Energizing small gardens isn’t hard with the right plants.

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there – longing for a garden that feels spacious and full of life when all we have is a backyard lot or patio. The good news is that you probably have more space than you think, and energizing that space isn’t hard with the right plants.

In all the gardens my husband and I have created, it’s the climbing plants that have transformed our space. And while these plants haven’t always been easy to grow, we’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Choosing low maintenance varieties, avoiding invasives, and ensuring the plant fits with the space are just a few ways we’ve maximized trellis-plant benefits.

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The life-changing magic of 'growing up'

Trellising plants in a small garden helps address some of the challenges associated with limited space. Here are some compelling reasons to ‘grow up’:

  • While small gardens often lack horizontal space, there’s usually an abundance of vertical space. With trellises, you can efficiently use this area, allowing for more plants in a compact footprint.
  • Trellised plants create visual interest, breaking up the monotony of a flat landscape.
  • In a small garden where sunlight may be limited, trellising allows you to position plants where they’ll receive more sun for photosynthesis. This is particularly crucial for sun-loving crops.
  • Small gardens in urban or suburban settings may benefit from trellises as natural screens. Trellises can provide privacy, shielding your outdoor space from prying eyes or undesirable views.
  • Trellises help define different areas within a small garden. Whether marking pathways, creating garden “rooms,” or framing specific features, trellises contribute to a well-organized and aesthetically pleasing layout.
  • It’s often easier to care for plants growing vertically, since tasks like pruning, harvesting, and pest control are more accessible.

How to choose plants for small gardens

What criteria should you use when considering which plants are best for your space? I like to look for compact or dwarf varieties of popular favorites, plants that have multi-season interest (such as blossoms, leaves, and seeds), and low-maintenance plants that won’t mean a ton of backbreaking work. If a plant is both ornamental and a pollinator favorite, even better.

Avoid invasives

While many vining plants are beautiful to behold, some may be invasive in your area. These could include trumpet flower, kiwi, black-eyed Susan vine, canary creeper, ivy, passion flower, morning glory, perennial sweet peas, and more. The plants listed below are safe bets, but when in doubt, check with your local nursery or extension agent.

Don’t forget about edibles

For the past ten years we’ve been blending edible plants with ornamentals. We like this strategy because it reduces the harms of garden pests on edible crops, showcases stunning and tasty plants, and keeps our food within easy reach. Consider planting edible vines on your trellises for a beautiful and productive garden. We’ve included some of our favorites as part of the list below.

Related: How to Use Trellises in the Garden

Favorite ornamental climbing plants for small spaces

Clematis (Clematis spp.)

clematis on wooden trellis

Compact clematis varieties work well for patio planters.

This quintessential flowering vine comes in a variety of colors and is known for its stunning large blooms. Our first foray into clematis growing was Clematis armandii, the evergreen variety that sports a profusion of fragrant white blooms in summer and glossy green leaves in winter. This variety needed a large growing area, however. Since that time we’ve moved and planted compact varieties in our patio trellis planters and wall mount trellises for long-season blossoming and pleasing fragrances.

Favorite compact cultivars generally stay 4 to 6 feet tall without the extensive spread of standard plants. Choose from a wide array of purples, whites, burgundies, pinks, and more to fill out your clematis garden. Compact clematis also look nice on obelisks.

  • Growing zones: Zones 4 to 9
  • Bloom time: From late winter to early fall, depending on variety


Annual sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus)

pink sweet pea vines

Annual sweet peas. Image by Karys Garmider from Pixabay

Sweet peas remind me of grandma’s garden. There was always a patch growing up a fence or trellis somewhere in her yard, and my little fingers sought them out to make pint-sized bouquets with scents to die for. Their fragrant annual vines are a hallmark of cottage gardens, which may be why they convey old-world charm (and why Grandma, who was a British immigrant, loved them so much).

Choose from a wide variety of colors to add a lovely touch to your trellis with their delicate, butterfly-like blooms. Opt for petit or jumbo blooms, depending on your space. Most vines grow 6 to 8 feet, except dwarf varieties, which average about ten inches. Semi-dwarf varieties fall somewhere in between.

  • Growing zones: Zones 3 to 10
  • Bloom time: Late spring to fall


Mandevilla (Mandevilla spp.)


