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Autumnal fireworks for your walls

autumnal leavesAutumn is the best time to look around for firecracker climbers to spice up your garden for this time next year. We're surrounded by a wonderful feast of colour from the rapidly changing foliage all around us.

Climbers offer a good and easy way to add colour to a small garden where space is tight. All they require is some good quality moist soil for their roots and a good sturdy framework to allow them to take hold. They won't take up a huge amount of valuable space and will provide a fantastic backdrop for your plants and some very welcome late season colour.

The science behind the colour changes

Green is the predominant colour of plants as a result of the important photosynthetic pigment called chlorophyll contained in their leaves. Plants have this in abundance in summer. The chlorophyll masks out any other colours at this time and so a well-grown plant appears lovely and green.

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Once the light levels begin to fall in autumn, chlorophyll stops being produced and breaks down to a clear substance, revealing the other pigments in the leaves. At the same time, further pigments are produced from the breakdown of sugars in the leaves.

The revealed pigments are carotenoids (think Carrot-enoids!) and xanthophylls, which provide colorations of yellow and orange and the many hues in between. The pigments manufactured from sugars in the leaves are anthocyanins which provide the reds, the purples and their blends.

Colour choice

The first step is to decide what sort of colour you want. Most colourful-leaved autumnal plants will be deciduous, so  ill often grow in semi-shady situations too. Decide whether you want something that changes to warmer vibrant tones or to those that are a little cooler and more in the range of lime green or yellow shades. Some of these choice plants are large and vigorous and others are smaller and more compact. A good pruning regime in autumn can also help keep them in check.

Yellows to lime green (Carotenoid and xanthophyll colouration)

  • Hydrangea petiolaris – Climbing hydrangea.
  • Aristolochia macrophylla – Dutchman’s pipe.
  • Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’– a classic hop plant but goes a lovely brighter yellow in autumn.
  • Akebia quinata – Chocolate Vine.

Reds through to oranges (Anthocyanin colouration)

  • Parthenocissus quinquefolia – which is the true Virginia creeper that grows over walls and structures and then drapes elegantly down to the ground.
  • Vitis coignetiae – this has massive and huge leathery leaves.
  • Parthenocissus henryana – a pretty smaller-leaved plant which can survive well even when planted in a container.
  • Vitis vinefera ‘Purpurea’ – the classic purple-leaved grape vine which can be pruned easily in autumn.


The best time to plant these climbers is in the dormant season of late autumn and early winter when the soil is still warm enough. Choose a vigorous young plant which has not filled out the container and become pot-bound. It is often better to select a choice small plant.

Prepare the soil by incorporating a good quantity of rooted manure. The hole should be at least twice the size of the root ball. Plant the new climber at least 20 cms away from the wall and provide some initial support or a leading bamboo cane to direct growth to the wall or fence.

Feeding is best done twice a year. Give your plant an all-purpose feed in spring and bone and meal in autumn and this will ensure good strong sturdy growth and colouring.

Pruning regimes

Climbers all have differing pruning regimes but, on the whole, most deciduous climbers can be cut back either in autumn or in early spring to shape them for growing into their allotted space.