6 Beautiful & Beneficial Climbers That Will Improve Your Backyard
If you are looking to add some visual interest to your backyard, cover an unsightly fence or wall, or add some shade and extra beauty to your pergola, climbing plants are a fantastic solution. Typically when people think of climbing plants, they picture old, ivy-covered stone houses and stately university buildings. There is actually a huge variety of climbing plants, though, many of which contribute a lot more than just beauty. From edible plants to homeopathic healers, at Sunset Pergola Kits, we’ve come up with our top six choices for climbing plants that are as useful as they are beautiful. Read on for tips on growing, using, and enjoying the newest addition to your landscape!
Say hello to the state flower of Tennessee. Beautiful, colorful, and exotic-looking, there are hundreds of varieties of fast-growing passion vines, any number of which would be a great addition to your yard. Passion flowers are not only super easy to grow, they are super useful as well! They produce tasty fruit, and you make a medicinal tea from the dried flowers - commonly used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and even back pain. It will grow even without full sun, and just needs plenty of water to thrive.
Tips For Growing:
The passion flower is pretty much the ideal climber for a beginner, because it is one of the most laid back and simple to cultivate. As long as you have good draining soil, this tendril will climb to heights of up to 30 feet - making perfect for a pergola. It’s a good idea to keep the soil moist, but you don’t have to be constantly watering it for it to survive. Passionflower loves full sunlight, but it can handle a little shade, as well. Passion flowers prefer warm weather, but they will make it through frosty winters if sufficiently mulched. One other thing to remember is that as a tendril, you will need thin horizontal supports for the vines to hold on to. Try tying string (no bigger than ¼ inch in diameter) between posts for the vine to cling onto.
Tips For Using:
The most obvious use for passion flower vines are the delicious, sweet passion fruit they produce. Passion fruit can be eaten raw, or used in desserts, turned into passion fruit jam, syrup, or even made into a sweet and creamy passion fruit butter.
In addition to eating, passion flower leaves (as well as the flowers themselves) are widely used as a sleeping aid and a calming agent. It relaxes your nerves, and has even been used as a supplementary treatment for epilepsy and heart palpitations. Passion flowers have been used by medical professionals since the mid-19th century, and are currently used prolifically in Europe.
The best way to use the passion flower for medicinal purposes is to make a tea. You can use fresh leaves right off the plant for a quick cup right then, but in order to store the leaves for future use, you’ll want to dehydrate them. If you have a food dehydrator - great! If not, you can simply leave them on a drying screen or in a paper bag outside. Once the leaves are dry, keep them in a tightly sealed container until you’re ready to use them. Note: You can use the flowers themselves as well as the leaves, but the leaves have stronger medicinal qualities.
Once the leaves are dehydrated, you can brew them into a tea. You only need about 1 teaspoon of dried leaves (or 1 tablespoon of fresh leaves) for every 8 ounces of boiling water. Let it steep for a few minutes and enjoy! Add sweetener if you like, and give it about an hour to take effect. Don’t overindulge in passionflower - one cup a day is all that is recommended for safe use.
Another very practical choice for a climber is the pea! The large leaves on the pea plant will provide a lot of shade when grown on a pergola or trellis, and - like the passion flower - pea plants don’t need a lot of attention to produce a hearty crop. Plus, they’ll work in just about any climate, and provide you with a fresh addition to your dinner plate.
Tips For Growing:
Peas require little nurturing, making them perfect for brown-thumb growers. Pests tend to leave them alone, and they aren’t often affected by disease. The one thing they won’t tolerate, though, is scorching temperatures. If you live in a moderate climate, your peas will thrive. If you live in a place with intense summer heat, you may have less success, and will need to make an effort to shade the plants when it gets too hot outside.
In order to get the largest crop from your peas, you want to be sure to plant them as soon as possible. This usually means early spring, when the weather out is cold and wet. Or, plant about one month before it stops frosting at night. Water frequently and harvest the pods promptly. The more you harvest, the more produce you’ll get. Once you see a bright green, shiny, round pod, you’ll know that it’s ready to be plucked. Just be sure you use two hands - pea plants can be somewhat fragile, and pulling too hard could harm your plant.
Tips For Using:
Whether you like to steam, stir-fry, or eat raw straight out of the pod, home-grown peas have a sweet, hearty texture, and are an excellent source of protein, fiber, and vitamin C. As delicious as they are, though, if you have high yields, you may not be able to eat them as fast as they are growing! Since peas need to be used right after harvesting, you can’t just toss them in the fridge to use in a few days. You’ll want to store them properly for future use, and for that you have two options: freezing and drying.
