An outdoor space is a bonus wherever you live, especially if you have the room to create some outdoor seating. Structures like a pergola provide protection from the sun and lend a certain bit of style to your yard—but they can bring more of both if you cover them in creeping vines.
These tall, often wooden structures usually include slats across the top that create shadows below, but often minimal shade. Planting and encouraging the growth of vines to cover them will create a living canopy that will make your space more naturally beautiful and more pleasant during sunny summer days. If this sounds like your dream, here are suggestions of the plants that works best, and some tips to get you started.
You want the plants covering your pergola to be sturdy, easy to care for, leafy enough to create adequate shade, and be appealing to the eye. Boston ivy, a fast-growing ivy with big maple-like leaves, is a good choice for creating a blanket of shade. This ivy is resilient, thriving in both full sun and partly shady areas. They are self-climbing, forming small disks that adhere to surfaces as they grow.
Another fast-growing vine that provides even more shade is the Virginia creeper. This hardy plant can grow in virtually any soil and climate and requires little care. The vigorous ivy has green leaves that sprawl across pergolas, providing ample shade coverage in the summer, and they turn a vibrant red in the fall.
If you want some more color in your yard, Chinese jasmine provides full coverage and blooms with lovely flowers. These climbing plants are evergreens, so they last all year and grow pretty quickly. The flowers are white and pink with a pleasant perfume.
If you want bring even more beauty to your space, you can plant climbing roses. Their vines are strong, and they produce blooms in a variety of colors. They do need a bit of help to climb, so having a trellis or lattice for them to latch onto will help fill out your pergola.
Clematis are climbing flowers similar to roses. With a little help, they can grow up and over your pergola too. The vine produces flowers in a variety of purples, pinks, and whites, and enough leaves to shade you from the sun. These plants are perennials and take a few growing cycles to bloom, but they are worth the wait.
Plants you’ll want to be wary of include English ivy and wisteria. Both vine plants grow quite aggressively, and can actually pull apart structures and impede the growth of other plants. If you do choose these plant options, they’ll need monitoring and heavy pruning. In addition to their strength and vigorous growth, wisteria is also poisonous to pets, so pet lovers may want to choose a safer alternative.
To grow your organic canopy, you’ll need to assess the type of plant you’ve chosen, along with your soil type and climate. First, consider the acidity of your soil and the moisture content the vine needs. Plants like clematis thrive in a moist alkaline environment, so if this is your vine of choice, prep your soil accordingly.
Climbing plants will also need some training, including pruning, bending, and tying, to encourage them to cover the desired area. Once the soil is set, plant your vine at the base of the pergola. As the plant begins to sprout tall enough to reach the pergola post, wrap its tendrils around the post. For plants that need a bit more help, you can use soft garden ties to pin the plant to the post. Using a net can also help guide the sprouts in the right direction, and, again, lattices can help direct the growth of plants like climbing roses. Once vines reach the top of the pergola, it’s hard to get them to sprawl horizontally in the right direction, so you’ll need to begin tying them across the pergola so they attach properly.
Household advice site HomeSteady recommends pruning your climbing plants in the spring to encourage fuller growth and help direct their coverage and shape, hoping positioning yourself for a shady summer outdoors.
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