The climbing game: They fill a gap with style but wisteria and vines must be kept in check


Ignore climbing plants at your peril - without a helping hand, some will become an unsightly tangle, while others will simply run out of steam.

Yet it's easy to keep plants under control and guarantee a great display next year by setting to work with a pair of secateurs now.

Half-an-hour's energetic pruning should improve the performance of fruiting vines, climbing roses, wisteria, ornamental vines and a number of popular varieties of clematis.

Taming of the shrub: Careful pruning with secateurs can stop climbers like these getting out of hand

Taming of the shrub: Careful pruning with secateurs can stop climbers like these getting out of hand

And if you don't have any climbers in your garden but can see bare patches against a fence, trellis or wall, why not cover them quickly by planting a climber or wall shrub?

Once the current freeze is over, plant some container-grown varieties - they can be planted at any time as long as the ground isn't completely frozen or waterlogged.

Before taming your plants, make sure you have the right tools. Sharp secateurs are fine for branches up to pencil thickness but should not be used on anything thicker as the blades could tear or bruise plant tissue.

Lopers will easily slice through branches up to 1in thick, while anything bigger will need removing with a handheld pruning saw. 

In my garden, a black Hamburg grape vine growing against training wires attached to a fence is always pruned back hard to a stump in December to encourage lots of new branches that carry heavily laden bunches of fruit in summer.

The pruning method for fruiting vines like these sounds complicated but is actually straightforward. When training, the aim is to develop two strong branches either side of the stump and tie them horizontally to the bottom wire. These produce vertical shoots from buds in the growing season, three of which should be attached to a cane at the centre of the plant.

In winter, remove all growth apart from the three central stems. Two are reduced to around 29in and tied down to the bottom wire, either side of the central trunk. Cut the other back to four buds - these will form next season's central shoots.

Climbing roses need little pruning, but if you neglect them they'll try to take over your garden.

Warning: Ignore climbing plants at your peril, says Martyn Cox

Warning: Ignore climbing plants at your peril, says Martyn Cox

Start by removing dead, dying, diseased or wispy branches. Next, fill gaps in the growing space by tying some main shoots to supports with twine. Once you've filled the gaps, prune out any larger branches that are left.

Reduce smaller branches growing from the main shoots, cutting them back by about two-thirds to outward-facing buds.

A wisteria dripping with scented pink flowers is a memorable sight in late spring, but for a great spectacle you need to prune this climber hard. Simply trim back all side shoots growing from the main branches to two buds.

There's no need to give ornamental vines, such as Vitis coignetiae and V. vinifera 'Purpurea', such tough treatment. All most need is the ends of shoots trimmed to keep them within bounds, and stems tying in to fill gaps on trellis or wire supports. If plants are overcrowded, cut back some of the side shoots to within four buds of the main stem.

Clematis needs pruning in different ways and at different times of the year depending when it blooms. Those that flower after early summer, including Clematis tangutica, C. viticella and large-flowered varieties such as C. 'Jackmanii', C. 'Gipsy Queen' and C. 'Hagley Hybrid', can be pruned now.

Prune C. tangutica by gathering stems in your hand and cutting straight across, 1ft above the ground. Cut the others back to a healthy pair of buds, around 17in above the soil.

Planting a climber or wall shrub is simple. If possible, dig the hole about 1ft from the base of a wall, fence or trellis so the roots get plenty of water - any closer and the soil will be too dry.

Make the hole twice the width but slightly deeper than the rootball. Prick the sides and base of the hole with a garden fork so roots can penetrate easily. Before planting, gently tease out some of the roots to help them spread readily in the soil.

Place the rootball in the hole so the top is just beneath the surface. If planting clematis, ensure the top of the rootball is 2½in beneath the ground to protect buds lower down on the plant from fungal disease.

Fill the hole with soil, firm down with your hands and water.

Untie the plant from its original stake, then push canes into the soil angled gently towards the wall. Tie each stem to a cane.

When the stems of self-clinging climbers reach the wall or fence, they will grip naturally, but wall shrubs and other climbers will need securing with nails or attaching to a network of support wires.

Finish by spreading a 2in layer of bark mulch, garden compost or leaf mould around the plant.

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