20 Best Pergola Plants
Pergolas are attractive shade structures that are commonly found in outdoor living areas in Southern California homes. While some homeowners choose to keep their pergolas as is to allow in some sun and maintain a clean, streamlined look, others prefer to add more shade and more privacy by planting climbing plants to cover the pergola and add color to their garden.
If you are considering vines for pergolas to enhance privacy, increase shade or add pops of color with showy blooms, here are 20 of the best pergola plants and some tips to help you determine which is best for you.
20 Best Pergola Plants
Wisteria is a fast grower and a good climbing, which makes it a popular choice for pergolas, arches and arbors. It is best grown in full sun and will take a few years to mature and begin blooming regularly. Since wisteria vines planted from seed can take more than a decade to bloom, make sure you purchase vines grown from cuttings or grafted. Once established, your wisteria will make a beautiful, fragrant shade canopy or privacy screen. The downside to wisteria is that it is toxic to dogs, is one of the messier choices on this list and requires training as it becomes established.
For the best results, plant your wisteria vines in spring or fall. Keep in mind that blooms only appear on newer growth, so prune about half of each year’s growth in late winter to keep your wisteria under control and to allow for new growth.
Honeysuckle vines are fast growing, fragrant and can cover your pergola with a single plant. While the sweet smell of the aromatic blooms lingers throughout the day, it is strongest at night. So, planting wisteria vines for pergolas in outdoor entertaining areas will be particularly satisfying if you host frequent dinner parties on your patio. As an added bonus, honeysuckles attract pollinators, such as hummingbirds, butterflies and bees to your yard.
Plant your honeysuckle in early spring in well-draining soil. It is important to remember that honeysuckles come in both vine and bush varieties, so make sure you are purchasing a vine if you are shopping for climbing plants. These pergola plants are easy to grow and maintain and, once established, simply require regular irrigation and annual pruning.
Honeysuckles are toxic to dogs and to the majority of cats, so plant with caution.
Grapevines perfectly complement the Spanish and Mediterranean architecture common throughout Southern California.
Before you purchase your grapevines, you need to decide if you just want the vines for color and shade or if you want to grow grapes for eating or making wine. If you are planning on making wine, you will need more grapes than you can grow just on a patio pergola, so, unless you plan on planting a family vineyard as well, you will want to stick to table grapes or non-fruiting vines. If you like the look of grapes and will enjoy serving them to your guests at your next al fresco soiree, go for the table grapes. If you are more interested in the look of grapevines and growing a good shade cover and privacy screen without the mess of dropped fruit, go with a fruitless variety.
It is best to plant these climbing vines in late winter or early spring. For the best results, plant in well-draining soil that is slightly acidic.
If you choose to grow vines that produce grapes, keep in mind that many dogs will eat grapes but grapes are toxic for them at a level that can be fatal.
4. Climbing Roses
For a charming look and a cottage feel, you cannot go wrong with climbing roses. Available in a variety of colors and with options that bloom from late spring to early fall, climbing roses make perfect pergola plants and go with a variety of architectural styles. Some climbing roses are such vigorous growers that they can get out of hand, so you will want to ask your local nursery for a moderate climber. Once you have acquired your bareroot roses, plant them in late winter or early spring in slightly acidic, well-draining soil. Minimal pruning is ideal during the first couple of years while you train your roses to grow up and over the pergola. Once you begin pruning your roses, you can do so lightly and as needed throughout the year, but save any significant pruning until winter when your plants are not blooming.
Climbing roses do not attach themselves to structures like other pergola plants, so you will need to use strips of soft cloth or twine to loosely tie them to your pergola while you train them.
Bougainvillea is native to warm climates and is a fast grower that will be happy to quickly cover your pergola or arbor. These evergreen climbing plants add plenty of color and character to your yard and are a mainstay in Southern California gardens. You will need to tie them or wrap them around the structure to train them as they grow, but you will soon find that they will take over your pergola and your main job will be cutting them back to keep them from getting out of control.
Bougainvilleas are good pergola plants for people looking for a thick, perennial, evergreen shade canopy or privacy screen and provide pops of color in orange, red, yellow, purple or pink, depending on the variety you choose. One fun fact that not everyone knows is that these pops of color are not actually flowers. Bougainvillea flowers are tiny and sit at the center of a cluster of bracts, which are the colored leaves most people think of as flowers.
These perfect vines for pergolas prefer well-draining soil and full sun, so plan accordingly before planting your bougainvillea.
6. Trumpet Vines
Different varieties of trumpet vines offer red, orange, yellow or even lavender, trumpet-shaped flowers that attract bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators to your yard. They prefer well-draining, moist soil and full sun to thrive. While you will see foliage growth in shady spots, trumpet vines need sun to bloom, so make sure they will receive at least six hours per day to achieve your dream of a colorful, bright, flower-covered pergola. This perennial vine can take up to seven years to bloom when planted from seed, so get a jumpstart on things by purchasing plants to transplant into your garden.
