Few plants deliver as many practical benefits as vines. Grown on a freestanding trellis, for instance, vines quickly provide natural privacy for a deck or hot tub. Dense vines with coarse foliage bring cool summer shade as they climb over an arbor, while fine-textured vines create a tracery of green against a stucco wall. Vines can also dress up an arch or pillar with flowers, soften harsh structural lines and even hide an ugly view. And they do all this much faster, in far less space, than trees and shrubs.
Add in the many choices, and you have one of the most versatile and beautiful groups of plants. The keys to those benefits are picking the right vine for the right place and giving it the structural support it needs.
CHOOSING A VINE
The word vine is a general term for a wealth of plants with varied ways of growing and climbing. Vines can be evergreen or deciduous, flowering or nonflowering, rampant-growing or restrained. As with all landscape plants, choose vines that are hardy in your climate and grow well in the light and space provided. They should also be adapted to the soil in your yard. Have your soil tested by a county extension service or a private lab. Here are some other basics for the perennial vines we’ll focus on:
How vines grow. Vines climb toward the sunlight they need in ingenious ways. Before choosing any vine, find out how it climbs and how aggressively to determine the appropriate support for it to grow on.
Vines with twining tendrils, such as Boston ivy, clematis, passionflower and trumpet vine, reach out and wrap around anything nearby. These vines require a wire grid, wood lattice or other narrow crisscrossing support.
Twining vines, such as honeysuckle and grape, encircle vertical supports. They can maneuver themselves through and around an open fence or wire trellis, or coil up a single cable. Most twist in one direction around thin supports like cord or wire.
Clinging vines, such as Virginia creeper and creeping fig, produce attachments such as small suction disks and aerial roots that grip supports tightly as they grow. True to their name, they cling to any rough surface tenaciously. Removal involves prying them loose once they are established. Unfortunately, these vines can damage soft brick or mortar, and will also tear apart wood siding.
Still other “vines” are actually sprawling shrubs with long supple stems that can easily be tied to a support and trained to grow upward without growing out. Climbing roses are a prime example.
CLEMATIS (Clematis species) feature slender, twisting leafstalks and dramatic flowers that range from 1 to 10 in. across. This easy-to-control vine should be planted against a porch railing, lattice framework or other prominent spot where blooms can be admired. Most vines in this diverse group are deciduous, including the large-flowered hybrid clematis ‘Nelly Moser,’ shown here. While undemanding, clematis do have specific requirements. Plant them where roots are cool and shaded and tops can grow in sun. Provide rich, loose, fast-draining soil and constant moisture. Height (6 to 30 ft.) and hardiness (to as low as
-30°F) vary by species.
Why you’re growing it. Think about exactly what you want a vine to do for your yard and choose accordingly. For example, evergreen vines, such as blood-red trumpet, give privacy and all-season color. Deciduous vines, like grape or wisteria, provide shade in summer and allow sunlight to warm your home in winter, after the leaves have fallen.
Also consider growth rate. A quick climber like silver lace vine can twine to 25 ft. or more in a season, providing near-instant privacy or help with screening an unsightly view. But rampant growers will quickly engulf other plants or structures if they don’t have enough space.
Once you decide what kind of vine you need, look for other appealing features—edible fruit, fall color and fragrant flowers are a few examples.
Clusters of sweetly scented blossoms are a hallmark of WISTERIA (Wisteria species). This vigorous deciduous vine requires sturdy support such as a fence, arbor or pergola. It’s also the wrong vine to plant against wood siding because its strong branches can wreak havoc. Wisterias aren’t fussy about soil, but they require good drainage. Plant in full sun and water well during the growing season when buds are forming. Prune annually to direct growth and maximize flowering. Young plants are slow to flower, but can top 7 ft. their first year. Hardiness (down to -20°F) varies by species.
SUPPORTING YOUR PLANTS
Trellises, pergolas and arches do more than just support vines; they can also keep these tenacious plants from tearing apart siding and other vulnerable structures. Whichever support you choose, be sure it’s large and sturdy enough to hold the mature vine. Then put it in place before planting to avoid damaging the vine.
