Plants & Growing

What Are The Best Climbing Plants For Shade?

a man tying a climbing plant to a trellis
Written by Chris Lee

All plants need light to grow, but that doesn’t mean the shady parts of your garden are doomed to be barren.

Some familiar and attractive flowers can thrive in the shade, and in this article, we round up a few of the best ones.

If you’re looking for climbing plants that do well in the shade – look no further. 

Plants that grow well in shade

To thrive in the shade, a plant needs to be hardy. Many varieties are versatile, being able to grow in sun, partial shade, or full shade. Understanding the specific needs of the plants in your garden is vital in ensuring healthy growth, and that they reach their full potential.

While there are fewer plants that thrive in full shade than other conditions, you still have a lot to choose from. The shade-loving climbers in this list will bring life and vibrant colour to the formerly-subdued areas of your garden. If you’re looking for the best plants to grow on your north and east-facing walls or fences, let us give you a hand.

Climbing hydrangea

While some climbing plants require support, climbing hydrangea – full name Hydrangea anomala, subspecies petiolaris – clings all by itself. This self-clinging ability is a boon to gardeners with shaded walls or trellises, as it requires no manual intervention beyond watering and occasional pruning. 

This variety of hydrangea is a big plant. Expect a height of over 12 metres once its fully grown, with a spread of up to 8. It’s hardy, too, making a fine addition to British gardens. 

With climbing hydrangea, you’ll enjoy white flowers in summer, fading to yellow in autumn. 

The leaves and stems of a hydrangea, on a wooden background
The leaves and stems of a hydrangea, before blooming

Climbing roses

If you’re not so keen on the hydrangea aesthetic, why not consider roses instead?

Although not all varieties are build to grow in the shade, certain types are up to the task. You can find tons by searching “climbing rose” on the Royal Horticultural Society plants database, and here are a few to get you started:

  • Alberic Barbier: Creamy yellow flowers that grow from strong stems to a height of up to 8 metres over 5-10 years.
  • Albertine: The salmon pink flowers of Albertine look beautiful in summer, and you can expect this plant to reach a similar size as the Alberic.
  • New Dawn: A smaller plant, reaching a maximum spread of about 2.5m. New Dawn has pale pink-white flowers that will burst out in early summer and stay until autumn.
  • Wedding Day: Less thorny than some other varieties, with glossier leaves. White flowers with a yellow centre and a distinctive shape. Will reach a maximum of about 8 metres high.
  • Danse du Feu: The name means ‘fire dance,’ and evokes the vibrant red of this rose variety. This really is a special plant to behold and will take well to shade.

You’ll need to tie the stems of climbing roses help them climb a wall or trellis. This can be done with bands of soft fabric, and they don’t need to be tied too tight.

It’s not recommended to prune your climbing rose until it covers the whole trellis. Doing so may stunt its growth.

Honeysuckle

This plant is renowned for its inviting scent, and for its ability to flower multiple times in growing season if deadheaded. It combines very well with other climbing plants. Take a look at the image below for an example – rose and honeysuckle provide beautiful coverage for this cottage wall:

Rose and honeysuckle growing over a window
Rose and honeysuckle: A match made in garden heaven

Climbing honeysuckle is prone to attract aphids and other pests, so stay vigilant if you choose this plant for your garden. Keep an eye out for small bugs, or for any visible damage to leaves. If you see either, quickly take the relevant steps to remove pest infestations and prevent damage to other plants in your garden.

Like hydrangea, honeysuckle plants don’t need to be tied onto fences and trellises. Unlike hydrangea, however, they will need support when growing up a wall.

Star Jasmine

Another famously fragrant plant, star jasmine will do well in east-facing parts of your garden. Unlike some of the other plants in this list, it requires a little bit of sunlight rather than full shade. We’ve included nonetheless to give you some options.

The dainty white flowers have a really interesting shape. It’s a five-pointed star (hence the name), but with a slightly different nuance to other star-shaped flowers you’ll come across.

white star jasmine flowers with dark green leaves
Aren’t they striking?

Clematis

We’ve seen clematis described as “born to climb,” with good reason. Certain varieties of this plant are known as the fastest-growing climbing plants, so if you’ve got a wall or trellis that you want to cover quickly, you may be in luck.

Here are some climbing varieties that will do well in shade:

  • Viticella Black Prince: These striking dark-red, almost-black flowers sit especially well alongside climbing roses, and will thrive in part shade.
  • Alpina: Bold and exciting purple flowers grace this variety of Clematis. They droop pleasingly when closed, then stand proud when open.

Ivy – the vine that grows well in shade

Ivy is probably the first plant that pops into your mind when somebody mentions climbers. You’ll see this plant out in the wild, winding its way up buildings, fences, even trees. It’s a keen grower, even in dark shade, and brings colour and striking shapes to any outdoor space.

If you’re wondering “what vine grows well in the shade,” you need to look no further than Parthenocissus tricuspidata: Also known as Boston ivy or Japanese creeper. Its green leaves fade to red in autumn, bringing a medley of colour. This plant will cover an enormous amount of site if given time, up to 12 metres high by 8 wide. 

Virginia Creeper

If you want a plant that will dominate a shaded wall, you’re in look.

Virginia Creeper has big leaves and can grow quickly to cover an impressive area. It’s easy to take care of, too, thanks to its suckers. No need to tie it onto a trellis, or otherwise support the growth.

The Chinese Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus henryana) is another popular climbing plant for shade. This variety will show more vibrant leaves if it gets a bit of sunlight during the day, so if this is important to you, make sure to grow it somewhere east-facing.

You can be creative when choosing a climbing plant for shade. Rather than choosing one plant, why not select a couple whose colours, shapes, and growing habits complement each other particularly well? Shade-loving plants will bring real vibrancy to the formerly drab parts of your garden and combining multiple will keep things vibrant for more of the year.

Climbing plants for shade in pots, or from the ground?

When choosing the best climbing plants for shade in your garden, you have the option of growing them in pots or in the ground. Sometimes, this decision will be made for you. In a paved alleyway or a patio, for example, you’ll have to rely on pots.

A clematis climbing its way up a shaded trellis
A clematis climbing its way up a shaded trellis

If you’re growing a climbing plant up a fence, wall, or trellis with soil beneath it, you can plant the climbers right into the ground. This will let them grow larger than from a pot, so make sure you take this into account. Nobody wants to be surprised by a much larger plant than they bargained for!

Tips for growing plants in shade

Here are some growing tips for plants in the shade to get you going. These could fill their own article, so consider this a taster:

  • Add gel to the compost to help with water retention. This will keep your plants moist during warm weather.
  • Add organic matter like leaf mould or compost to the soil before planting. This will aerate roots and lead to stronger growth.
  • Add potash to the soil. This can be taken from a bonfire or bought specially. Potash boosts plants’ toughness and should lead to better growth in the shade.
  • Laying down some mulch after planting out your shade-friendly plants will maximise their nutrient access and improve strength.

We hope you’ve seen the light

In this article, we’ve introduced some of the best climbing plants for shade. Now there’s no need to be kept in the dark when deciding what to plant in these areas of your garden.

Whether you grow from a pot or the ground, the plants in this list will bring colour and vibrancy. We hope you find something you like and wish you happy gardening!

About the author

Chris Lee

Chris is interested in nature and the good things that happen when people are in it. He is a freelance writer, with writing published about cycling, green living, and ways to make a difference without fundamentally restructuring your lifestyle.

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