Training and Supports For Climbers

Some house plants need training to look tidy and put on their best display. Others, such as climbers, need support, as do plants with weak or brittle stems and ‘top-heavy’ flowers.


In the wild, climbing and scrambling plants grow through shrubs, up trees or simply along the ground. This isn’t very suitable in a house, so we train these plants to grow neatly along supports. Some non-climbing plants also need support, including hydrangea with its top-heavy flowers, and Busy Lizzie, with its brittle stems. Both climbing and trailing plants can be trained to grow up a trellis. Tie the stems in with twine and pinch out the growing tips when they reach the top.

Basic guidelines

  • Start when the plant is young and tie in new growth before it becomes tangled or too woody to bend.
  • Choose supports roughly the same thickness as the stem Push each support as deep as possible into the pot, and at least halfway in.
  • If using more than one support, space them evenly apart.
  • Make sure wall-hung trellis or wire is stable before attaching plants.
  • For best results, combine training with regular pinching Out and cutting back.
  • Single-stemmed climbing plants can be trained up a wall using wall ties bonded or nailed to the wall. Fix to the wall first, then bend round the stem.

Ideas for training

Large multi-stemmed climbers can be trained up wall-fixed wired, or over a wall-fixed or free-standing trellis. You can also train them over a three-dimensional support, such as wire globe. Both multi-and single-stemmed climbers can be trained to wire fixed round a window. Smaller climbers can be trained up wire or rattan shapes stuck into a pot, or up a single pole.

climbing house plant

  • Climbers with twining stems, and those with tendrils, can attach themselves to a support but may become a tangled mass, so tie in straggling stems regularly.
  • So-called ‘scrambling’ climbers, such as Cape Leadwort and Chinese Jasmine, are really more like weak-stemmed shrubs. They need the most training, including regular tying in of the strong-growing young flowering stems that result from annual pruning.
  • When a climber reaches the top of its support, nip out the growing point or, if the stem is flexible, twist it round and back over the support again.
  • Climbers with aerial roots can be grown up a moss pole. Tie the stems to the pole every 15-30cm (6-12 inches) using raffia or twine. Eventually the aerial roots will attach themselves to the moss, making the plant self clinging, if the moss is kept damp.

Plant ties

Plant ties

Use the right tie to support your plants. Wall ties can be stuck on the wall with an epoxy bonder, or nailed. Use for single-stemmed plants. Use split wire rings on hard, woody growth, and for soft stems paper – or plastic-covered wire ties, or raffia and garden twine. Always tie stems loosely, and check often.

Smaller climbers can be trained to grow around a wire or a cane hoop inserted in the pot. This has the advantage of impeding the flow of sap and so encouraging flower buds to form along a greater length of stem —resulting in a massed display of flowers.

Supporting other plants

With plants like hydrangea, Tuberous-rooted Begonia and Orchid Cactus, aim for a natural look. The less the supports show, the better. Stakes should be slightly shorter than the final height of the plant, and well below the flower heads.

You can push a single cane into the middle of a flower pot, taking care not to damage the plant, and then tie the stems to it; but it is safer to use several canes, pushed in round the edge of the pot. Whichever method you use, begin by knotting the twine to one stake, then loop it round the stems and stake (or stakes) in turn (using a figure 8 loop) and return to the first stake.

  • Useful for flowering house plants is a three-legged metal support holding a round, horizontal frame of wire mesh. Put this in the pot early on, so the stems can grow up through it.
  • Forced hyacinths and daffodils can get floppy towards the end of flowering. Either support each plant by tying it to a split cane, or place several canes around the edge of the pot and loop two rows of twine around the canes, forming a ‘corral’ to keep the leaves and flowers tidy.
  • To support a single stemmed plant, such as a lily, push a cane in close to the stem. Tie it once in the middle and again 6-15 mm (¼-½ inch) from the top of the cane. Don’t let the cane touch the stem.
  • Brittle plants with several stems, such as Busy Lizzie, can be supported as for hydrangeas, with one or more canes and twine looping from stem to cane and back again.

Hydrangeas have heavy flower heads which, without support, will spread their stems in an unsightly fashion. Impatiens sultani (Busy Lizzie) is a vigorous grower with very brittle stems; as they spread they will break off very easily unless supported. Place the supports in the pots before they are needed and loosely tie the stems to them as the necessity arises. Remember that a few untied stems trailing over the side of the pot can enhance the beauty of a climbing plant – but the effect must be planned and not result from neglect.

The wall display

An attractive display of colour and form can be achieved by hanging a foliage plant against a plain pastel-coloured wall. Choose a fitting with a deep saucer and a basically simple shape. Water and humidity are more difficult to provide for a plant that is suspended on the wall so, if it is at all possible, the plant should be taken down from time to time and allowed to ‘rest’ in a more favourable position, where it can enjoy humidity and perhaps even more light and air.


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