Training the Climbers: A Guide to Vines

Cross-vine can grow eight feet or more in a season. It will grow on any trellis or arbor.
Cross-vine can grow eight feet or more in a season. It will grow on any trellis or arbor. (Photos By Sandra Leavitt Lerner For The Washington Post)
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By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, August 30, 2008

Vines can be trained onto almost any structure -- deck, porch, shed, pergola, wall, fence, pole or arbor. The type of climber being trained determines how it should be attached. Plants climb in different ways:

· Aerial roots. Ivy and trumpet vine have adventitious, also called aerial, roots that will attach to any solid wall without training. If you plant ivy or trumpet vine on a trellis with an open framework, tie it to the supports until it self-attaches with rootlets from its stem onto the vertical support it is against. English ivy is actually a woody shrub that strives to grow vertically by means of aerial roots. As it grows up a tree, it changes from juvenile (lobed leaves, no fruit) to adult (no lobes on leaves, flowers and fruit that birds love to eat and spread through the woods).

· Twining. Some plants twine around other objects they come into contact with. Clematis, morning glory, honeysuckle, kiwi ( Actinidia kolomikta) and wisteria will train themselves onto anything. The challenge is keeping them under control. These vines can kill a tree or shrub by entwining too tightly around it. As the tree grows, live tissue just under the bark (cambium) grows into the vine and cuts off the tree's vascular system that supplies nutrients and water to the leaves. Keep twining vines off trees.

· Tendrils. Plants such as the grape have spiral, springlike stems called tendrils that curl around wires and other narrow supports. Tendrils of beans and peas grow from leaf stems and curl around wires and poles in the same way grapevines do. They will train themselves onto an arbor or over lattice.

· Tendrils with modified connectors. Some vines, including Boston ivy ( Parthenocissus tricuspidata) and Virginia creeper ( P. quinquefolia), have modified connectors at the end of each tendril called discs that attach to a structure with a type of natural glue. This disc will pull the vine up to the structure; a new section of stem grows to the next spot the connector can attach to. They prefer solid structures such as walls and trees.

Shrubs that aren't natural climbers can be trained on trellises. The best ones are vigorous growers that will take hard pruning and dependably renew. Roses and pyracanthas can be trained as climbers. Pruning keeps them tightly against trellises and full of flowers, fruits or berries. Shrubs you train should have interesting leaf color, berries, flowers, branching habits or other outstanding characteristics.

Trellising plants and keeping them narrow are excellent approaches for tight spaces. The practice of training shrubs and trees on trellises is called espaliering. It was developed by the French as an intensive gardening practice to stimulate fruit production in small areas. Using espalier theories, almost any branching pattern can be achieved, from fishbone or fan shapes to your name across the front of your home.

A simplified explanation for training a shrub or tree in this fashion is to prune the front and rear growing branches and leave only desired side branches. Leave three- to six-inch stems coming off main branches so there are buds to produce flowers and fruit. The time to prune depends on the plant. Most should flower or fruit before being pruned.


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