14 Best Climbing Plants for Your Trellis or Pergola

14 Best Climbing Plants for Your Trellis or Pergola

Pergolas and trellises are hot items in backyards — and they're also a great way to provide some much-needed shade for outdoor entertaining. While you can always opt for fabric shades or other man-made options, adding climbing plants to your garden adds beauty along with some much-needed relief from shade.

But choosing the right climbing plants for your trellis or pergola can be difficult with so many great options available, from flowering plants to interesting foliage to fruits and vegetables. Here's what to consider — and some different plants to get you started.

  • Zolen Quindwe, Head of Yardzen's Horticulture Department
  • Blythe Yost, co-founder and principal landscape architect of Tilly Design

The best climbing plants for your garden

Clematis

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These beautiful perennials often come in shades of purple, pink and white, and can grow up to 20 to 30 feet tall, depending on the variety you choose. (Just look at the information carefully, as some varieties only grow two to five feet tall!)

Jasmine can be a fast-growing plant, if you're looking to add shade quickly, and it can also thrive in areas with partial shade – although you'll get more flowers if you plant it in full sun.

They climb using small, delicate tendrils to cling to a climbing surface, so if you want them to climb a larger structure, add a net or barrier with thin wires that they can climb.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained, neutral
  • a light: Bright sun
  • measuring: 3 to 30 feet

Climbing hydrangea

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If you want a climbing plant that thrives in shade, climbing hydrangea is your best choice. “I love climbing hydrangeas for a shade wall because they have beautiful texture and a large flower that will make a statement,” says Blythe Yost, co-founder and principal landscape architect at Tilly Design.

Climbing hydrangeas bloom white all summer, and their leaves turn a brilliant golden yellow in the fall.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 7
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained, acidic
  • a light: Partial shade to full sun
  • measuring: Its height is 30 to 50 feet

Trumpet vine

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This vine is stunning, reaching 40 feet tall with gorgeous orange-red blooms. It thrives in full sun or partial shade, but will need regular pruning to help you keep it from overtaking your entire yard.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained, acidic
  • a light: Partial shade to full sun
  • measuring: Its height is 25 to 40 feet

moon flower

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If you're planning to have fun at night, a moonflower plant could be a beautiful addition to your garden. “Moonflower is a fun vine with huge flowers that are four to six inches across and open at night,” says Zolene Quindwe, head horticulturist at Yardzen. “Its sweet scent and white color are meant to attract moths, but these same attributes make it a wonderful addition to a moon garden – a garden with a white-flowered theme that can be enjoyed at night.”

Moonflowers can be perennials in hotter areas of the country, but will be annuals elsewhere. Despite its night-blooming habits, it needs plenty of sun to thrive.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 10 to 12
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained, slightly acidic
  • a light: Bright sun
  • measuring: 10 to 15 feet tall

Infernal

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The leafy petals of this vine are called “bracts” (actually similar to poinsettias) and they are quite tolerant of extreme conditions such as heat and droughts. They can reach up to 40 feet tall!

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 10 To 11
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained, slightly acidic
  • a light: Bright sun
  • measuring: Its height is from 15 to 40 feet

Star jasmine

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This beautiful scented vine is a perfect addition to your trellis or pergola, with its lush leaves and small flowers. “I like to add fragrant vines near windows or outdoor gathering areas so the scent can be easily enjoyed,” says Quindwe.

Star jasmine can grow in full sun and partial shade, and can reach six feet tall.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 8 to 10
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained, slightly acidic
  • a light: Partial shade to full sun
  • measuring: Up to 6 feet tall

Climbing roses

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Roses are a traditional climbing flower for trellises and pergolas, with a wide range of colors and types available to suit any garden. Just keep the thorns in mind!

Climbing roses do best in partial shade or full sun, and you will need to bend and tie the canes of your rose plant to train it to the structure you want it to climb.

The average height of the climbing rose is about eight feet, but it… Can Up to 20 feet tall.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 11
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline
  • a light: Partial shade to full sun
  • measuring: 3 to 20 feet

Mandeville

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Mandevilla flowers are trumpet-shaped and appear in varying shades of red, pink and white. Since it is a tropical plant, it will not do well when it gets cold.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 11
  • Soil: Sandy, well-drained, neutral to slightly acidic
  • a light: Bright sun
  • measuring: 3 to 8 feet