Mandevilla vines. Image by G.C. from Pixabay

Mandevilla is a genus of tropical and subtropical flowering vines prized for their striking trumpet-shaped flowers and glossy green foliage. These evergreen climbers, with blooms in shades of pink, red, and white, are ideal for trellises and arbors, adding a touch of tropical elegance to gardens.

Thriving in warmer climates, mandevilla requires well-draining soil and full to partial sunlight. Since it can reach heights of 6 to 15 feet when trained on a trellis, it’s important to keep branches and stems pruned when growing in small spaces. Simply trim back every few weeks during the growing season. In colder climates, Mandevilla can be potted and brought indoors for winter or grown as an annual.

  • Growing zones: 8 to 11
  • Bloom time: Early summer to first frost


Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.)

European honeysuckle vine

European honeysuckle vine. Image by Petra from Pixabay

Another cottage garden favorite, honeysuckle is fragrant and fast-growing, with long vines that produce colorful, tubular flowers. One of my earliest farm jobs included routinely weeding a perennial flower patch beneath a mature honeysuckle vine. That’s where I saw first hand how popular these vines could be with pollinators. The vine, which rambled up a fence and over an arbor, welcomed nonstop hummingbirds, butterflies and bees thanks to its profuse nectar and pollen.

While some honeysuckle varieties can be aggressive, these tend to be the bush varieties. There are several vining non-invasive types that provide fragrant flowers without becoming a nuisance. Look for Lonicera periclymenum (European Honeysuckle) or Lonicera sempervirens (Coral Honeysuckle), which are less likely to spread quickly. The University of Iowa offers more information on avoiding invasive honeysuckle plants. You can also plant native varieties, which will be best suited to your area.

  • Growing zones: Zones 4 to 9
  • Bloom time: Mid-spring through late summer


Roses (Rosa spp.)

yellow roses on metal arch

Climbing roses. Image by Kerstin Riemer from Pixabay

There’s nothing quite so romantic as rambling roses on a cottage wall. These classic beauties evoke quiet summer afternoons and simpler times, while also offering divine fragrance. I came to roses later in life, but have enjoyed the variety and enchantment of these exquisite blooms ever since.

Climbing roses such as the David Austen ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ and ‘New Dawn’ gracefully ascend trellises and arbors, showcasing a profusion of fragrant, multi-petaled flowers. Other favorites include anything in the ‘Arborose’ family, available in a spectrum of colors. With proper support, care, and a sunny location, climbing roses can create a stunning focal point in outdoor spaces. What’s your favorite?

  • Growing zones: Varieties exist for zones 3 to 9.
  • Bloom time: Starting in late spring to early summer, most climbing roses will flower almost continually until frost.


Star jasmine (Jasminum spp.)

climbing star jasmine

Star jasmine vine. Image by Сергей Рабатин from Pixabay

After observing my sister-in-law’s star jasmine thriving against an old shed, I decided to grow one of these tender beauties in my own garden. At the lower edge of its temperature range, I knew I was pushing things, but the experiment was worth the risk. Now when summer comes around in my zone 7 garden, we have the gorgeous fragrance of this delicate plant wafting across our patio. The blooms are long lasting, the vines vigorous, and protection is a simple matter of covering the plant in fall while mulching its roots.

Perfect for trellising, star jasmine offers an abundance of small, white flowers scented like the finest perfume. While it will tolerate some shade, six hours of sunlight each day will bring on its characteristic blooms.

  • Growing zones: 8 to 10 (will tolerate zone 7 with winter protection)
  • Bloom time: Spring and early summer


Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris)

climbing lacecap hydrangea

Climbing hydrangea. Image by Kerstin Riemer from Pixabay

One of the first plants I added to my current landscape garden was a climbing hydrangea.
This deciduous vine is known for its large, attractive lacecap flowers. While some sources call it a slow grower, I’ve found it grows quickly in the Pacific Northwest. Either way, it will eventually cover a trellis with lush foliage and blooms. It’s especially well suited for brick walls and espalier trellises. It’s also one of the few flowering vines that does well in partial shade and slightly acidic soil, which is why we love it.

