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PAIR A CLIMBER WITH A BARE WALL, TREE OR STRUCTURE, AND THEY CAN INJECT COLOUR AND INTEREST...
CLIMBERS can be a great asset in your garden, but you do need to match the plant to the plot. Problems arise when people put climbers and wall-trained shrubs in sites that don’t suit them, or they fail to prepare the site properly. For best results it’s vital to get the groundwork right.
The soil at the foot of a wall is usually dry and poor due to the presence of foundations and the umbrella effect caused by the wall deflecting rain away from the building.
Common side-effects of this are stunted growth, poor flowering and regular outbreaks of mildew. So before planting any climber or wall shrub, dig a large hole and work in lots of well-rotted organic matter. If you are planting an especially large or greedy climber such as a rose, wisteria, grapevine or a fan or espalier-trained fruit tree, excavate a good-sized trench along the base of the wall and fill it with compost to provide a nutrientrich rooting area.
Position wall nails, trellis or netting to attach the plant to. But avoid planting climbers such as Virginia creeper or ivy against house walls, since they hold on using suckers, tendrils or aerial roots which can ruin mortar and cause damp.
Many large, vigorous climbers, as well as some tamer ones, look effective when allowed to scramble through trees or shrubs. As a bonus there’s then no need to prune plants such as rambler roses and wisteria – just leave them to spread.
But don’t plant large climbers through slow-growing or small trees, as a strong climber can kill its support by depriving it of light.
Neither should you plant the climber at the foot of the host tree or shrub, as conditions will be too dark, dry and depleted of nutrients.
Instead, plant at the edge of the ‘drip-zone’, just below the furthest extent of the canopy of leaves.
Dig a large planting hole, two or three times the size of the root ball, before working in several bucketfuls of well-rotted organic matter and a double handful of general fertiliser, such as blood, bone and fishmeal, then plant.
Lean a pole or drape a long piece of rope from the base of the climber up into the tree or shrub, and wind the climber round to lead it into the lower branches. Once there it will keep going without extra help, but keep the new climber well watered until it’s established, and feed it regularly as the support plant will compete for food and water.
ARCHES AND PERGOLAS
When choosing a climber, make sure its eventual size is in proportion to the size of the structure. Prepare a planting hole on the shady side of the structure, since the plant will grow towards the light – if planted on the bright side it will tend to fall away.
After planting, untie the stems from their cane and spread them out all over the base of the upright supports, then tie them loosely in place so the plant gives good coverage.
As climbers grow, spiral them up around the supporting structure to encourage side-shoots that carry flowers right from the base of the plant, as well as covering the support better.
It is essential to treat climbing roses and ramblers in this way, otherwise all their flowers are produced at the top of the plant and you will be left with long, bare, leggy stems at the base.
If you are already struggling with this problem, you should plant contrasting perennials of the right height round the base, and they will soon cover up the bare stems.
An ivy’s tendrils can ruin mortar on a house wall and cause damp