Cultivating climbers |

Cultivating climbers

Marty Jones
Honeysuckle smells lovely when it blooms.

While it’s still early in the growing season, May is a great time of the year to integrate exciting structural features such as arches, trellises, pergolas or even a gazebo into your garden or landscape. Each of these features can support a variety of perennial vines that will come back each summer season and continue to mature over time. Vines offer vertical interest and color to a landscape, and they can also provide cover, shade, and privacy when trained to grow on an appropriate support.

Besides offering vines a place to climb, the structures on which they grow can add architectural character to an outdoor space. A carefully placed trellis or arch can serve as a dividing space or entryway from one area of a landscape to the next in the same way that a doorway divides the rooms in a home. In the summertime, vines growing on trellises and arches can have showy, beautiful blooms, but even in the winter months, the twisting woody stems that are characteristic of some vines will continue to offer visual interest even as snows blanket the ground.

A pergola is a structural garden feature that can form a shaded walkway or sitting area, usually by means of vertical pillars that support crossbeams and open lattice. While a pergola is often an open structure placed along a walkway, a gazebo functions more like an outdoor room with a roof overhead. Gazebos can be designed with lattice features or railings on which vines can be trained to grow. While it may take years for vines to mature and twist themselves around a pergola or gazebo, the result is a stunning, life-wrapped structure that can be a place for relaxing and enjoying the outdoors.

Climbing Vines for Mountain Landscapes

When choosing perennial vines that will grow well on a structural feature in your garden or landscape, consider location, aspect, and ongoing maintenance needs. These three climbing plants, which are hardy throughout the Vail Valley, can be planted in early- to mid-June, or any time during the summer following the last frost. So spend some time in May getting support structures in place, and then make plans to train these climbers to grow on them this summer:

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Clematis comes in many varieties and can produce an explosion of summer blooms that vary in color depending on the plant. Blooms can be purple, pink, blue, white, red, or rose; clematis vines may require two seasons before they get established and begin blooming. But once they do, you’ll be thankful for your patience. Clematis grows well in rich soil and in areas that receive partial shade to full sun, but be sure to keep roots cool by adding mulch around the base of the plant.


The Virginia creeper is a climbing vine that can grow upwards of 50 feet over time, and it has a seasonal dynamic that’s appreciated in this area with only a few other exciting bursts of autumnal color. The plant’s bright green leaves turn brilliant shades of red and orange in the fall. The Virginia creeper also has woody stems that will thicken over time and provide winter interest. Virginia creeper does best and puts on its most spectacular scarlet autumn transformation when it’s grown in full sun, but it can also grow in the shade. The Virginia creeper’s persistent blue-black berries attract birds to make your garden a more social space.


Honeysuckle vine is known for its fragrant blooms and its ability to attract hummingbirds, hawk moths and bees. Honeysuckle varieties bloom in red, yellow, pink, white, and orange, among other colors. Once established, honeysuckle vines often require less watering than others, and they can grow in full sun to partial shade. Like the Virginia creeper, honeysuckle vines also have woody stems.

Before planting these climbing vines or others including climbing roses, amend soil if necessary to ensure nutrient-rich conditions. Most perennial vines grow best in soil that’s enriched with compost and well drained. When planting, dig a planting hole as deep as the plant’s root ball and two to three times as wide. Add a layer of mulch at the base of the plant to protect the crown and to insulate the soil. Water new plants regularly, and then water as needed. Finally, sit back and enjoy while these vines twist and twine their way to embellishing your landscape this summer and in the years to come.

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