle color. The honeysuckle and sweet rocket (Hesperis matrionalis) combo is also ideal for full sun or part shade. (Note that sweet rocket, also known as dame’s rocket, can take over and get weedy if unattended.
A combination of verbena and Spanish flag brings opposites together to double their impact. The vibrant Spanish flag, which is also called a firecracker vine, blooms stand against the backdrop of the more subdued Verbena bonariensis. Verbena is a laid-back plant that’s traditionally easy to grow and care for.
Vertical Gardens on Arbors: A Green Paradise
Transform your arbor into a vertical garden by incorporating various climbers and hanging planters. This green paradise adds layers of beauty and greenery to your outdoor living space.
Integrating Lighting for Nighttime Enchantment
Enhance the allure of your arbor even after dusk by installing soft outdoor lighting. Illuminate the climbing plants and their blooms, creating a romantic and dreamy ambiance for your evening gatherings.
Lights aren’t your only nighttime enchantment option on an arbor. Moonflowers are magic in the garden, as they flower at night and even on cloudy days.
“Moonflower is a tender perennial vine that can add incredible beauty and powerful fragrance to a night garden,” according to gardening experts at The Spruce. “Often grown as an annual outside of its tropical and subtropical USDA hardiness zones, this vine is sometimes regarded as a night-blooming species of morning glory. It features large, heart-shaped, dark green leaves on robust, slightly prickly stems.”
Here is more information on moonflower plant care.
Troubleshooting and Common Issues
Pests and Diseases Management
Stay vigilant for common pests like aphids and diseases, including powdery mildew. Promptly address any issues to keep your climbing plants healthy and vibrant.
Clematis can suffer from diseases like clematis wilt, leaf spot, and powdery mildew. Fusarium rot is another fungal disease that can cause serious problems in several climbers.
“Black spot is a fungal disease commonly found on roses, but also on other flowers and fruits. While it doesn’t kill plants outright, it weakens them and makes them susceptible to other problems. In cool, moist weather, small black spots appear on foliage, which starts to turn yellow and eventually drops off,” according to The Family Handyman.
The black spot fungus overwinters in diseased canes and leaves, so remove both in late fall. Keep foliage clean and dry with mulch and position roses where the morning sun will quickly evaporate dew. Water at the roots rather than getting the foliage wet. Plant varieties of roses resistant to black spot, or spray plants with a fungicide to prevent black spot in the first place.
Vines can also be attacked by pests like aphids, caterpillars, scale insects, and spider mites. In general, tackle pests and diseases using horticultural oils, insecticidal soap, and organic fungicides or pesticides.
For the best advice in your area, contact your local nursery or university agricultural extension.
Seasonal Care and Protection
Be aware of seasonal changes and provide the necessary care to safeguard your climbing plants during harsh weather conditions
Many perennial plants, including climbing vines, need to be pruned in the fall a few weeks before the first frost, which will help prevent frost damage and encourage the vines to channel their energy down into the root zone for the winter.
Although many perennial climbing vines are often frost hardy, their foliage can be vulnerable. You don’t want bare buds and crowns exposed to frigid winter wind and temperatures. Pruning also ensures that any snowpack (if you live where it snows) won’t break or snap any large branches.
Other perennials, such as grapes or blueberries you may have trained to your arbor, should be pruned in late winter when the trees are bare.
Achieving the Ultimate Visual Impact
Creating a Breathtaking Focal Point
Utilize your arbor and climbing plants strategically to create a captivating focal point that draws attention and admiration.
For more inspiration, see what HGTV considers the most romantic garden arbors.
The Arbor’s Beauty Throughout the Seasons
Select climbing plants that offer year-round interest, ensuring your arbor remains a delightful sight in every season.
Summary: A Garden of Climbing Dreams
With a carefully chosen selection of climbing plants, your arbor can be transformed into a dreamy haven that delights all who encounter it. Remember to consider the suitability of each climber for your climate and arbor structure. Regular care, proper pruning, and creative landscaping will ensure your climbing wonders continue to thrive and create an enchanting outdoor living space.
For sunny locations, consider options like climbing roses, bougainvillea, or trumpet vines, as they thrive in full sun conditions.
Absolutely! Many climbing plants, such as clematis, jasmine, and ivy, adapt well to metal arbors and can add a touch of elegance to the structure.
Pruning during winter depends on the specific plant variety. As a general rule, you can prune after flowering for most climbers, except for those that bloom on new wood (e.g., some clematis). Always follow specific pruning guidelines to maintain the plant’s health and flowering ability.