7. Passion Flower
Passion flower vines can withstand frost, so if you live in an inland area where the temperature drops a bit more in winter, this should be among your considerations for vines for pergolas. Passion flower vines are fast growing and good climbers. They have lush foliage and unique, beautiful, purple and white flowers. Some varieties produce yellow or purple fruits, and some just produce the lovely flowers with no fruit mess to clean up.
If you plan on growing these climbing plants for fruit, keep in mind that their crop will decrease as the vine ages, so you may need to replace them every once in a while to continue regular fruit production. It may also be helpful to know that varieties producing yellow fruits tend to grow faster and produce more fruit each year.
Passion flower vines can be grown from seeds, cuttings or nursery plants. Since they take a few years to mature and bloom, you may want to speed things up a bit by purchasing plants to transplant into your garden in spring.
Some varieties of passion flower are mildly poisonous to humans and animals, so be sure to look into your chosen variety before adding it to your garden.
Most varieties of these climbing plants have a distinct, strong fragrance that will fill your outdoor living areas with a sweet, lingering aroma. Jasmine is relatively easy to grow. Plant your vines in well-draining soil in an area that has full sun, partial sun or partial shade. As they grow, train them by wrapping the vines around the structure or tying them to the structure with strips of soft cloth or twine. To encourage growth and more quickly cover your pergola, pinch off the ends of the vines once they have been growing in your garden for a little over a year.
Aside from the bursts of color and lovely fragrance, these climbing plants will attract butterflies and bees to your garden.
Keep in mind, jasmine comes in both bush and vine varieties, so make sure you are purchasing vines for pergolas and arbors.
9. Climbing Hydrangea
Climbing hydrangea requires patience and a bit of work, but the end result is well worth it. Once established, the beautiful, white flowers will fill your outdoor entertaining area with fragrance and clusters of color. The patience comes in during the time it is becoming established and you are training this slow-growing vine to climb your trellis. It may be five years before your vines begin to bloom, but the good news is that the growth rate picks up once these climbing plants are established.
While these pergola plants can thrive in full sun or part shade, most Southern Californian gardeners will need to plant them in an area with afternoon shade to protect them during the hottest time of the day. Plant in well-draining soil, feed your climbing vines with a slow-release fertilizer once in winter and once in summer, and prune any damaged or dead vines in late spring.
Hydrangeas are toxic to cats and dogs.
Clematis is one of those all-purpose pergola plants that are easy to grow, have a long blooming period and are perfect for pairing with other vines for pergolas that may not bloom as frequently or as long. You can plant more than one variety of clematis to extend your blooming season even more. While these climbing plants love full sun, their roots prefer cool soil. One way to achieve this balance is to add a few inches of mulch around your plants each spring to help keep the soil cooler throughout the hotter months of summer.
Clematis flowers come in white, pinks, yellow, red, purple, lavender and burgundy, so you should have no trouble finding a color that will complement both your décor and any pergola plants you choose to pair it with.
Clematis is poisonous to humans, dogs, cats and horses, so do not plant this vine in areas where there are pets or children.
11. Golden Hops
Golden hops is a fast-growing, low-maintenance vine the prefers moist soil and full sun but will need afternoon shade here in Southern California. The burgundy stems and yellow-green leaves will bring plenty of color to your outdoor living areas, while the clusters of flowers will add fragrance, and the fruits will likely be a conversation starter among your guests as they wonder what they are.
This voracious grower is going to require pruning to keep it under control and a watchful eye to take care of rhizomes before they have a chance to spread across the ground. So, golden hops is not one of the vines for pergolas that would be recommended for the casual gardener, but it will spread quickly and provide a thriving shade canopy and privacy screen if you do not mind the extra work to keep it from growing out of control.
The cones of hops plants are poisonous to dogs and cats.
12. Potato Vines
Potato vines do not produce actual potatoes and are not grown from sticking toothpicks in an old potato and setting it on a windowsill to sprout. While they are both nightshades, potato plants that you might grow in your garden in order to harvest potatoes are completely different plants than potato vines. Potato vines are fast-growing, climbing plants that will quickly cover a pergola and provide you with blue and white blooms throughout the year.
They attract pollinators, such as hummingbirds and bees, and are evergreen vines that make ideal pergola plants. You can start your vines from seed or nursery plants and will need to train and tie delicate new shoots as they strengthen. Apply a slow-release fertilizer once a year and try to hold off on pruning until the plant is not in bloom.
Potato vines, particularly the berries, are toxic to humans and animals.
13. Butterfly Pea
Butterfly pea vines are climbing plants that provide more than just shade and privacy. The blue flowers can be eaten in salads or dried to make teas and are used in home remedies for skin and hair health. They are high in antioxidants and even have cyclotides, which are believed to have tumor-fighting qualities and may even reduce the risk of cancer. You can also eat the seed pods that your vines will produce.
