Climbing Plants – Which Type is Best to Grow on a Wire Fence?

Climbing Plants – Which Type is Best to Grow on a Wire Fence?

In small gardens where space is at a premium, and when there is a need to cover a not too pretty sight, like a wire or chain link fence, before running off to the garden center to choose a particular species, it would be worthwhile considering first, the growth habits of different plant types. One example of a growth habit would be that of a large shrub grown as an informal screen. In the case mentioned above, a plant in this category would be unsuitable because it would take up too much space.

There are in fact three possible options. One would be bushes sheared as trimmed hedges, another would be growing climbing plants to cover the fence, while the third possibility would be to train and tie the branches of some tree or shrub species to the fence. Plants grown in this fashion are known as espaliers. Here are the pros and cons of each method.

A neatly trimmed hedge is usually an asset to any garden, for in addition to its screening function, it also serves as an ideal background for flowers or some focal point like a sculpture or water feature. The drawback when space is very restricted is that most bushes grown as a hedge will require a spread of at least 50cm in each direction from the plants’ center. All in all, the hedge will take up a meter in width at the very least. A further disadvantage is that keeping a hedge that is straight and neat is far from easy, and at best is highly labor intensive. The noise of a mechanical hedge trimmer periodically annoying the neighbors should not be forgotten either.

Growing vine like plants, or climbers, is in some ways the easiest method to adopt. The plants cover the fence of their own accord, requiring little or no training. It appears at first sight to be a maintenance-free solution, and is undoubtedly the main reason why so many people are tempted by it. Yet herein awaits a trap, because many climbing plants are too rampant and become effectively unmanageable. Some examples would be Wisteria, Bougainvillea, Thunbergia Grandiflora, and the passion fruit (Passiflora).

Another negative characteristic of vine like plants is the tendency of some species to become top heavy over the years. Due to a phenomenon in the plant kingdom known as apical dominance, where the leading bud pushes forward causing the lower buds to remain dormant, the plants become bare and woody from the ground upwards, while the foliage starts a meter or two above the ground. A typical example of this growth habit can be seen in honeysuckle. (Lonicera)

The espalier technique involves training and tying the branches of trees or bushes so they grow horizontally. The work is carried out on young branches which are sufficiently flexible. The consequence of horizontal growth, is that the apical dominance in each branch is neutralized, allowing the lateral buds to be activated and to grow.

In this way, a climbing rose for instance, will produce infinitely more flowers than one grown vertically, and similarly, a fruit tree, or bush, will produce an abundance of fruit. The espalier method, requires a considerable amount of work in terms of training, tying, and pruning, but allows for a far more manageable and controllable situation than the growing of climbing plants.

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