10 Perfect Plants for Pergolas (Blooms & Climbers)

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Garden pergola with plants
Having a pergola in your garden is a great way to provide protection from summer heat.

Pergolas play multiple functions in outdoor spaces. As they bring partial shade, they can be used to add charm and playful character to walkways and porches. Typically constructed using pillars of wood, they can easily complement the aesthetic appeal of both modern and traditional gardens. Whether they serve as designated walking paths or as transition zones between the home and the backyard, they can be outfitted with a wide variety of plants!

The types of plants used to accent pergolas may differ depending on where they are located relative to the components of the structure. Vines, lianas, and creepers can be trained to trail around vertical posts and eventually grace the upper lattice. As vigorous species can quickly grow over cross-beams, they add to the shade a pergola provides. On the other hand, pots of low-growing plants and ornamental grasses can be used to naturalize a pergola’s base and pillars.

Perfect for providing your home’s exteriors with protection from summer heat, a pergola’s strong beams can also support the weight of hanging plants, a vertical setup, and a nuanced selection of epiphytes (e.g. orchids and air plants). Your final selection of species would, of course, depend on your region’s climate conditions as well as its community of local flora.

1) Climbing roses (Rosa varieties)

Climbing rose 'Strawberry Hill'
‘Strawberry Hill’ (pictured) is one of the best climbing rose varieties for pergolas. Salicyna, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nursery and garden cultivars

An assortment of climbing roses, which are most notable for their profusion of elegant blooms, can aesthetically transform the appearance of a simple pergola. Typically hardy and tolerant of both warm and cool conditions, these trailing bushes produce lengthy stems and dramatically-hued foliage. Their upward-oriented stems can be secured onto pillars and trained to reach the cross-beams of a pergola. Come spring, you can count on them to burst with color.

Some varieties of climbing roses have notably large blooms with multiple layers of pastel-toned petals. These may boast heights of up to 20 feet (6 meters), making them perfectly suitable for naturalizing the posts of tall pergolas. Moreover, they tend to respond quite well to pruning and are fairly straightforward to maintain.

Some of the best climbing rose varieties for pergolas include ‘Strawberry Hill’, ‘Bathsheba’, ‘Claire Austin’, ‘Peggy Martin’, and ‘Lady Banks’. Dozens more are known for their alluring fragrance and their ease of care, earning them Awards of Garden Merit. Note, however, that, as they are roses, their stems will have varying abundances and lengths of thorns. As you train them to grow upwards, handle their mature stems with care and caution.

2) Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spp.)

Bougainvillea in bloom
Bougainvillea can bring the wow factor to your garden with its seasonal bursts of vibrant blooms. mauro halpern / CC BY 2.0

Native to South America

This group of vibrant vines can add a wow factor to both small and large pergolas. Their seasonal bursts of vibrant bracts, surrounding smaller blooms that attract many pollinators, dot mature stems. In profusion, these can transform the entire appearance of the plant. The arching stems can energetically scramble over a pergola’s beams and pillars, adding complexity to their appearance.

Hardy to USDA zones 9 – 11, bougainvillea vines are best suited to and can remain evergreen in zones with warm winters. As they are likely to die back in frosty winters, they may fail to become well-established in cooler zones. A single plant can take multiple seasons to grow stems that reliably produce specialized bracts.

For pergolas that add shade to outdoor walkways, bougainvillea may be rooted directly into bottom substrates or into medium to large pots. For smaller pergolas with a wooden or stone base, you may opt to restrict the roots to containers or hanging baskets. The trailing stems tend to grow heartily through warm summers, during which the foliage on the tallest ones is exposed to lengthy daylight hours.

3) Common grape (Vitis vinifera)

Common grape plant
Common grape’s woody stems can fully cloak a moderate-sized pergola relatively quickly if grown in optimal conditions. Bangin, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Central Europe, the Mediterranean, and Southwest Asia

The common grapevine, set apart by its juicy and immensely useful fruits, is a fantastic addition to wooden pergolas. Its ripening fruits and highly textural foliage are guaranteed to serve as conversation starters, making your pergola an unforgettable component of a functional outdoor space. This popular vine comes in a stellar assortment of cultivars, so pay attention to each one’s specific requirements before making a purchase.

Possibly cultivated as early as prehistoric times, the common grape can add a touch of tradition to your garden. Its increasingly woody stems can grow quickly in optimal conditions, allowing them to fully cloak a moderately-sized pergola. Their multi-lobed, glossy, and palmate leaves can measure as much as 8 inches (20 cm) long and wide. These require full sun exposure to incite fruit development.