Honeysuckle

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These super-scented flowers are a favorite of bees, and are actually considered invasive in some areas, depending on the type of honeysuckle you grow. The flowers can come in shades of yellow, red, white, pink, or purple, and the plant itself can reach up to 20 feet tall (perfect for a large pergola!). Honeysuckle doesn't like full sun, so plant it where it can get some shade so it can thrive.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained, neutral to slightly acidic
  • a light: Partial shade to full sun
  • measuring: 8 to 12 feet

Sweetened peas

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This beautiful flowering vine doesn't produce edible pea pods (in fact, they're poisonous!) – but it does provide plenty of bright, fragrant blooms in summer and fall. It thrives in sunlight and can reach eight feet tall.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 8
  • Soil: Well drained, neutral to slightly alkaline
  • a light: Partial shade to full sun
  • measuring: Up to 8 feet tall

Morning glory

Photo by Gyroscope/Getty Images


This beautiful flowering vine is an annual plant grown from seed, can grow up to 10 feet tall and produces lots of gorgeous white, pink, purple or blue flowers on its vines. Although popular with butterflies and bees, the plant can be toxic to pets. They need full sun to thrive.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 11
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained, neutral
  • a light: Bright sun
  • measuring: 3 to 10 feet

Black-eyed Susan

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These polka dot flowers grow very quickly—within a month of purchase and planting they can flower—and can reach up to 8 feet tall. Despite their tropical roots, they can be grown farther north as annuals.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 10 To 11
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained, neutral
  • a light: Partial shade to full sun
  • measuring: 3 to 10 feet

Virginia creeper

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For a leafy look, try Virginia Creeper, which has a stunning red color in fall. Leaves fall when the weather gets cold. It thrives in full sun, but can handle partial shade and almost any type of soil.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 10 To 11
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained, neutral
  • a light: Partial shade to full sun
  • measuring: 15 to 20 feet

Wisteria

Clive Wells/Getty Images


Wisterias are loved for their lilac-coloured blooms – the clusters of petals look almost like grapes from afar and drape beautifully over a pergola. It also imparts a subtle sweet scent.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 To 9
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained, slightly acidic
  • a light: Partial shade to full sun
  • measuring: 15 to 20 feet

Tips for choosing climbing plants for your garden

Consider how you will use your pergola or trellis

For a walkway trellis in a remote part of your garden, the sky is the limit, but if you plan to use the space under your pergola for entertaining or as a well-trafficked entryway, you may need to be more mindful of your plant choices.

“Vine plants such as bougainvillea and climbing roses can grow very large and their thorny branches can be a problem if planted next to a walkway,” says Quindwe. If bees buzzing around your yard will disrupt your meetings, look for low-scented flowers that don't attract pollinators.

You may need to do a regular cleaning job if your pergola is located above your outdoor living space. “All plants shed some degree, and so does the vine,” Yost says. “Tables or furniture underneath may be covered in debris at certain times of the year.” For example, a trellis covered with grape vines becomes a bird feeding frenzy in the middle of summer, resulting in a constant need to clean up the yard.

Understand plant growth habits

A plant that can reach 20 feet tall can easily overpower a small trellis, while a more delicate vine may not provide enough shade for your space.

Climbing plants use different techniques to climb a structure, some of which may not be something you want. “Some have coiled stems or tendrils that wrap around vertical supports—such as sweet pea, clematis, and passionflower—while others attach themselves to surfaces via air pots or sticky pads, including true ivy, Boston ivy, Virginia creeper, and fig The climber,” he says. Quindwe. “These chromes can be very difficult to remove and can damage surfaces they were previously attached to.”

You'll also need to consider what the plant needs to thrive. “Remember that plants have light and water requirements that need to be considered for the specific space in which you're looking to add climbing vines,” Yost says. “The north side of any building is generally shaded, so you'll need something that works in the shade.”

Beware of invasive plants

“Climpers, by definition, are invasive,” Yost says. “Some with fast growth habits — ivy, wisteria and ecbia — can get out of hand and take over the garden. Others behave better, like clematis and lonicera.”

Some climbing plants to consider for your garden:

• Chinese wisteria

• English Ivy

• Chinese bittersweet

• Kudzu

• Concord grape

• Karma porcelain

• Silver lace vine

• Chocolate vine (Ikepia quinata)

Keep your pets and children safe

Some common vines, such as wisteria and Carolina jessamine, may be toxic to pets and children, so you may want to reconsider them if you're concerned about exposure.

Consider mixing two or more plants in the same structure

If you fall in love with more than one type of plant, you may be able to mix and match to create the perfect look. “Climbing roses and clematis are a great combination,” Yost says. “The rosette provides structure for the clematis to climb and the clematis adds texture to the spindly lower stems.”

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