Before peas go in the freezer, they need to be blanched to retain their flavor, nutrition, and texture. To blanch your peas, drop them into boiling water for 1 or 2 minutes, quickly drain, and put directly into an ice water bath for the same amount of time. After you drain them again and let them dry completely, you can put them loosely into a plastic bag or air-tight container in the freezer, where they will keep for several months.
When most people think grapes, they think of rolling vineyards in California or the Mediterranean. Well, as it turns out, you can actually have your own little vineyard right in your backyard. Grape vines make not only a practical and scrumptious addition to your home, but they also give your yard stunning visual appeal. Luckily, there are varieties of grapes that grow in just about every climate, and with the right amount of care, you can add the atmosphere of rustic Italy to your landscape.
Tips For Growing:
While most varieties of grapes prefer warmer climates, most people are capable of having home-grown grapes, even in cooler climates. For those of you living in areas with cool temperatures, try the Interlaken or Himrod varieties. Make sure they are getting full sun, don’t forget to prune, and your grape vines will produce plenty of fruit year after year. You’ll want to be careful with your pruning, though, and prevent your grape vine from producing grapes for the first two years. While it may seem like a long time to purposely go without the fruit, the vines simply need a little more time to build up their strength before they are burdened with the weight of the fruit. Also keep in mind that grape vines (especially when laden with fruit) can get really heavy, so make sure that you have sturdy supports in place.
Tips For Using:
Depending on what variety you grow, your grapes may be better used for jams, raisins, or eating right off the wine. With some varieties, you could even make your own wine. In cold climates, hybrids are typically the best choice for wine grapes. Check with your local nursery before you buy your seeds to make sure that you are planting a variety that will both stand up to your local weather and work for the final product you are after.
In addition to the fruit, grape leaves are a great addition to salads, and are commonly used for making Dolmas. The leaves are rich in calcium, iron, fiber, and vitamins A and K. If you plan on stuffing your grape leaves, first prepare them by thoroughly rinsing and draining, stacking the leaves (about 25 leaves per stack), rolling up the stacks and tying them with string. Then quickly dip your stacks in salted, boiling water - don’t let them linger. After they cool, you can store them in the freezer until you are ready to use them.
Click here for a dolma recipe from the Food Network.
Honeysuckle vines can grow in just about any climate with little effort. They bloom beautiful flowers, and are known to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and songbirds, making your yard into a nature paradise. Honeysuckle is also used in homeopathic remedies, making it a wonderful addition to any nature lover’s landscape.
Tips For Growing:
If you have an area that gets full sun, honeysuckle will be happy to soak it up. If not, it will also do well in partial shade. The more sun it gets, though, the more flowers you will get to enjoy. With honeysuckle, it is easiest to start with a starter plant from your local garden store. You’ll want to plant it in early spring, but after the last frost. In the beginning, water the plant frequently and mulch well. After it takes off, honeysuckle only needs occasional watering, and is rarely affected by disease or invaded by unwanted pests. Just be sure to tie the vines to the support structure with a soft, stretchy fabric (such as strips of nylons), so you don’t damage the plant.
Tips For Using:
Honeysuckle is a natural anti-inflammatory, making it perfect for relieving headaches. Honeysuckle tea is also known for being a great remedy for colds, sore throats, fevers, and coughs. Or, turn your honeysuckle plant into honeysuckle oil for sunburn, rash, burn, and poison ivy relief when applied to your skin.
To make your own essential oil from your honeysuckle plant, pick the blossoms from the vine, until you have one cup of blossoms, tightly packed. Then, place the blossoms in a plastic bag and get as much air out of the bag as possible. With the blossoms spread out in a single layer inside the bag, go over the bag with a rolling pin to break up and bruise the blossoms. Transfer the blossoms to a glass jar, and cover them with 1 cup of grape seed oil, safflower oil, or light olive oil that has been warmed to 150° F, stirring to prevent air from getting in the mixture. Once it cools, seal the jar and store it somewhere cool and dark for 6 to 8 weeks (a long wait, yes, but totally worth it). After the wait is up, strain out the blossoms from the oil with a cheesecloth and store the oil in a dark-colored, tightly sealed bottle for up to 6 months. Voila! You now have your own homemade honeysuckle essential oil, at a fraction of the price you could get it at a natural foods store.
Any beer enthusiast will be delighted to see this climbing vine on the list. What is better than brewing your own tasty batch of beer? Growing your own ingredients! Hop vines are pretty resilient plants, and will grow well in most climates. They are also beautiful, fast-growing plants that will add visual appeal to your space, even if you don’t plan on using the hop cones that they produce.
