A Brief Guide to Climbing and Hanging Plants

One of the best places for plants is one of the most often overlooked - overhead. Hanging and climbing plants live happily where other plants fall short. Many hanging and climbing plants live native in the tropics. Their addition to a landscape design, in pots or hanging baskets, gives patios and outdoor living spaces a tropical flair. Some of the most interesting and popular plants are outlined here, but there are thousands of plants to choose from.

Indoor Plants

Houseplants require as much consideration as outdoor plants. They require specific light needs and do not thrive if grown in areas of too much light. Many houseplants originally come from the tropics where they are covered by a canopy of trees which shields them from the light and places them in indirect light conditions. Before choosing a houseplant, whether hanging or not, you must know what the light conditions are in the home, what the plant's light requirements are and where the plant will thrive the best..

Aeschynanthus pulcher.
Aeschynanthus pulcher.

Aeschynanthus species

A cousin to the African violet and cape primrose, the lipstick plant loves high humidity and indirect light. The lipstick's long tendrils of leaves and bright tubular flowers provide color and an unusual shape to any home.  When root bound, it flowers all the time, giving the home lots of bright color. In the wild, the lipstick plant is a tropical herb native to the Philippines, New Guinea and parts of Asia.

Chlorophytum comosum
Chlorophytum comosum

Chlorophytum comosum

The spider plant is one of the most popular houseplants and one of the hardest to kill. Forget to water it? It will forgive you. Keep indoors? Just put it near a window where it can get indirect sunlight. Leave it outdoors? Make sure it doesn’t freeze and it’s not in direct sunlight.  Some people even run it over with the lawn mower repeatedly.  Though it looks like grass when that happens, it just keeps growing back.  The Spider plant comes from the lily family and has long narrow leaves which are most-often variegated in the cultivated varieties though the wild Spider plant is almost exclusively all green. One of the most unique features of this plant is the way it reproduces. A true Spider plant produces above ground shoots on which small white flowers appear. After the flowers die off, seed-filled capsules appear and after that little tufts of leaves appear which become baby Spider plants. In the wild, these plantlets root wherever they touch the ground. Placed in a bright window, the Spider plant becomes a fountain of white and green leaves as well as arched shoots filled with small versions of the mother plant, a truly beautiful display of foliage.

Nematanthus nervosus
Nematanthus nervosus

Nematanthus

The goldfish plant has long trailing shoots of leaves and orange flowers that can reach 3 feet in length.  This is one of the few indoor plants that can handle direct sunlight in a bright window.  Not as popular as some other houseplants, the goldfish plant provides an interesting look with its wiry stem of leaves and orange flowers.  It can be grown from cuttings and requires a bit of care and maintenance.

Philodendron scandens oxycardium
Philodendron scandens oxycardium

Philodendron scandens oxycardium

Commonly called heart-shaped philodendron or heartleaf philodendron, this popular houseplant makes a particularly lovely trailing plant.  It requires minimal light and needs just regular watering and weekly misting.  This philodendron grows easily from cuttings.  It has been planted in pots and placed at the top of bookcases, hung from the ceiling to trail over the sides of the pot, and placed in a container with a trellis.  Philodendron are found in homes and offices and though they are toxic to mice and rats, there is no evidence that the plant is toxic to people though it is probably a good idea to not let pets or children eat it.

Streptocarpus parviflorus
Streptocarpus parviflorus

Streptocarpus

The Cape Primrose is so named for where it originally comes from (South Africa) and the look of its flowers.  Not nearly as well-known as other indoor plants, the Cape Primrose is nonetheless a lovely and easy-to-grow plant which thrives in indirect light.  With regular maintenance, this plant blooms almost continuously, the trumpet-shaped flowers and velvety foliage spilling over the sides of hanging baskets.  The Cape Primrose can be grown outdoors in US Zones 10 and 11, but is usually kept indoors or at least wintered indoors as it is not cold tolerant at all.  It can be propagated from cuttings and by dividing the root ball.

Growing Hanging Basket Plants: Ferns

Outdoor Plants

Just like with indoor plants, it is important to know where you plan to plant outdoor vines, the kind of soil and light in these areas, and what the climate will bring for your plants.  Many vines are tropical or subtropical plants that do not tolerate freezing temperatures but others will survive brief cold snaps or will simply ground freeze in the winter only to grow back in the spring with another lovely display of foliage and flowers.

Clerodendron thomsoniae
Clerodendron thomsoniae

Clerodendrum thomsoniae

Commonly called Bleeding Heart, this vine is often used to grow somewhat uncontrolled over doorways and arches.  It is one of the most beautiful flowers in the plant world with long sprays of white and red flowers.  Most species will grow only in US Zones 9 through 12, though some cultivars have been developed to grow outdoors in Zone 7.  All species prefer full sun to partial shade.  In the colder climates Bleeding Heart will die back in the winter but grows back quickly when the weather warms up.  Most typically, however, Bleeding Heart is grown in containers, often with a trellis, to be able to move the plant indoors in cold weather.  

