Try Climbing Vines and Espalier Trees This Spring

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Take your home’s curb appeal to new heights with tips from local landscape pros

Written by  STEPHANIE TALLEVAST

MANY CAPTIVATING HOMES throughout Savannah and the Lowcountry feature irresistible exteriors adorned with masses of lush climbing greenery as well as manicured garden accent plantings. Stair railings, columns and trellises that accommodate mature vines  — both orderly and wild —  and whimsical espalier trees along house and garden walls collectively become a curb-appeal exclamation point. Here, local landscape experts offer a few considerations to help achieve maximum impact and perennial beauty.

GOING UP

Joshua Beckler, owner of Beckler Design Studio, advises designing with climbing plants to create an extension of the home. “Structures like pergolas, trellises and arbors, covered in ornamental climbing vines, offer shade and privacy, [creating] the feeling of outdoor rooms,” Beckler says. For durability and quality, his company specifies kiln-dried after treatment (KDAT) lumber or powder-coated aluminum to fabricate outdoor structures. Embarking on the addition of climbing plants into a landscape plan requires underpinnings to be long-lasting, so as not to lose the framework beneath a mature plant later.

Photo by Paprika Southern

KEEP IT SIMPLE

When selecting plants, Low Country Landscapes of Savannah advises evaluating the upkeep requirements for any variety of climbers that you plan to incorporate. Notable varieties like star jasmine, also known as Confederate jasmine, English and Algerian ivy, climbing fig, clematis and honeysuckle offer significant visual impact with minimal maintenance. And, while some of the aforementioned do bloom annually, for larger and more showy flowers, experts suggest planting Cherokee roses, wisteria, bougainvillea, climbing hydrangea, passion vine and trumpet vine — most of which require only regular pruning to maintain their shape once established. 

ROOM TO GROW

With vines, keeping watch of what they attach to is key. Jennifer Frerichs of Everbloom always recommends providing a structure, such as a wooden or metal trellis, rather than allowing climbing plants to grow directly on your house. “Climbing plants need something to support their weight as they mature,” Frerichs says. She adds that if left unattended, these plantings can damage a home’s exterior and take over other vegetation. To inhibit mold growth, plant vines in a sunny spot.

Vines climbing a house
Photo by Paprika Southern

LOCAL FAVORITES

Due to its ease of establishment, low maintenance, evergreen quality and dramatic appearance, Beckler agrees that Confederate jasmine stands out as a top pick for Southern coastal gardens. “Confederate jasmine requires some sort of training structure like wire to grow up a wall. It will self-feed through posts and ironwork,” Beckler says. To avoid the yellowing and dropping of leaves caused by acidic clay, Beckler recommends planting 3-gallon containers of the heritage vine in well-drained soil. “Confederate jasmine can grow successfully in both full shade and full sun, but full sun produces more flowers,” Beckler notes.

As an alternative to the ubiquitous Confederate jasmine, Frerichs likes incorporating clematis in landscapes. Some varieties of clematis, such as sweet autumn (clematis paniculata), die back each year, blossoming heavily in the fall. For a vine with year-round oomph, she recommends evergreen clemaits (clematis armandii), “which retains its long, glossy leaves throughout the year and produces fragrant blooms in early spring.”

Bikes and cafe tables in a courtyard with herringbone brick patio
Kelly Megeath, owner of Garden Elegance, says espaliers are a wonderful way to incorporate height, visual interest and textures into tight planting spaces. // Photo by Keen Eye Marketing // Courtesy Zero George Hotel
A magnolia espalier growing next to a fountain in a courtyard at Zero George Hotel
A magnolia espalier tree flanks the courtyard fountain at the Zero George Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina. // Photo by Keen Eye Marketing // Courtesy Zero George Hotel

CLIMBING THE WALLS

Interested in a more structured look to the landscape enhancement of your home? Consider the espalier. Espaliers are trees that have been trimmed repeatedly to purposely grow flat against something, such as a wall or fence. Frerichs suggests using lemon or orange citrus trees, which are well-suited for the region, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Zone map.

At the Zero George Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, a charming magnolia espalier tree stretches against the exterior of the 1820s carriage house and surrounds its courtyard fountain. “Espaliers are a wonderful way to incorporate height, visual interest and textures into tight planting spaces because of their flattened appearance,” says Kelly Megeath, owner of Garden Elegance, who designed the hotel’s landscape.

Before getting started, she cautions that an espalier tree takes careful monitoring and maintenance, especially while the plant is being established. “They are often attached to surfaces via anchors and garden wire that need to be properly maintained to prevent the gridling and damaging of tree limbs, [with] additional anchors needed to accommodate growth over time,” Megeath says.

While spring is the perfect season to try your hand at climbing vines and espalier trees, Frerichs encourages the home gardener to take time to make a plan for placement, accounting for aesthetics as well as sun-exposure and drainage suitability. “Enjoy the process of creating something beautiful in your own yard,” she adds.


Cover of spring issue of Savannah Homes magazine

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