Reaching for the sky-tendrils, twiners, and scramblers

“Fee-fi-fo-fum.” We learn early on that vines can grow tall and seem to reach the sky.

There are many different types of vines, and each has its own magic to make climbing possible. 

Tendrils are one way plants climb. It often feels like they grow while we watch. The small tendrils reach out into the air, searching for support to grab. 

Stem tendrils, such as those on passionflowers and grapes, grow from the stem. Leaf tendrils, as on sweet peas, are modified leaves that grow from a leaf node. 

Both tendrils need horizontal support to climb. Netting will work, but not the tiny bird netting, go for the bigger mesh of at least 2 inches, but not more than 4 inches wide. String or small wire will also work but avoid slick vertical posts. As the tendrils grab and grow on the supports, they will tighten and create tension as needed. 

Twiners are another form of climbers. They can be much stronger than tendrils. Clematis is a twining leaf plant, using its leaves like tendrils to wrap around slender wires, string, or twigs. I have seen pergola posts covered in chicken wire to give clematis a “ladder” to climb. As the clematis covered the wire, it was beautiful but required maintenance to keep the vine controllable.

Twining stems, such as pole beans, bittersweet, morning glories, and honeysuckle, will twist around whatever they touch. Gourds are an example of twining stems that wrap loosely. If you have ever tried to redirect morning glories, you know how clever the vines are at reaching and wrapping around the closet objects. Wisteria is notorious for wrapping tightly around structures.  

The wisteria vines grow big and heavy and can cause the supports to collapse. Remember, if you plant wisteria, you will need to add extra support for the vines to climb as they mature and I suggest pruning to control the growth. It sure is pretty when in bloom, but without proper care can grow to be destructive.

Scramblers include bougainvillea, and climbing roses don’t climb on their own. This is where the rose thorns come in handy. The sharp points of the thorns help the vines grip other stems and climb. 

When trying to cover an arch or trellis, these scramblers may need to be wired to the main support structure to get the look of a full and robust climber.

Over the years, I have used several different supports in the garden. Bamboo teepees have held hyacinth bean vines. As the vines grew higher than the support, they mounded at the top, creating a cluster of vines and eventual seed pods. It was a happy accident.

I have covered a slick lamppost with wire netting, hoping clematis would climb. I think I was off to a good start until the deer realized it was even easier to reach when growing up the post.

My newest trellis and one so special I can’t decide where to place it or which plant will have the honor of its graceful curls is an antique iron fan-shaped support. It was a birthday gift, and I so wish it could tell me stories of the gardens it has been a part of- I imagine it has witnessed afternoon teas, romantic evenings, and early morning garden mediations. 

Climbing plants are more than a fairytale. With proper placement, a solid structure, and good pruning habits, your vines will reach toward the sky.