Best climbing plants for trellis or pergola

Best climbing plants for trellis or pergola

Grow your own shade with these gorgeous and colorful garden plants.

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Pergolas and trellises are hot spots 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.

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 Zolene Quindwe, head of horticulture at Yardzen. If bees buzzing around your yard will disrupt your meetings, look for low-scented flowers that don’t attract pollinators.

Related: How to Create a Pollinator-Friendly Garden

You may need to do a regular cleaning job if your pergola is located above your outdoor living space. “All plants shed at some capacity and so do vines,” says Blythe Yost, co-founder and chief landscape architect at Tilly Design. “Tables or furniture underneath may be covered in debris at certain times of the year.” My vine-covered trellis goes into a bird feeding frenzy in the middle of summer, resulting in a constant need to clean up my 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.”

Related:15 Popular Plants You Should Never Grow in Your Garden

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.”

The best climbing plants for your garden


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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.

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 bloom that will make a statement,” Yost says.

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

Related: How to care for hydrangeas – whether planted in a pot or in a bouquet

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.

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. “The Moonflower is a fun vine with huge flowers that are four to six inches across and open at night,” Quindwe says. “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 themed garden with white flowers 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.

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.

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.

Expect your climbing rose to reach about eight feet in height.


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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.

Sweetened peas

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David Q. Cavagnaro/Photo Library/Getty Images

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 grow up to eight feet tall.

Morning glory

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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.

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