  • Growing zones: Zones 4-8
  • Bloom time: Late spring to early summer

Favorite edible climbing plants for small spaces

Grapes (Vitis)

purple grapes on vine

Table grapes. Photo by Amos Bar-Zeev on Unsplash

It’s amazing how many grapes you can grow on a small fence or trellis. With proper nutrients, full sun, and careful pruning and training, a mature grapevine can produce 10 to 20 pounds of fruit per plant. That’s enough to eat fresh and save some for freezing or juicing in some cases. It also gives you an endless supply of grape leaves, perfect for dolmades and as an additive for pickling (thanks to their alum content–crisp pickles anyone?). Adding grapes to your garden trellis offers a good blend of aesthetics and practicality. Our favorites include seedless table grapes in green and red for variety. We like Concord for juicing.

  • Growing zones: Zones 4 to 9 depending on variety
  • Harvest time: Late summer to fall


Pole beans (Phaseolus)

wooden bean trellis

Scarlet runner beans. Learn how to build this trellis here.

One of the easiest vines to grow has to be the pole bean. Nothing finds its way to a trellis like a young bean plant, wrapping itself sturdily around supports without the need for twine or guidance. Varieties like the popular Kentucky Wonder, Blue Lake Pole or Scarlet Runner offer a space-efficient and visually appealing elements in your garden, maximizing vertical space in record growing time.

Plant beans directly into well-draining soil after it has warmed in springtime. As the vines ascend, watch as they develop lush foliage and vibrant flowers, followed by crisp, flavorful beans ready to eat raw or cooked. Be sure to harvest often, to keep production coming.

  • Growing zones: Zones 3 to 10 depending on variety
  • Harvest time: Summer to fall


Edible pod peas (Pisum sativum)

edible pea vines

Pea vines. Photo by Nature Lover on Unsplash

We stopped growing shelling peas some years ago when we saw how much of the plant ended up in the compost heap. Edible pod peas, such as sugar snap peas and snow peas, bring a burst of sweetness to home gardens, with little to throw away. Gardeners love these versatile legumes for their tender, crisp pods that can be enjoyed straight from the vine. They’re also ideal for small spaces, thanks to compact plants that work perfectly on trellises, balconies and patios. With minimal care, regular harvesting, and a preference for cooler weather, edible pod peas offer rewards worth waiting for. Plant directly into the ground as soon as the soil can be worked in most locations. Look for enation resistant varieties if the virus exists in your area.

  • Growing zones: Zones 3 to 9 depending on variety
  • Harvest time: Late spring to summer


Squash (Curcubita)

squash trellis

Sugar pumpkin on trellis. Photo by Tania Malréchauffé on Unsplash

We’ve grown squash up fences and posts, over archways, down hills, and even on obelisks and trellises. The beauty of lifting squash off the ground? You’ll need far less space for these ground-hogging (but tasty) crops. If you’re growing in a small garden, training your squash up and over structures will free up space and provide an aesthetic focal point . It will also make harvesting easier. Just be sure not to trellis any of the heavier varieties: we learned the hard way that even winter vegetables can pull down a fence when they gets big enough. Instead, choose naturally small or miniature varieties including delicata, spaghetti, butternut, mini hubbard, and tromboncino, taking care to select only vining varieties.

  • Growing zones: Zones 3 to 10 depending on variety
  • Harvest time: Summer to fall


Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus)

cucumber vine

Cucumber vines. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Growing cucumbers on a trellis is another space-efficient and practical approach that yields numerous benefits for home gardeners. By training cucumber vines to climb, not only do you save precious ground space, but you also promote better air circulation around the plants, reducing the risk of diseases. We have found lifting cucumbers particularly useful come harvest time. No need to pick through a tangle of leaves and stems to find fruits just the right size for pickling or making sandwiches. They’re all within easy reach! Our favorite for cucumbers is the A-frame style trellis, since fruits tend to hang down inside the structure away from the leaves, making harvest a cinch.

  • Growing zones: Zones 4 to 11 depending on variety
  • Harvest time: Early to late summer

Vertical beauty

Growing a small garden can be a challenge, but the key lies in thoughtful plant selection for your vertical space. Choosing low-maintenance varieties with compact growth habits, multi-season interest and versatility paves the way for plantings that thrive. As you get to know your garden, let these characteristics guide your choices, transforming your space into a flourishing haven.

Looking for more vertical garden content? Check out our vertical growing collection!

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