You can build your own support or choose from a wide selection of prefabricated trellises and arches made of metal, PVC or wood. Expect to pay about $200 for a 7-ft.-high trellis made of premium-grade Western red cedar and $150 or more for a premium nylon-covered tubular steel arch that’s 7 ft. high.
Also choose weather-resistant materials when building your own structures. Wires used in cables or gridwork should be rustproof (plastic-coated or copper electrical wire work well). In trellis or arbor construction, use pressure-treated lumber or a decay-resistant wood such as redwood or cedar heartwood.
Some other support tips for vines:
Secure trellises or latticework so they extend several inches out from the surface of wood siding. This protects the siding by promoting air circulation. The extra space also makes pruning easier. Use angle irons or small blocks of wood placed between the support and siding to create the necessary space.
Consider a hinged trellis, which lets you quickly move flexible-stemmed vines out of the way for painting and other maintenance. Hinge it at the bottom and attach it at the top with metal hooks and eyes.
Tie vines to their support using strong, stretchy materials that won’t cut into growing branches. Strips of old nylon hosiery are an excellent choice. Be sure to loop ties in a figure-eight pattern, with the crossed portion sitting between the stem and the support; this helps keep vine stems from chafing or snapping in windy conditions.
Don’t use trees to support vigorous vines such as bittersweet. Vines growing into the top of a tree and shading its leaves will weaken or even kill the tree. GOLD FLAME HONEYSUCKLE (Lonicera species) is a vigorous deciduous or semievergreen vine reaching 12 to 15 ft. high. Fragrant flowers bloom from spring to frost. Hummingbirds are attracted to the nectar, and many birds feed on the seeds. The plant is effective trained on wire cables along eaves or framing a doorway. Twining stems quickly conceal their support. Hardy to -30°F.
PLANTING AND CARE
Perennial vines are sold in 1-gal. or larger containers during the summer. In winter, you’ll also find deciduous plants like grapes and roses available bare-root at nurseries and garden centers. Although planting and upkeep depend largely on the particular vine you choose, there are some general guidelines that apply to all types of vines.
Planting. Position most vines at least 12 in. away from the support to allow enough growing room for developing stems. Vines planted in early summer also need thorough watering. Follow up with repeated soakings, especially during hot, dry spells.
Remember, too, that if you plant against the house, the roof overhang could prevent rainwater from reaching vine roots. And if your roof is gutterless, don’t plant directly under the drip line; water pouring off the roof during storms will injure plants.
Training. Once planted, most nonclinging vines need some guidance to help them start growing up the support. Often, using a few loose ties or simply wrapping the branch of a twining vine around the support is sufficient. Certain plants, such as Carolina jessamine and common jasmine, require training and tying for a season or two.
Pruning. Vines growing in confined spaces usually need pruning to keep them in bounds. Annual pruning also helps maximize flowering in many vines.
When to prune depends on when the vine blooms. Vines such as early-flowering clematis and many climbing roses, which bloom in spring on growth made the previous season, should be pruned immediately after flowering. Prune them too late, and you’ll remove flower buds.
Many other vines flower on the current season’s growth and generally bloom in midsummer and autumn. Prune these types of vines, including silver lace vine, trumpet vine and climbing hydrangea, in early spring. Certain climbers, notably wisteria and grape, blossom or fruit on old growth. Prune these types during the dormant season shortly before growth resumes in spring.
The best time to prune nonflowering woody vines, including English ivy and Boston ivy, is late winter or early spring so that pruning cuts heal quickly and are covered by new growth.
Vines are truly a versatile, blue-chip investment among plants. They’re also living proof of just how beautiful practicality can be.
Where To Find It:
Mail-order sources for vine supports:
Jasper, IN 47547-0609
Lafayette, NY 13084
Box 357 River Rd.
Point Pleasant, PA 18950-0357
644 Enterprise Ave.
Galesburg, IL 61401