Most gardeners will, at some stage or another, need to put up a support for plants to climb over. Whether it’s beans or cucumbers on the veg plot, or any number of plants that need to cling and climb in order to best show off their leaves and flowers, having something for them to grip onto and grow up is vital.
Garden retailers are only too happy to try and persuade you to shell out cash on the latest climbing plant support systems for your garden, but such structures need not be expensive. Here’s our guide to some of the more cost effective options available.
String or wire
If you’re hoping to encourage plants to ramble over an existing structure, such as a fence or shed, then in most instances string or wire will suffice. As string has a habit of perishing fairly quickly you should only use it for annual climbers or ones that die-back over winter.
In order to get your string or wire in place you’ll first need to fix hooks to thread them through – either closed hooks with a screw thread or large staples that you can hammer into wood. The hooks and tacks need to be strong and sturdy in order to hold the weight of the plants, and offer some permanency so they’re still in good condition every time you need to replace the string or wire.
To thread up your fence, simply fix the hooks or staples at the widest points of where you want the support and work your way up the structure. You can then thread in a zig zag pattern or create neat horizontal lines – just be sure not to leave too much of a gap between each horizontal row so the plant can reach the next rung before it falls over. If you’re covering a wide area then give it some extra support in the middle with further hooks.
If you’re dealing with plants that get large and heavy over time then you may want to fix strong frames or supports in front of your structure first so that it isn’t bearing all the weight – we recently visited a garden that had its entire fence pulled down by the weight of some old climbing roses. And if this DIY route sounds too time consuming (or not smart enough for your garden), then you’re best off investing in a trellis instead – prebuilt climbing supports that come in a huge range of designs and materials.
If you’re growing climbing plants in an area without a natural structure in place then you’ll need to put something up from scratch. You can buy structures that are both practical and ornamental – from simple maypoles and free-standing trellises to huge hop arches – but for the garden DIYer the most versatile and natural option is the ubiquitous bamboo cane.
These woody structures have the multiple benefits of being sturdy, long lasting, easy to thrust into soil and add a natural appearance to your patch. They’re also dirt cheap and can be cut to length with minimum effort.
The most popular cane construction is the wigwam. To make your own, simply shove the base of each cane into the ground in a roughly circular pattern and tie them together at the top with strong twine. For a longer frame structure, most commonly used for runner beans, peg out your canes in two rows (making sure each cane is directly opposite another cane). Tie together the pairs of opposing canes at the same height, leaving some cane sticking out above the point where you tie them. This will create a line of ‘V’ shapes that you can rest further canes along, tying them in place for extra rigidity.
If you fancy a change from bamboo then hazel is a great alternative.
Sticks and branches
Some climbing plants that don’t have much height or weight can be trained over more randomly shaped sticks and branches stuck into the ground. The most obvious plant that can benefit from this approach is the garden pea – it doesn’t really care about the direction it roams, just so long as it has lots of bits close together that it can latch onto. So gather off-cuts from your trees and hedges and stick them into the ground so they overlap each other and your peas will soon grip them with their tendrils and cover them with leaves and pods.
Besides these more obvious climbing supports you can also get creative with your own ideas. You could try making a mini trellis by framing some metal wire mesh or an old barbecue grill. Or for climbers that grow heavy fruits – such as squash – give them the sturdy support of wooden pallets placed on their ends in either a box formation or leaning against each other in a tent shape. Netting is also a useful climbing aid and can be easily tied to supporting poles or tacked to a wall, while some plants might even enjoy spreading their foliage over an old chair or bench. Most plants don’t really mind what they climb over – it’s usually only us gardeners that are fussy.
Have you used anything unusual for climbing plant supports? What’s the best value climbing plant support you have used in your garden? Let us know in the comments.