Butterfly pea plants prefer warmer climates, well-draining soil and full sun to part shade. They are drought tolerant once established, but you will want to water them regularly for the best health and most blooms.
If you plan on drying your butterfly pea flowers to make tea, notice how the flowers and tea start out blue but will change to purple if you make the concoction more acidic by squeezing in some lemon juice.
As an added bonus, butterfly pea vines are a favorite with butterflies, so this is a great way to encourage butterflies to spend more time in your yard.
14. Bower Vine
This Australian native does well in warm weather but will not tolerate frost, so folks living in the mountains or inland areas with colder winters may need to pass on this one. For those who do choose these fast-growing pergola plants, be sure to plant them in full sun or part shade in slightly alkaline soil. The evergreen foliage and pink and white flowers that bloom most of the year will add beautiful color to your outdoor living areas, and the intertwining vines will increase the shade provided by your pergola.
Keep in mind that bower vines do not grow as thickly as some of the other climbing plants on this list, so if you are looking for a dense mat to form an area of solid shade or privacy, you will either need to prune to encourage bushier growth or go for one of the denser-growing options on the list.
If you entertain in the evening, you should strongly consider moonflowers for your pergola or arbor. These night-blooming flowers are a perfect addition to a moon garden and will fill your outdoor living area with their sweet fragrance. These are fast-growing climbers that can be planted in spring or early summer and prefer full or partial sun. Plant the seeds in well-draining soil in spring, and you can expect to enjoy long vines and their showy blooms by mid-summer.
One of the best things about growing these pergola plants is that the six-inch blooms open so quickly as dusk arrives, you and the guests at your next get-together can gather to watch the event as part of your evening.
Moonflowers are toxic to both humans and dogs, so do not plant this in areas where children or pets spend time.
16. Bleeding Heart Vine
These sub-tropical climbing plants are not the same as the bleeding hearts you may have seen growing in hanging containers. Rather, bleeding heart vines are evergreen shrubs that love to climb and offer showy foliage with beautiful clusters of red and white flowers. For the best results, you will want to plant these pergola plants in well-draining soil in partial sun or partial shade. Bleeding heart vines are not drought tolerant and prefer moist (but not soggy) soil, which means they will require extra irrigation in the hotter months of summer. They also prefer fertile soil, which means you will need to feed them with a slow-release fertilizer four to six times per year. Use twine or strips of soft cloth to tie them to the pergola in order to train them to grow up and over the structure.
17. Carolina Jessamine
Dense foliage and fragrant, yellow flowers make Carolina Jessamine a favorite among pergola plants in its native Southeastern United States. Since these evergreen, vining plants prefer full sun and warm weather, they can also thrive in most parts of Southern California. In our moderate climate, you can plant Carolina Jessamine any time of year, but it is best to plant them in late winter or early spring to allow them to establish their root system before the heat of summer. These vines for pergolas are somewhat drought tolerant but prefer moist, well-draining soil and will tolerate some shade – just know that more shade equals fewer flowers.
Carolina Jessamine is poisonous, so it should not be planted in areas where children or pets spend time.
Ivy, such as Boston Ivy or English Ivy, is easy to grow and will quickly cover your entire pergola and anything else that gets in its way. This invasive vine will attach itself to your house, your fence, your trees and your garden shed if given a chance, so be ready to do some serious cutting back to keep this one under control. The upside is that any vine considered invasive by most gardeners is definitely going to do the job if you are looking for a dense shade canopy or privacy screen. Ivy is also a good choice if you care more about foliage than flowers or if your pergola is located in a shady spot.
Ivy is toxic to both people and pets, so use caution when planting this one.
19. Crossvine (Bignonia)
Crossvines can be grown from seeds, cuttings or nursery plants and will tolerate partial shade, but you will have more flowers with full sun. This hardy, perennial prefers moist (but not soggy), well-draining, acidic soil. Bright, trumpet-shaped flowers usually show up in spring and continue through summer, but you will have the benefit of the evergreen foliage throughout the year.
This one will bring hummingbirds to your garden, so look out for these active pollinators when your vines begin to bloom.
20. Chocolate Vine
Chocolate vine is a fast-growing vine that thrives in partial shade and blooms from late spring to early summer. While this vine is drought tolerant once established, it prefers regular watering and will need extra water during times of drought in the hotter months of summer. You will also see more blooms if you feed your chocolate vine with a slow-release fertilizer once per year.
Chocolate vine is considered an invasive plant, so this means that it will cover your pergola quickly and that you will need to regularly partake in light pruning to keep it under control.
When in bloom, chocolate vine will fill the air with a vanilla-like fragrance. While it does not fruit often, the fruits of the chocolate vine are edible.