Horticulture Magazine

How To Train Clematis Against A Fence Or Trellis

pink flowers of clematis Elizabeth trained against a timber fence

Clematis – also strangely known as leather flower – sports a dainty and attractive bloom ranging from gentle violets to bold purples, to delicate whites and everything in between.

For the discerning gardener looking for an enticing but not overpowering splash of colour, this flower is a fantastic choice.

Clematis viticella on a garden trellis
Climbing clematis will bring your garden to life!

This versatile plant can be grown in the ground or in containers. In the latter, they make great ornamental flowers that will remain at a fairly manageable size. Grown in the ground, however, and clematis will grow to a much bigger size.

It will also climb: a property that many gardeners put to great effect by training the plant to climb trees, fences, trellises, and all sorts of vertical surfaces.

How to train your clematis to climb

Just to clarify, this blog post only covers the way to get your clematis climbing. If you’re looking for more generic growing advice you’ll have to look elsewhere!

We’ll begin with fences and trellises, before moving on to pillars.

Training clematis to climb a trellis

With a trellis you enjoy the luxury of having spaces between the various bits of wood, which make tying your clematis much easier. We definitely recommend this method if you’re not looking to use too many power tools!

The first step is to plant your clematis, and the roots should be about 6 inches from the base of the support structure. While this may feel quite far away, it leaves space for the plant to grow, and it’s far preferable to planting too close to the wall and stifling growth!

With a trellis, all you need to do is to tie branches onto the structure with twine, gardening wire, or a similar material. It’s very important that you tie it on gently with plenty of room to move, because tight knots will restrict the growth of the branch and eventually kill it off!

clematis trained against a wooden garden archway
Gently does it

When the clematis reaches the right length, gently pull it upwards and attach a branch. This will encourage future growth to continue upwards, and you can repeat the process by attaching ongoing growth further up the trellis as it becomes big enough.

Training clematis to climb a wall or fence

If you’re training your clematis directly up a wall or fence rather than up a support structure like a trellis, you need another way to keep it securely attached.

We recommend using lengths of wire arranged horizontally, running parallel to the ground at graduated heights proportionate to the eventual size of the plant. You’ll attach the clematis to these wires, and they’ll provide enough support to keep it growing well.

The steps are simple:

  1. Measure up from the ground to about a third of the eventual desired height of the plant.
  2. Make a mark on the fence or wall with a pen.
  3. Drill in here and insert a hook.
  4. Use a wire clip to attach your wire to the hook. Make sure to trim your wire to the desired length before starting.
  5. Run the wire horizontally to its length, and then make another mark at the end. Use a spirit level to check it’s straight if you don’t trust your eye.
  6. Drill another hold and use a turnbuckle to attach the wire.
  7. Tighten the wire so that it’s just about taut.
  8. Repeat the process for another wire about 12 inches above the first.

Training clematis to climb a pillar

If you’ve got pillars supporting the corners of archways, verandas, or other garden structures, you can create a stunning visual effect by training climbing plants to grow up and around them. We encourage experimenting with this idea as it’s a great way to liven up garden structures while giving your treasured plants more space to grow and thrive.

pink clematis growing against an obelisk
It’s a little overgrown but you get the idea!

The process here doesn’t vary too much from growing up a trellis, except that the support structure is somewhat different.

Here, we recommend using chicken wire cut to size and wrapped loosely around the pillar.

Simply wrap it around and use a couple of nails or hooks to keep the top section attached to prevent it from sliding down.

Once the chicken wire is in place, it’s just a case of tying your clematis branches onto it with twine, gardening wire, or similar (much like with the trellis!). As the clematis grows you can encourage it to surround the pillar by tying it progressively further around.

Keeping your clematis in check

While plenty of growth is very helpful when training your clematis to grow up or around a support structure, this plant can get a little unruly. When the time rolls around to prune your clematis, we recommend doing so. It may feel counterproductive to hinder growth, but you’ll find it much easier to coax the clematis into its desired shape if you have full control over the branches.

This plant boasts a number of varieties, and they fall into different pruning groups. This means that instructions vary slightly for each, so make sure you know what you’re working with!

  • For varieties in pruning group 1, prune in mid or late spring once they’ve flowered, and after the last frost. Pruning before the final frost will result in damaged new growth.
  • For pruning group 2, prune a little earlier: February should do the trick. Then prune again lightly at the beginning of summer.
  • For group 3, just prune in February.

Climbing higher, than ever before

Done right, climbing clematis is a real sight to behold. These plants are striking and attractive, and their stems winding nimbly up a trellis, wall, pillar, or any other structure will bring a dash of colour and visual interest.

Incorporated into other floral displays, you’ll be surprised at how much of an impact a vertical element can bring to your garden – so much so that we bet you’ll come back for more!

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