Tips For Growing:
If you plan on growing hops, you need to do a bit of planning ahead. Hops are grown from a piece of a developed hop plant’s root called a rhizome. Rhizomes are only available once per year, in March or April, so you will want to be on the lookout. Plant your rhizomes in late spring, and look forward to your hops vines shooting up as much as two feet each week until it starts to flower. Your hops are going to need a little bit of extra love the first year you have them. Make sure they have plenty of water, and mulch them really well to retain moisture and control weeds. If you are looking for a bountiful harvest, make sure your vines are getting a ton of direct sunlight, preferably in a location with southern sun exposure.
Don’t harvest your hops prematurely, or they will be completely useless for brewing. Firm, green, damp hop cones are far from ready. It isn’t until they become more flexible and dry that they are ready to be picked (usually in late August or early September). They should also make your hands sticky when you squeeze them and give off a strong aroma. Once they are picked from the vine, you can start drying them and preparing your hops for brewing.
Tips For Using:
Beer, of course! Before you start brewing your next batch, though, you’ll want to dry your hops (unless you plan on making a fresh hop beer). The easiest way to dehydrate them is to simply use a food dehydrator. This method will only take a few hours. You can tell if the hops are dried thoroughly by opening up a cone. If it is dried on the inside and the petals separate from the stem easily, then they are ready. Another option for dehydration is putting the hops in the oven on a very low temperature (less than 140° F). Just be sure to keep a close eye on them - you don’t want your hop cones turning brown. Store your dried hops in an airtight container in the freezer until you’re ready to use them.
If you’re new to brewing, choose a recipe for the type of beer you like. For tons of recipes and ideas from fellow home brewers, click here. If you’re just getting started, this blog gives good advice for brewing on a small scale right in your kitchen. If brewing with fresh hops intrigues you, check out this step-by-step guide and recipe.
In addition to brewing beer, hops are commonly used as a treatment for insomnia. Simply fill a small muslin sachet with dehydrated hops and place it by your pillow to help you drift off to sleep. Combine with lavender and/or chamomile for an even sweeter scent and greater sleep-inducing effects.
If you’re looking for a classic, elegant, and fragrant way to cover your pergola or trellis, consider using climbing roses. Climbing roses are just variations of their bush counterparts, and can be easily trained to cover a large area. Plus, the petals can be used to make teas, perfumes, and creams for a variety of uses.
Tips For Growing:
Roses are a very resilient plant, and can grow in just about any temperature zone. With so many varieties, you’ll be able to find one that will flourish even in the harshest of climates. While roses can deal with partial shade, they need to get at least six hours of sun each day. They also need consistent watering, about 1 inch of water each week for the first year. Gently tie the main stems to their supports using a soft, stretchy fabric. Again, strips of pantyhose work well here. You’ll only need to prune your roses when dead wood or broken branches occur. If you find your plant in need of pruning, make sure to prune the affected area down to the base.
To protect your roses over the winter, surround the base of the plant with a large mound of compost or other organic matter. You’ll also want to continue watering once a month, as long as the ground isn’t frozen. When the sun is out and the ground isn’t hard as rock, soak the mound slowly early on in the day, and allow it to saturate the soil. If branches break off during winter, don’t prune! Wait until spring, after you get your next batch of blossoms to prune away any dead or damaged material.
Tips For Using:
Did you know that rose petals have homeopathic healing powers? They are chalk full of vitamin C, and as such does wonders for your body. Try making tea out of dehydrated rose petals for a natural laxative, menstrual pain relief, and easing a sore throat. It has even been shown to act as a mild anti-depressant. Just be careful to not overdo it on the tea - too much can wreak havoc on your bowels.
Making your own rose perfume is a lot easier than it sounds. Start by thoroughly rinsing 1 ½ cups of rose petals to get off any dust, dirt, or critters that may be hiding. Then, mix the petals with 2 cups of distilled water and heat it to a boil. Once it reaches boiling, lower the heat and let it simmer for two hours before removing from heat. Once it’s cooled, strain the mixture through a cheesecloth to separate the petals from the liquid, and pour the liquid into a container for storage. Now, instead of splurging on expensive fragrances, you can have your own all-natural perfume that’s fresh from your garden.
Very similar to rose perfume (though not as potent) is rose water. Rose water is used in many dessert recipes, as well as a mixture in creams and beauty products to tighten pores, smooth wrinkles, and to soothe sunburns and dry, itchy skin. It can even help treat acne. To make your own, follow the same instructions as for the perfume, without letting it come to a boil. Instead, just let it gently simmer until the water takes on the color of the petals. Then cool, strain, and store as you would perfume.