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Care and Maintenance of Climbing Plants

It goes without saying that climbing plants require maintenance and trimming! After the initial development phase, the plant will eventually cover the desired area, and then requires ongoing maintenance to sustain the plant and its appearance. The level of care and maintenance can vary significantly in both phases depending on the plant species. This section shows how skilful plant selection and a clear delineation of the area to be greened will optimise your maintenance work. The photos of the climbing plants in this section are also available as posters (click on Poster for enlarged view).

Pruning and maintaining climbing plants

Plant Selection and Maintenance (refer to diagram)

The English ivy (Hedera) and other self-clinging climbers, such as Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) and Virginia creeper (P. quinquefolia), have the advantage that they hardly need any growth supports and require minimal maintenance during the establishment period. Watering is also rarely required. After approx. 5-10 years, it is time for the first trim. During the following years, once the entire greening area is covered - usually up to the eaves - considerable yearly pruning work is required in order to keep eaves and windows free, at least in theory... However, in practice this maintenance is often neglected and problems on the roof are overlooked, until the roofer discovers them...


Hops and annual climbing plants: maintenance focuses predominantly on the soil (watering, fertilising) and on removing the withered shoots in autumn. Overall maintenance remains rather undemanding throughout the years. They are similar to the clematis hybrids, which are usually purchased for one season with the knowledge that these plants will die off and new ones will have to replace them the following year.


Honeysuckle and other twining plants, such as akebia or even the climbing hydrangea, often require a lot of initial care in order to grow. Skimping on maintenance at this stage is not wise and the greening project will likely not survive the first development phase. Well cultivated plants will develop strong shoot growth, which is beneficial in the next establishment phase, but may also become a bit of a nuisance during the maintenance phase. Without regular pruning, large amounts of dead shoots will result, which can accumulate into metre-thick masses of dead wood. Watering is often necessary, or at least helpful, and some hard pruning is required every 3-5 years to allow more light into the plant and to generally rejuvenate it.


Silver Lace Vine (or Russian Vine, Polygonum aubertii): Initial maintenance is minimal to none, but already in the next development phase, considerable pruning measures are required to control the extremely vigorous growth. Watering is hardly needed. Bittersweet behaves similarly, but will require a little more water.

Blooming climbing plant (Clematis)
Grapevine: greening only parts of a trellis reduces the level of maintenance
Climbing plant on a trellis
Climbing Roses
Wall greening with roses
Grapevine: low espaliers are easily accessed
Trellis on a house
Honeysuckle: Potted plants needs additional water
Greening of pillars and supports
Trumpet Vine
Self-clinging (Trumpet vine Campsis)

Dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla and A. tomentosa): These species require a lot of initial care in order to grow, but after that-- apart from their relatively high water needs-- they are almost maintenance-free, as they develop rather sparse shoot growth requiring little trimming. The biomass consists mostly of large leaves, which drop off in autumn.  


The thicket creeper (or woodbine, Parthenocissus inserta) and e.g. Clematis Montana are relatively easy to care for in all phases, usually need little water, and are therefore a favourite for greening projects. From time to time, some pruning and thinning is required to allow more light into the plant and for its rejuvenation.


Grapevine (Vitis vinifera) as well as espaliered fruit trees, climbing roses (Rosa), trumpet vines (Campsis), and wisteria can usually develop their vigorous growth on a façade only if they are trained very strictly into shape and maintained thus through regular pruning. This high maintenance regime will continue throughout the lifespan of these plants. Except for the wisteria, their water needs are also rather high. For grapevines, roses and espaliered trees, an additional and very important aspect of plant care is the plant protection (spraying and/or appropriate species selection).

Size of Greening Area

It is clear that a larger greening area also means more work, e.g. more watering and more pruning. The costs rise in proportion to the size of the greening area, and escalate with the increasing height of a wall due to accessibility issues. 


Up to 2m high: Small trellises, detail and base greening up to 2m high can always be reached without aid and can be managed by one person.


Up to 5m high: Up to this height, greenings can be reached easily with a leaning ladder, whereby the ladder should always be secured by a second person.


Over  5m high: High façade greenings can often only be reached via a cherry-picker (a hydraulic lift), which is very expensive. Within the public space, an application usually has to be made to have the street cordoned off, signs put in place, etc.. and during the work, the area has to be secured against falling material. The cherry-picker has to be collected, set up, then disassembled and driven back. A single such operation with a vehicle and 3 workers can easily cost 1000 Euros-- in other words, a multiple of the original green facade set-up costs! 

Grapevine: summer pruning and tying may be required, as in this case, where the canes are sagging with the weight of the grapes
Tips on how to trim or prune climbing plants
Grapevine: higher espaliers are more difficult to reach
Here Clematis viticella