How to Train and Maintain Creepers and Climbers

Creepers and climbers in your garden will cover anything ugly, soften any hard surface, and become a textural backdrop for other plants in the foreground. Training vines is important in order to ensure they grow and look their best. Some plants will naturally climb a trellis with minimal help from us. While others will need to be trained to grow vertically. In this post, you’ll learn all about training climbing plants to grow on a trellis, with step-by-step instructions.

Some vines grow upward (climbing), some creep (ground covers) and others grow downward (trailing). Most are fast growers and with support from a trellis or pergola,  can be trained to cover nearly any surface. Their long stems latch onto walls, rocks, and vertical supports to grow toward sunlight.

Which vine is right for your garden? In warmer climates bougainvillea and jasmine will add colour and fragrance to a fence or wall. In temperate climates, wisteria will go wild and provide colour.

All climbers, whether twining or attached by aerial roots or pads, benefit from initial training and pruning.

Step 1: Putting up Supports


Supports should be in place prior to planting. To allow plants to grow freely against walls and fences, fix supports about 5cm (2in) away from the wall or fence surface.

Possible supports include:

  • Taut horizontal or vertical wires
  • Wooden trellis screwed to thick wooden battens to raise it from the wall surface
  • Free standing screens of post and plastic mesh or post and wire.


Step 2: How to Plant


Do not plant right against the support, as it will create a rain shadow. The aim is to train the plant to grow horizontally from the beginning.

If planting against a solid structure such as wall or fence allow about a 45cm (18in) gap between the plant and the wall. Otherwise, a 20-30cm (8in-1ft) gap is sufficient. Some climbers (certain clematis for example) benefit from deeper planting.

Pick your two best stems and tie them down to the horizontal frame. You can even use tent pegs to secure the stem outward to the ground. Remove any extra growth from the middle of the plant so that the energy is going to the main lateral stems.

Training the plant horizontally takes the energy from a dominant end bud and shares it amongst the buds along the stem.

When the buds along the first lateral stems start to grow, train them horizontally as well. This will mean the whole are is filled with the climbing plant.

Step 3: Initial Training and Pruning


If you are raising your own plant from seed or cuttings, create a wigwam of split canes or slender bamboo canes within the pot as soon as the young plant needs support. Twine new stems up these, tying carefully with twine. Try not to let the shoots tangle together too much as they will need to be untwined when they go on their final supports. Add taller canes if necessary but ideally plant out as soon as the root ball is well developed.

Make sure you have put up support wires on the wall first.

  1. Plant your climber about 30-45cm (1ft-18in) from the base of the wall, so that it has room for root development and will catch the rain.
  2. Remove all ties; with plants from a garden centre, use scissors to cut off plastic ties that hold the climber to its bamboo cane supports.
  3. Untwine the climber from any canes sufficiently to allow you to spread out the stems, but leave them still attached to their cane supports. Select three bamboo canes to train the climber at an angle up to the wire supports on the wall.
  4. Slip the bamboo canes under the wires to hold them in place, adjusting the positioning to create a fan shape. If your climber came twined around only one bamboo cane, then you’ll have to untwine it completely and find another two canes to train the stems.
  5. Tie the stems and canes to the wire supports. Garden twine is better than wire, which can damage the stems and leaves. Snip off the excess twine with scissors.
  6. After you have trained the main stems into a basic fan shape, you can use secateurs to prune off any weak or twiggy growth that doesn’t contribute to the main framework.

The end result is a well-planted climber, fan trained along bamboo canes that have been tied in to the wire supports on the wall.


Tie new growth in regularly, and extend the canes as necessary. You could fill out the fan shape with new rows of canes, to accommodate lengthening main stems and new sub-branches. Eventually, when the climber has formed thick woody stems, you can remove the canes, and the plant will hold its fan shape unaided.


If your climber has spindly stems without many growth buds, you can shorten the main stems by about one-third, to encourage vigour and bushing out.

If your climber fails to thrive, it may be struggling to establish, perhaps because of difficult soil conditions, poor planting technique, or inadequate aftercare.