Ficus pumila on a palm trunk.
Ficus pumila on a palm trunk.

Ficus pumila

The Creeping fig is, you guessed it, a close cousin to the fig.  As a vine, it uses a powerful adhesive to stick to any vertical surface it encounters.  It will climb trees, walls, fences, concrete, wood, basically anything, and is used to soften the look of bare hard masonry walls.  The Creeping fig has a juvenile look until it reaches the top of its support.  It only extends about an inch away from the surface and has soft small leaves.  Once it is done growing vertically, when it runs out of space, it starts shooting horizontally.  This is when it becomes an adult vine.  It spreads away from the surface of the structure much more and grows larger, more leathery leaves.  Creeping fig should not be used intentionally for wood structures as its adhesive tends to destroy wood.  It also requires a lot of maintenance to cut back the horizontal creepers, especially if used on a building where it will need to be cut away from windows and doors.  It is hardy to Zone 8, grows very quickly and is one of the most beautiful evergreen vines available.

Hedera helix
Hedera helix

Hedera helix and Hedera canariensis

Commonly called ivy and actually classified as a high climbing shrub, most people just consider it a clinging vine.  Ivy looks beautiful growing under a shade tree, used as a soft, green ground cover.  It is used as a climber on trees, fences, walls and buildings and has been so popular for centuries it has been depicted in artwork for hundreds of years.  Helix and canariensis are closely related though grow in very different environments.  Hedera helix is more commonly known as English Ivy.  It is hardy in Zones 5 through 9, not tolerating the extreme heat and humidity of the southernmost areas of Texas and Florida.  In these areas, however, it grows well in hanging baskets and makes a stunning house plant.  Hedera canariensis is more commonly known as Algerian Ivy and is native to North Africa, the Azores and the Canary Islands.  It is salt tolerant and grows well in Zones 6 through 10.  Algerian Ivy grows faster than English Ivy, one reason why it is chosen over English Ivy in areas where both grow.

Jasmine polyanthum
Jasmine polyanthum

Jasmine polyanthum

Who among us does not know how fragrant jasmine is?  The scent is used in candles, perfumes, soaps and lotions and is one of the most popular fragrances in the world.  Winter jasmine is wildly popular as a climbing vine in warmer climates.  It presents a beautiful picture around doorways, windows, arches, gazebos, walls and fences.  In the spring, it blooms with small pink flowers which scent the air in the late afternoon and evening.  Winter jasmine is also called pink jasmine for the color of its flowers.  The plant prefers full sun to part shade like many other vines do.  It is easy to grow and grows very quickly.

Mandevilla cv 'Best Red'
Mandevilla cv 'Best Red'

Mandevilla spp.

Mandevilla is one of the most popular climbing vines in warmer climates, often seen trained around lightposts and mailboxes.  It gives a continuous show of pink flowers and readily climbs any trellis, fence, or post it can reach.  Mandevilla is hardy in Zones 9 through 11 though in Zone 8 it will be ground killed with frost then come back with the warmer weather of spring.  In colder climates, Mandevilla is grown in containers so that it can be overwintered indoors.  Native to Brazil, it give landscaping a tropical flair and beautiful color.  

Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Virginia creeper may not be your idea of a climbing plant used for outdoor landscaping but many people use it because of its bright red or burgundy fall color.  Kept in a container, it can be trained over a trellis or hoop, but if you put in the ground be careful where it is planted.  When Virginia creeper uses another plant or tree for support it can smother that plant.  It is also often used as a shading vine for buildings because it uses grippers and not roots to cling to the support structure so it will not disrupt the structural integrity of its support.  

Passiflora caerulea
Passiflora caerulea

Passiflora caerulea

Called passionflower by gardeners, Passiflora is becoming increasingly popular in warm climates where it grows readily outdoors.  It has large exotic-looking blue flowers in the summer, followed by large orange fruit which are edible but not very tasty when raw.  Passionflower spreads readily on the ground or can be trained to climb trellises, arches, and fences and presents a gorgeous picture in the summer when it is filled with those blue flowers.  Butterflies in particular really like passionflower vines and gardeners may find themselves fighting with caterpillars for the life of their vines.  As a houseplant in colder climates, train the vine around a hoop to keep it under control and grow it in a large pot where the roots can spread out like they prefer to do.  When in bloom, pinch off the flowers to float in a large shallow bowl of water for a unique and beautiful table centerpiece.

Vitis californica with grapes
Vitis californica with grapes

Vitis

The grapevine.  Yes, of course, it is a vine and a type of climbing plant.  Best known for producing grapes, and from them wine, jam, jelly, preserves and other goodies.  Different species of grapevines can be found from the Southeastern US to Canada, from the Mediterranean to Siberia.  The vine will become woody with age and uses tendrils to climb.  It is not normally used as an ornamental plant but can nonetheless be included in landscaping.

With such a large variety of climbing and hanging plants, finding the perfect one for inside the home or the landscaping around a patio or in a flowerbed is an easy task.  The hard part is deciding which ones to use of all the beautiful varieties.  

Guiding Climbing Plants

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