The “green roof” of a grapevine may eventually bring a bounty of suspended fruits, readily hanging through the gaps between a pergola’s upper beams. If the beams are low enough to be reached by an extended hand, the entire family can take part in harvesting grapes! Imagine walking through a pergola where you can simply reach out your hand to pluck the freshest of these sweet and tangy fruits!

4) Purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

Purple passionflower in bloom
The purple passionflower’s petals are known for attracting a variety of pollinators, including bees and butterflies. John Flannery from Richmond County, North Carolina, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the southeastern US

Set apart by its quirky blooms, the purple passionflower can be a fun addition to pergolas, outdoor lattices, walls, and fences. This trailing perennial has versatile stems with a range of interesting adaptations. These vigorously produce tendrils that can latch onto both thin and thick anchor points. The stems can also be trained to weave around larger beams and posts. Just as grapevines can create a “green roof” over a pergola, passionflower vines can thoroughly mask its beams.

The purple passionflower is a great choice for areas with particular appeal to wildlife. Its bluish-white petals, which are complemented by a range of oddly-shaped floral organs, attract an assortment of bees and butterflies. Upon close inspection, you’ll find that the blooms are visited by small insects for as long as they are viable. These develop into maypops, which contain seeds surrounded by a gelatinous pulp.

Low-maintenance, this vine can quickly form a thick carpet of foliage in optimal conditions. Fortunately, they can be pruned back as needed to prevent overgrowth. To prevent stems from invading the garden, keep them securely attached to your pergola. The roots may also be restricted to large pots or containers.

5) Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda)

Japanese wisteria
Japanese wisterias are not recommended for flimsy structures, as they can quickly become quite heavy. 京浜にけ, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Japan

First brought into the US in the 1800s, the Japanese wisteria quickly became one of the most popular ornamental vines. This unforgettable climber produces lengthy, suspended racemes of effortlessly eye-catching blooms. Lavender, light blue, pink, or white, their hues tend to appear in a subtle gradient along the length of a single raceme. Vigorous stems can be weighed down by the sheer abundance of their inflorescences.

Impressive in its capacity to scale tall lattices, Japanese wisteria can grow to heights of up to 30 feet (9 meters)! It should have no problems reaching the top and splaying over the beams of a modest-sized pergola. The inflorescences of the largest cultivars can measure as much as 6.5 feet (2 meters) long! These tend to be borne on woody and increasingly strong stems, which are crucial for supporting their weight. For this reason, this species would not be recommended for flimsy structures.

Hardy to USDA zones 5 – 9, Japanese wisteria is a deciduous species. Its foliage requires full sun exposure to grow to its maximum size. They gradually develop a golden-yellow hue before eventually dropping in winter. The blooms typically appear late spring to summer, after which they may develop into long-lasting pods.

6) Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Virginia creeper on wall
When temperatures drop in the fall, Virginia creeper leaflets often develop vivid reddish hues.

Native to eastern and central North America

For a relatively neat and compact layer of foliage around the pillars and beams of a pergola, consider cultivating the Virginia creeper. This lovely member of the Vitaceae or grapevine family can latch onto smooth surfaces via networks of adhesive pads and tendrils. In its native range, it is known for growing to heights of up to 100 feet (30 meters)! It should have no issues scaling and carpeting the components of a wooden pergola.

Through most of the year, the stems of Virginia creeper produce attractive sets of green, palmately arranged leaflets. These may develop reddish hues once temperatures drop in the fall. The species is chiefly grown for its highly textural foliage because its blooms are somewhat inconspicuous in comparison. Emerging in late spring, the blooms are borne in clusters that may eventually develop into small, dark berries that attract songbirds.

Although Virginia creeper is a fine choice for pergolas due to its capacity to spread over large surfaces, it does have the potential to invade gardens and wild environments. Its extensive root systems can compete with nearby plants, depriving them of space and crucial nutrients. Consider restricting these to containers. Additionally, make sure to handle the foliage with gloves as they contain potential irritants.

7) Common honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)

Common honeysuckle flowers
The common honeysuckle can be identified by its tubular blooms which attract bees and moths. Joost J. Bakker / CC BY 2.0

Native to Europe, North Africa, and West Asia

Able to grow to impressive heights of more than 23 feet (7 meters), the common honeysuckle is frequently cultivated on walls, pergolas, trellises, and fences. This ornamental flowering plant is valuable in the garden because it produces twining stems and is beneficial for wildlife. It can coat unsightly structures with its profuse foliage and beautiful inflorescences. Thus, it can effortlessly add color and texture to a pergola’s beams and posts.

