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Planting and maintaining climbing plants

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Clematis (Clematis 'Lilacina Floribunda')
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Robert Mineau)  
Clematis 'Lilacina Floribunda'

When to plant?

Transplant perennial species from April to May, or from September to October.

Soil preparation

Dig a hole that is twice as wide and deep as the root ball. The soil can be amended with compost or composted manure.

Where and how to plant climbing plants?

To avoid competition, do not plant climbers near suckering plants, which would interfere with good root development. Shallow-rooted ground covers make better companion plants. It is best to leave 20 to 30 cm between a climber and its support, to encourage good root and stem development.

Place climbers the same distance away from a wall, too, to avoid having them overheat from the sun reflecting off the wall or dry out because the foundations absorb all the moisture.

They can be planted immediately next to a tree or shrub, if you wish, or else farther away to avoid competition for water and nutrients with its roots. Lay the base of the plant in the hole and bury the first 10 to 15 cm of the stem. The bottom nodes in contact with the soil will form new, anchoring roots. After a few weeks, once the soil is compacted, you can start training the plant on the support.

Maintaining climbing plants

Watering

Most climbers prefer to have “cool feet”. That means that it is best to water them deeply early in the day. Mulch will help preserve moisture and protect the roots from the sun’s rays.

Pruning

As a rule, climbers should be pruned in spring, by removing all dead wood and broken or diseased branches. The stems can be cut back by one-half to encourage new stems to form at the base and avoid the formation of long, bare branches.

Rejuvenation pruning may be done, depending on the species. Climbing roses and some clematis plants that bloom on the previous year’s wood should not be given this type of pruning in spring, except for any dead or diseased branches and over-long stems.

Pests and diseases

Few insect pests or diseases attack climbing plants, making them a good low-maintenance choice for gardeners. Aphids may occasionally attack young shoots and even more rarely may some traces of powdery mildew or rust appear. Climbing roses require closer monitoring, however, because they are more susceptible to insect pests and diseases.

Winter protection

Hardy plants require winter protection in the form of leaf mulch at their base. For non-hardy climbers, you will need to detach and bundle the stems and cover 30 to 45 cm of their base with dry mulch (dead leaves) before wrapping them in an opaque white polyethylene sheet.

Based on an article by Gabriel Gauthier in Quatre-Temps magazine, Vol. 20, No. 1

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