Grow a Climber through a Shrub

clematis viticellaA shrub can be a great support for a flowering climbing plant, and in return the climber dresses up the shrub. Such a pairing also offers a way to economize on space in a small garden.

Pairing a shrub and climbing plant takes some planning. Here are things to consider:

  • Compare the growth rates of the plants. They should match so that one doesn’t overtake the other. If the shrub is a slow grower, let it grow alone for several years before adding the climber, to give it a head start.
  • Consider foliage size and shape, plus flower color, shape and season. Pair a small-flowered climber with a shrub with large leaves, such as Aucuba japonica (Zones 7–10) or Magnolia ×soulangeana (Zones 4–9). If the climber has blue or purple flowers, match it with a shrub with light green or white-variegated leaves, such as the shrubby dogwood Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ (Zones 2–8) to make the flowers stand out. A summer-flowering vine is the perfect match for a shrub that blooms in early spring.
  • At planting time, set the climber so its roots are on the shadiest side of the shrub. This will encourage it to reach for the sun—winding around and growing through the shrub to reach the bright light on the other side.

Clematis (shown, C. viticella) is probably the most popular choice for growing through a shrub. The viticella hybrids—such as ‘Betty Corning’, ‘Etoile Violette’ and ‘Polish Spirit’—work especially well. They are the easiest clematis to grow, being fairly adaptable to soil type and exposure (though they like sun best). They also resist clematis wilt. Clematis pruning is simple with this group—they should be pruned back to 12 inches from the ground in late winter. This is a boon to the supporting shrub, particularly if it is spring flowering. The shrub can hold center stage until the clematis begins to grow back in later spring.

Image attribution
Learn how and when to prune every plant with Lee Reich’s updated The Pruning Book.

Choose from hundreds of great plant pairings with the Encyclopedia of Planting Combinations.

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6 thoughts on “Grow a Climber through a Shrub

  1. When I moved in to my first home there was a row of pear trees mid-way down the (very long) lot. There was also a garden (already begin) fairly near that pear trees. To my great pleasure, a pumpkin plant eventually crawled up one of the pear trees and produced a number of lovely, little pumpkins, hanging from the lower branches. The pumpkins had perfect shapes (no ground problems) and added a wonderful demension to the rather dull old pear trees.

  2. I started doing this a couple of years ago except I put a shepherds hook next to the shrub (a white lilac that is beautiful for 2 weeks and then not so much)I hang pots of newly started climbers like morning glory’s,black eyed Susan vine and cardinal creeper. When they get strong enough they find the shrub and in circle it in colors for the rest of the growing season.

      • Hey Roger,
        Yes, your lilac tree can definitely handle a vine such as you mentioned, though the vines will need some coaxing to reach the lower branches to establish themselves.
        On another note: I suggest a pink or purple (Jackmanii) variety of clematis on lilac, or other lg. shrub.
        The clematis usually bloom well after the lilac is done flowering, plus the lilac is strong enough
        to support the vine. Enjoy!

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