Problems with climbers FAQs

The passion flower over my front door grows very vigorously but produces no flowers or fruit. What can I do?

The one thing that the passion flower (Passiflora) requires above all else is sunshine: without a sunny position and warmth lasting well into late summer, it will not flower and may well be killed in the winter months. A south wall is the only place where it will succeed in most parts of the country; it must be open to sun all day. Over-rich soil will often produce a mass of foliage and stems at the expense of flowers, so go easy on the manure and fertiliser.

The house I have just moved into has ivy all over one wall. Will it do the wall any harm?

Ivy can harm walls, but only certain walls. If the house is relatively new then the mortar between the courses of bricks will probably be hard enough not to be damaged. Pebble-dashed surfaces and older houses with very soft mortar can be damaged by the aerial roots, but if you remove an established ivy a lot of mortar can be pulled out with it.

I would advise leaving it in place, bearing in mind that it deflects water from the wall, so keeping it very dry. An annual clipping over with shears in April will take some of the strain off the mortar. The important thing is not to let the ivy get into window frames or gutters, behind fascia boards, or on to the roof. If you are planting ivy against a wall with soft mortar, rig up a wire or trellis support system which can take the weight of the stems.

I put up a new fence along one side of my garden and planted some climbers. Very soon they began to look ill and they are not doing very well at all. Could it be that the wood preserver from the fence has affected them?

If you put creosote on your fence, this is undoubtedly the cause of the trouble. It takes many weeks for the fumes from creosote, which are poisonous to plants, to dissipate, so you should always wait before planting. The alternative is to use one of the safe preservers based on copper naphthenate. These are usually green or sometimes cedar brown. It is safe to plant them against fences treated with these materials as soon as they are fully dry. If you are in any doubt, check the instructions on the container before buying.

The ivy on my wall has suddenly changed. The leaves at the top have become smaller and much narrower and are flowering and bearing fruits. What is happening?

Ivy goes through two stages—a juvenile stage and a mature stage. While ivy climbs it remains in its juvenile stage, in which it produces no flowers or fruits. When it reaches the top of its support, where there is usually more light, it grows bushier, with smaller leaves, and produces flowers and berries. This is quite normal, but such growths can be cut off if you wish.

When I bought my wisteria a good few years ago, it did not grow for a long time. I fed it, and recently it began to grow— but it still has not flowered. Why?

Wisteria is one of those plants that takes a fair while to come into flower. To make the wait even more agonising, it often grows very little in its first year or two. Help to induce flowering by shortening any unwanted long stems in July, cutting them back to about 300 mm (1 ft), and prune the plant again in January, shortening all sideshoots back to three buds. An occasional feed with diluted tomato fertiliser can also coax flowers from reluctant plants. If, after five or six years, the plant is still reluctant to flower (in spite of the fact that you have pruned and fed it regularly) it might simply be that it is from a clone which is not free-flowering. If so, remove the plant and start afresh.

I have a strange climbing shrub on the wall of my house: at least half of each leaf is green but the tip is pink. Is it healthy, and, if not, what should I do about it?

This is indeed quite healthy and is a pretty, although not very common, climber called the kolomikta vine (Actinidia kolomikta). The strange foliage, creamy white flushed with pink at the tip of the leaf (or sometimes entirely pink) is encouraged by planting it in a sunny position. The plant is a vigorous grower, and also has fragrant white flowers.

I am having a problem with my Virginia creeper. I planted it last year on my garage wall but the stems don’t seem able to climb—they just fall on the ground. Have I bought the wrong variety, or what can I do to help it?

The problem is that Virginia creepers (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) need a little help before they get the hang of climbing. The simplest way to guide them on their way is to tape the shoots to the wall with small pieces of waterproof sticking plaster. A couple of pieces on each stem, one quite near the tip, should do the trick.

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