Planting climbers

The secret of success when planting a climber is to make sure that the soil is in good heart and the roots are set away from the dry conditions found at the base of a wall. After planting, I also suggest that you cover the surface of the soil with a mulch to prevent competition from weeds and help retain all available moisture around the roots of the plant.

When should I plant?

Container-grown climbers can be planted at any time of the year, except when the soil is frozen or waterlogged but autumn is the ideal time for deciduous climbers because the soil is still warm enough to encourage some root growth before the onset of winter. This helps the climber establish quickly so that it is more able to withstand any hot, dry spells the following summer. Container-grown evergreen climbers can also be planted in autumn, but in exposed gardens they are best planted in April (May in colder areas) so they can become established before the colder weather. I would also wait until spring to plant climbers of borderline hardiness. Protect all vulnerable climbers over winter by covering them in an insulating layer, such as double-thickness garden fleece.

Six steps to success

  1. . First of all make sure there is a suitable support for the climber and that it is in good repair (including the wall or fence used to hold it up). If planting against a wall or fence make the planting hole about 45cm (18in) away to avoid the dry soil found in these areas. You will need to dig a hole at least twice as wide and slightly deeper than the climber's container. Mix the soil you've removed with well-rotted organic matter, and leave IT to one side. If your soil is heavy clay, break up the sides and bottom of the hole by gently pricking the smeared surfaces with a fork - this will allow the roots to grow into the surrounding soil.
  2. . Nearly all climbers should be planted at the same depth as in the pot. Check the hole is the right depth by laying a cane or piece of straight timber across the hole. If the climber is standing too high you'll need to remove some of the soil in the bottom of the hole, or if it's too low then top it up a bit. The exception is clematis which is worth planting 10cm (4in) deeper than it is growing in its pot. This may seem a bit odd, but deeper planting means that the base of the stems are underground and protected if the dreaded clematis wilt disease attacks. Although affected clematis will dieback to ground level, there is a good chance that they will re-sprout from underground buds at the base of the stems, effectively saving the plant.
  3. Water the climber thoroughly and allow to drain. Gently tip the plant on its side and, with one hand on top of the compost and around the climber to support it, then ease the climber out of its pot.
  4. Carefully tease out any roots that were circling around the bottom or sides of the pot so they grow away from the rootball and into the surrounding soil. Position the climber in the centre of the hole and lean it back towards the bottom of the support at a 45-degree angle. Then, fill in the gaps around the sides of the plant with soil mixture, firming it down gently in layers as you work your way up to the top.
  5. Once the hole has been filled, gently firm the soil once more - you don't want to squash it in, just get rid of any air pockets and make sure the plant is secure. Water the climber again using at least one full watering can. Then cover the surface of the soil with a generous layer of mulch, such as chipped bark to help prevent weeds and reduce the amount of water loss from the soil.
  6. . Untie the climber from the support cane supplied in the pot and space out and tie in all the stems to the new support system, discarding the old cane.

Planting next to trees and shrubs

Climbers can also be trained to climb through trees and shrubs and over hedges, much in the same way as they do in the wild. If planting a climber among established plants a slightly different planting technique should be used.

  • Choose a position that lies at the edge of the supporting plants' canopy. This is where rainwater will drip off and keep the new climbers roots moist - known as the 'drip zone'. Prepare the ground in the normal way, but restrict yourself to the immediate area around the planting position so that you disturb as few roots of the support plant as possible.
  • Dig a hole at least three-times as wide and twice deep as the climber's container and prune off any roots exposed by the excavation.
  • The climber needs to be planted as described above. Hammer in a stake next to the climber and tie a rope from the stake into the canopy of the supporting plant. Then tie the climber to this rope so that it is guided into the supporting plant but is not uprooted every time the wind blows.

Cut back after planting It is well worth cutting back newly planted climbers by two thirds. This will encourage lots more side shoots to tie in. The growth hormones in climbers make them shoot straight upwards, creating a tall leggy specimen that's bare at the base. By cutting back that top growth you encourage buds lower down to shoot and grow out sideways, producing a bushier plant. It might seem brutal to cut back something newly planted, but the end result will be a much healthier, fuller plant.