Climbing plants can completely change the appearance of your garden, effortlessly covering unsightly fences and walls. They can clamber over pergolas bringing height and interest to our outdoor space. But one common weakness of climbing plants is that they can grow very slowly indeed.
Luckily, there is a solution – a small number of climbing plants that grow fast. In a single season some of these climbers can easily reach 2 metres or more in height, even when grown from seed. I’ve grown a few where you could almost measure the growth on a daily basis.
Trained properly, they’ll quickly create the look you’re seeking, without requiring too much patience. So if you don’t want to wait around for years on end then here’s a simple list of fast-growing climbing plants for you to try…
Cup and Saucer Vine – Cobaea scandens
Cobaea scandens is one of the most incredible fast growing climbing plants available. I’ll admit that the foliage is perhaps not the most exciting of the available options, but the display put on by the flowers is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
The flowers are best described as “huge and tropical”. They’re quite unlike almost anything else that can be grown in a temperate garden.
Each bloom is easily 3-4 inches in length, starting off a creamy white and then, after a few days, turning a dazzling purple. They really look like something plucked straight from some steamy jungle in South America.
What’s more, Cobaea scandens can become literally covered in these flowers, providing an amazing visual appeal.
The flowering period starts in mid-summer, and goes on right until the frosts finally kill off the plants. In my area of the UK this means that the plants continue flowering into October, even November.
Sadly, a serious frost will kill them off – they’re only half-hardy – so you’ll either want to resow from seed the following spring, or pot the plant up (if it’s not too large) and bring it into your home for the coldest months.
Lastly, note that these tend to be some of the more expensive seeds available, but in my opinion are well worth the cost for all those months of big, showy flowers you’ll enjoy.
Black Eyed Susan – Thunbergia alata
Probably the best word to describe black eyed susan is “cheerful”. In contrast to the big, tropical flowers of Cobaea scandens, the flowers of Thunbergia alata are much smaller in dimension, just an inch or two across. But these flowers, which are typically a bright yellow/orange just seem to glow at any time of day.
What’s more, if you haven’t tried this fast growing climber before you’ll scarcely believe the volume of flowers it produces. Within months of sowing the whole vine can be covered with orange flowers which are certain to put a smile on your face.
The foliage is also thick and fast-growing and will quickly reach heights of six feet or more in a single season.
Like Cobaea scandens they like a warm, sunny position and are best thought-of as a fast growing annual climber.
While they are considered perennial in warmer areas, they won’t cope with a frost. Fortunately the plant seeds generously, so it’s easy to collect the brittle brown seed pods in late summer and store them over winter ready to replant the following spring.
Spanish Flag – Ipomoea lobata
If you’re looking for a climber that grows fast yet looks rather unique then Ipomoea lobata, sometimes known as the Spanish Flag plant is a strong contender.
Unlike the cup and saucer vine or black eyed susan which produce semi-traditional flowers, this climbing plant instead produces “sprays” of flowers which start off red and tip and slowly merge to a jully yellow closer to the plant – hence the common name.
Personally I find this fast growing climbing plant never ceases to attract interest from garden visitors as the flower sprays are so different. In a good year – and when planted in a warm, sunny position with lots of nutrients in the soil – the foliage can almost disappear thanks to the profusion of flowers.
Once again, this fast growing climbing plant is half hardy and will eventually die off as the temperature drops in winter. Fortunately being so quick to germinate and get going in the spring it is no real trouble to plant some fresh seeds each spring.
Sweet Peas – Lathyrus odoratus
If there’s one plant on this list that most people will know, it’s the sweet pea. Grown by generations of gardeners, they’re most popularly chosen for their heavily-scented flowers in a range of different colors.
If you’re looking for a fast growing climbing plant that will also tempt you with heady sweet scents throughout the summer months then this is probably the best choice of all. Plant them close to where you’ll be sitting to make the most of them.
If there is a weakness of Lathyrus odoratus then it’s that the foliage tends to be far sparser than many of the other fast growing climbing plants listed here. While attractive-enough, it is less effective for completely covering a fence of wall than, say, the cup and saucer vine. If you’re growing climbers to cover something up then this might not be your best bet.