The blooms of the common honeysuckle are known for attracting bees and moths. Their tubular structure leads to pockets of nutritious nectar. Petals may sport multiple colors; pink or red hues appear on their outermost parts, whereas the rest of their surface evenly sports cream-toned hues. Once the flowers are pollinated, they develop into red berries. These are a favored food source for many small birds.

Hardy to USDA zones 5 – 9, the Japanese honeysuckle can tolerate a wide range of conditions. However, it thrives best in consistently moist yet well-draining substrates and beneath dappled sunlight. Its roots should ideally be situated in a shady area. Its trailing stems and foliage, on the other hand, should be exposed to more sun.

8) Ferns (Various species)

Ferns growing on pergola
Ferns can be trained to latch onto wooden structures or planted in pots and hanging baskets.

Once your pergola is clad in its own dense or sparse carpet of twining stems and foliage, it may cast full or partial shade on bottom substrates. You may naturalize this space – potentially the borders of the walkway or a section of your porch, with shade-tolerant plants. Ferns, which have a knack for outperforming many other plants in various exposures, would be perfect!

As ferns come in many growth habits, they can be situated in pots or hanging baskets, trained to latch onto wooden structures, or rooted directly into the ground. Some varieties may even be grown in the gaps or on the surface of a vine’s trailing stems. Make sure to go over their rearing requirements to determine precisely which area or space they would be most suitable for.

A walk beneath a pergola clad in vines and ferns may seem like an escape into nature. In urban areas, the foliage should help filter out pollutants, creating a pocket of life with oxygen-rich and moderately clean air. You may opt to grow ferns alongside other shade-tolerant epiphytes, palms, or low-maintenance evergreen plants.

9) Devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum)

Devil's ivy growing up tree
Devil’s ivy has a preference for warm conditions and is subsequently one of the easiest plants to grow in tropical to subtropical areas! KATHERINE WAGNER-REISS, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to French Polynesia

One of the most popular houseplants, devil’s ivy has a knack for growing in all sorts of spaces and when provided with minimal care. Given ample sunlight, its trailing stems and foliage would require little in terms of nutrients. In rich areas, they can grow remarkably vigorously, overtaking many other vines and competing with them for space. Able to tolerate partial shade, the leaves would look particularly attractive along the pillars of a pergola.

Devil’s ivy, sometimes called ‘pothos’, comes in a range of variegated and non-variegated cultivars. The former typically have a slower rate of spread, whereas the latter can quickly grow to the tops of trees in an attempt to access more sunlight. Variegated devil’s ivy, which produces foliage with yellow, cream-toned, white, and green hues, can elegantly complement the warm brown tones of a wooden pergola.

Hardy to USDA zones 10 – 12, devil’s ivy prefers warm conditions. In tropical to subtropical areas, it can easily prove to be one of the easiest plants to grow and propagate. Even people with no gardening experience may marvel at just how difficult it is to fail at caring for this species! Over time, it can scale even the flattest surfaces in the home or outdoors, sending out aerial roots with specialized adhesive pads.

10) Philodendrons (Philodendron spp.)

Philodendron giganteum leaves
Just like devil’s ivy, philodendrons also prefer tropical conditions. Liné1, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the West Indies and tropical Americas

When it comes to their general requirements, philodendrons tend to be quite similar to devil’s ivy. They too favor tropical conditions and have a knack for producing aerial roots. These allow them to grow over various surfaces and beneath a wide range of light exposures. Members of the Araceae family, philodendrons are typically cultivated for their ornamental foliage. Those of some species have an imposing quality to them.

As philodendrons are often the kings of their native environments’ dark spaces, they can be grown in the shady spots of a pergola. The stems may be trained to latch onto pillars receiving little to no direct sun exposure. Over time, these may densely coat pillars, which may become anchors for impressively-sized foliage.

Growing a variety of philodendrons, which come in dozens of shades of green, brown, and silvery tones, is a great way to turn a pergola into a living forest. Of course, as they may grow vigorously in warm areas, philodendrons may need to be cut back to make way for a path or to give room for furniture and air circulation. As these plants can be propagated almost effortlessly, you can definitely have fun experimenting with their versatility!

Angeline L
About the author

Angeline L

I'm a passionate researcher and scuba diver with a keen interest in garden plants, marine life, and freshwater ecology. I think there’s nothing better than a day spent writing in nature. I have an academic and professional background in sustainable aquaculture, so I advocate for the responsible production of commercial fish, macroinvertebrates, and aquatic plants.

Read more about Pond Informer.

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