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How to create privacy by planting

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Climbing plants offer fast coverage to create privacy or provide screening for an unsightly fence, boring wall or garden shed.


The vigorous growth of climbing plants can make them challenging to manage, so selecting the right plant for your needs is important. This guide should help ensure a great result.


Understanding climbing plants

Trained star jasmine creates a fragrant welcome.Trained star jasmine creates a fragrant welcome.Understanding the different mechanisms plants have for climbing is important as it determines the support your climber needs to perform at its best.


Tendril climbers, coils

Tendril climbers send out tendrils, often seen as little spring-like coils, that will grip around anything they reach. Generally, these tendrils shoot from the top of the leaf axils, which is the point where the leaf stem joins the main stem. These tendrils can easily grip around wire and mesh. Examples include passionfruit and grapes (Vitis species).


Tendril climbers, adhesive

A sub-group of tendril climbers have small, sticky discs on the end of the tendrils. They use these to bind to whatever they come into contact with so are more suited to hard surfaces than wire. Colourful, deciduous Boston or Japanese ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) are widely known.


Twining climbers

Twining plants will wind their stems around just about anything they can, from wire to pergola posts. Twiners are some of the most vigorous climbing plants. The native Pandoreas and Hardenbergias are great examples of this twining group. Twiners are genetically programmed to twist either clockwise or anti-clockwise, and you cannot change this with training.


Climbing fig only requires a solid surface for support.Climbing fig only requires a solid surface for support.

Root climbers

Root climbers develop aerial roots from their stems to adhere to surfaces. They hold best on porous or textured surfaces, so they don’t have much success on a tin fence or shed and may come away in a sheet if they do get a hold. The most well-known are the true ivies (Hedera species) and climbing fig (Ficus pumila).


Scrambling climbers

Scrambling climbers happily grow in a tumbling mound if they cannot find anything to climb. Some will twine given the opportunity while others drape over any structure or plant they can find. The native golden guinea flower (Hibbertia scandens) is a twining example. Many use backward pointing thorns as their climbing mechanism. The best examples are the Bougainvilleas and climbing roses.


Potential damage


It is important to be aware of the potential damage that some climbing plants can cause.


Twining climbers, such as wisteria, can do great damage to other plants or structural posts as they mature. Their once-pliable stem becomes thickened and woody, crushing whatever it is wrapped around, including pergola posts.

Get the formal look fast by training climbers.Get the formal look fast by training climbers.

Climbers with sticky feet, whether they be sticky tendrils or aerial roots, can cause surface damage to paintwork or render if removed. Climbers with sticky tendrils leave their little discs behind if pulled off and these can be very difficult to remove, especially from brickwork.


Any of the sticky-footed climbers can develop into a very thick mat on a wall. This mat can then peel off in one huge slab potentially pulling off render (or even bricks).


Don’t underestimate the weight of any climber. Any support you provide needs to consider their bulk and weight once they reach a good size and have a full canopy.


How to train climbing plants


Your main aim will be maximum foliage cover in the areas you need it. The training required will vary. Here are some tips for training climbers:


  • Get to know the specific plants you are putting in as they may have their own pruning needs, such as only in spring or after flowering. Check the plant label first and then do your research, making sure any online references are local and relevant to your zone.


  • Use pruners to cut back vigorous new shoots to around 10mm above a set of leaves. This will then trigger at least two new shoots from below the pruning cut. Most climbers will respond well to tip pruning as a means of developing good, dense foliage cover.


Native pandorea trained on the fence top cascades for a fantastic display.Native pandorea trained on the fence top cascades for a fantastic display.

  • Make sure the lower parts of the plant are not overshadowed or you will lose lower foliage and it’s hard to get this to reshoot. Regular pruning can avoid this.


  • Climbers tend to be very good at finding their own way on support you provide, but sometimes a rogue shoot may need to be re-steered. With twiners, wrap the shoot around or tuck it into place. Use care as new shoots can be easy to snap. Other types of climbers can be temporarily secured in place with garden twine or plant ties once redirected.


  • If training over a pergola, your objective may be to get maximum overhead coverage with nothing on the way up. Achieve this by training the main leader upwards while repeatedly trimming off-side shoots. Once the climber has its head in the sun, you’ll find it will either stop trying to send out those lower side shoots or they’ll be much less frequent.


Support for climbing plants


It’s popular to grow a climber up and over an existing structure such as a pergola, or over a frame to create an arbour. Here are some more ways you can use climbing plants at your place:


  • A wall or fence can be strung with wire or cable to create a pattern for your climbers. The trick here is to have the wire on stand offs, such as long eye bolts, away from the fence or wall face. This way your climbers can fill out more without pushing into the surface. It also allows for good airflow behind the plant, reducing the risk of pests and diseases. You’ll find that there are wire trellis kits available to make this easy.


  • Wire on stand offs can also be used to have twining climbers cover a post or pole. Simply create vertical lines up, or circles around, the post with wire held by eye bolts.


  • A metal arch kit makes for a stunning display and entry.A metal arch kit makes for a stunning display and entry.Pre-formed lattice or trellis screen panels can also be wall-mounted, ideally using stand offs.


  • Freestanding structures can be a great way to create privacy or garden room dividers. Set 90 or 100mm H4 posts in-ground with concrete and then string wire in a pattern between, or use the timber to support pre-formed screens.


  • You’ll find a range of garden obelisks that are perfect for centring in a bed and turning your climber into a feature. Building an obelisk for your climbers can also make a fantastic D.I.Y. project.


  • You can add risers to the top of a fence and string wire, or use lattice-type inserts, to create extra privacy or screening. When trained to grow only to the top this also adds an extra planting layer and height to your garden design.


  • Climbers can be planted in large pots or planter boxes and then trained onto a pre-made screen supported either in the pot or by a handrail or wall, making it an ideal privacy solution for balconies.


Need help selecting a climbing plant to create privacy or screening? Join in the discussion and the Bunnings Workshop community will be happy to assist.


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