Like most of the other plants featured here, Lathyrus odoratus is an annual plant, which dies off long before winter. The upside is that the seeds are produced in abundance and are easy to collect when the pods go brown and crispy.
Alternatively, just leave the pods on the plant, where they will self-seed. Seeds left in the ground like this will often receive a head-start the following spring, growing even larger and more luxuriant than normal.
Lastly, note that there is now a perennial sweet pea available. Sometimes known as the Everlasting Sweet Pea I’m just starting to experiment with it myself, so will update this article when I have more experience to share. For anyone interested in doing their own research, the Latin name of the perennial version is “Lathyrus latifolius”.
Nasturtium – Tropaoelum majus
Like sweet peas, nasturtium plants can give a wonderful “English cottage garden” look to your outside space.
Traditionally the flowers are a deep orange in color, but these days a range of other flower types are available including pale pink, bright yellow, and even mottled orange and yellow. Many of these flowers are also edible, so can make a unique addition to a summer salad.
Tropaoelum majus come in a surprising range of different types. Some will “tumble” effectively over the sides of pots, containers and raised beds, while others will happily scramble skywards over fences and walls. If you’re considering using nasturtiums as a fast-growing climbing plant then be sure to choose a variety that will happily climb; not all will.
Like the vast majority of the other climbers featured here, Tropaoelum majus is an annual plant, but benefits from flowering over an incredibly long period. They will continue to bring color into your outdoor space long into the fall months, long after most other annuals have finished for the season.
Like sweet peas, the seeds can be easily collected from the attractive nobbly seed pods produced after flowering, or the plants can be left to self-seed. Even if you aim to collect as many seeds as possible you’ll likely find an impressive number of seedlings appear the following spring anyway. In my experience these can be easily and safely translated to other areas of your garden.
Anemone Clematis – Clematis montana
Clematis montana is one of the few fast growing climbing plants that can be considered truly perennial. This means you only need to plant it once and it will keep on coming back year after year. Indeed, this is one of the few plants on the list that can be so fast-growing that you may want to consider pruning it in future years to keep it under control!
Clematis montana grows best in a sunny location, but likes it’s roots to remain cool and damp. Planting ground-covering plants around the base can therefore be an ideal solution.
Maintained properly Clematis montana can spread to a meter or more in width in a single season, and will easily reach the top of most fences or walls. Once established it will produce a dense profusion of small white flowers that can completely cover upper parts of the climber.
Tips for Climbing Plants that Grow Fast
As we have seen, which it comes to deciding which climbing plants grow fast the vast majority of the choices available are annuals. They’re typically therefore grown from seed, so if you’re going to get the most possible from them there are a few useful tips to consider.
The sooner you plant your seeds the bigger your climbing plants will eventually grow. So don’t want until all the frosts have passed and *then* start planting.
If you want your climbers to grow fast then start them early in the year. Put them into pots of compost, in a warm, sunny location. A south-facing windowsill in your home can work well. This way, as the weather starts to warm up and winter becomes a distant memory you’ll already have some impressively-sized plants to pop out into the border.
They’ll establish more quickly in this way, and will have more of the season to show their full potential.
Fast growing climbers require a lot of nutrients to fuel their growth. Give them every possible opportunity by starting them in good-quality compost from the outset. When planting out, consider enriching the soil further by adding some handfuls of fresh compost to the hole, or adding an enriching mulch around the seedlings.
Lots of Sunshine
Just like a rich soil, most fast growing climbing plants benefit from a sunny location. For best results full sunshine is ideal, though many will also thrive in areas of partial shade. Full shade it best avoided, or you may find your plants fail to properly reach their potential.
Trellis, pea netting or a gazebo can all help to train your climbers into growing the way you want them to. While some, like nasturtiums, may still find their own way up your wall or fence, giving them a little help is likely to be worth the investment.
Possibly the easiest and cheapest solution to this I have found is to use good quality nylon nets, which are strong and weather-resistant, cheap to buy, and can easily be attached to wooden fences and so on.
Nip Out as Necessary
Lastly don’t be afraid to nip out the growing tips of your climbers to help them thicken out. Nipping off the top shoots might feel unkind, but this will often encourage climbers to thicken out lower down. Once your climbers start to reach the maximum height you’d like, nipping them out can help create a “fuller” and more attractive final plant.