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Perennial Picks that Make Quick Climbers

Vigorous perennial vines can turn a bare arbor, fence, or stacked stone wall into a garden focal point in no time—just be sure to choose wisely

Pretty Relief from the Summer Sun

Photo by Elke Borkowski/GAP Photos

Too restless to stay put, vines are forever bound for greater height and brighter light as they clamber upward and onward. Eager as they are, the wrong kind of vine soon becomes a garden pest that can smother anything in its path—think the English ivy creeping toward your house from under the neighbor's fence. But the group of well-behaved ornamental perennial vines highlighted here, both native and noninvasive imports, need only routine pruning to keep them in check. Use their robust growth to envelop everything from a utilitarian chain-link fence to a handsome pergola with an exotic mantle of color. These fast growers can provide the coverage, privacy, or shade you need in a jiffy, growing from 6 to 20 feet in a year.

Soft-stemmed species, like hops, establish quickly and are on their way to maximum height after a second year in the ground. Woody vines, like wisteria, are slower to take and support the "sleep, creep, leap" adage: not much productivity the first year, then a little growth the following season before a spurt in the third.

Read on for 11 choice vines and outstanding cultivars that will add colorful flowers, interesting foliage, or enticing fragrance faster than just about any other garden plant.

Shown: The cascading chartreuse foliage of a hops vine, trained on a latticework garden-bench surround, can provide relief from the summer sun.

Summer Bloomers

Photo by Graham Rice/Gardenphotos.com

Train these flowering vines along a fieldstone wall or up a trellis for waves of blossoms that start in June.

Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans)

The best known of the woody clan is this rowdy Southeast native that uses aerial rootlets to climb up to 30 feet, with orange to red blooms. In a smaller garden, the less aggressive C. grandiflora 'Morning Calm' (shown) has a similar look, with peachy-orange trumpet flowers from June to August. It grows up to 25 feet tall and 9 feet wide in Zones 6–9.

Summer Bloomer: Climbing Bleeding Heart

Photo by Pernilla Bergdahl/GAP Photos

(Dicentra scandens)

Heart-shaped flowers in glowing yellow, white, or purplish pink dot this vine's dark-green foliage and tendrils from summer into fall. It grows up to 15 feet tall and 8 feet wide in Zones 4–8.

Summer Bloomer: Coral Honeysuckle

Photo by Lee Avison/GAP Photos

(Lonicera sempervirens)

This woody twiner, native to the Southeast, is beloved by hummingbirds. Try 'Major Wheeler' (shown) for blockbuster red flowers and dark-green leaves from early summer into fall; once established, the blooms retain their color even in drought. It grows up to 15 feet tall and 6 feet wide in Zones 4–9. But sidestep invasive L. japonica—it will overwhelm a yard.

Summer Bloomer: Clematis

Photo by Doreen Wynja for Monrovia

(Clematis viticella)

This group of small-flowered twining vines blooms later than other clematis species, from midsummer into fall. Deer-resistant 'Polish Spirit' (shown) outblooms many other cultivars, with 3-inch-wide, deep-purple petals over dark-green, deciduous leaves. It grows up to 15 feet tall and 6 feet wide in Zones 4–11.

Foliage Standouts

Photo by Courtesy of Proven Winners

Have a shady yard? These vines, prized for their ornamental foliage, can tolerate low light.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

This woody vine clings to anything without help, by means of adhesive disks, and thrives in sun to part shade. The foliage on Red Wall (shown) starts out bronze and finishes with strong fiery fall color. It grows up to 50 feet tall and 10 feet wide in Zones 3–9.

Foliage Standout: Common Hop

Photo by Doreen Wynja

(Humulus lupulus)

This unfussy twining vine attracts butterflies and tolerates drought. 'Aureus' (shown) has stunning lime-green lobed leaves that darken over time. It grows up to 20 feet tall and 6 feet wide in Zones 4–8.

Foliage Standout: Variegated Kiwi

Photo by Andrea Jones

(Actinidia kolomikta)

Light shade helps boost the color of this twining vine's green-to-white-to-pink mottled leaves. It grows up to 20 feet high and 10 feet wide in Zones 4–8.

Fragrant Beauties

Photo by Andrea Jones

Place these aromatic climbers near patio seating or a pathway where visitors can enjoy their scent.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens)

This twining woody evergreen vine's sumptuous clouds of gold, honey-scented trumpets perfume the landscape from February to April. 'Margarita' (shown) has bigger flowers and purplish winter foliage. It grows up to 20 feet tall and 6 feet wide in Zones 7–10.

Fragrant Beauty: Wild Passionflower

(Passiflora incarnata)

This summer-blooming tendril climber has intricate purple-and-white, citrus-scented flowers. Drought resistant with age, it bears edible fruit in midsummer. It grows up to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide in Zones 5–9.

Fragrant Beauty: Kentucky Wisteria

Photo by McPhoto/HR Mueller/AgeFotoStock

(Wisteria macrostachya)

Native twining wisteria is more manageable than its Asian cousins and matures to flowering age sooner. The sweet-smelling 'Blue Moon' twiner (shown) blooms in early summer with foot-long clusters of lavender flowers and becomes heavy and woody with age, so structural support is vital. It grows up to 25 feet tall and 8 feet wide in Zones 3–9.

Fragrant Beauty: Poet's Jasmine

Photo by Annie Green-Armytage/GAP Photos

(Jasminum officinale)

Sweetly scented pink-to-white flowers cloak this twining climber throughout the summer. Fiona Sunrise (shown) has gold foliage but needs protection from hot afternoon sun to keep the color bright. It grows up to 30 feet tall and 15 feet wide in Zones 7–10.

Lend Some Support

Photo by CaiaImage/Getty Images

Encouraging a vine to grow where you want it starts with understanding how it climbs and the kind of support structure it needs.

Vines climb using one or more of these methods. Twiners, like Carolina jessamine, naturally wrap themselves around narrow supports like those of a metal trellis but need a guide wire to make it around wider structures, like a 4x4 post. Other vines, like bleeding heart, use tendrils—little feelers that sprout from the main stem and grab on to grow up. Clinging vines, such as Virginia creeper, climb on nearly any surface with adhesive disks, while trumpet creeper uses dozens of tiny, hair-like arms to grip fiercely as they spread.

Most young vine plants, but especially twiners, benefit from a little direction in the form of jute ties or wiring to get them clambering up. Tendrils, when they don't find something to latch onto, wrap around one another, creating a tangled mess, so train those on hardware cloth. Charming as they look on brick houses, clinging vines can damage masonry. Instead, install a trellis on brick or mortared stone using 4-inch standoffs for proper airflow. Woody vines, like trumpet creeper, become heavyweights with age and need a substantial structure like a pergola to hold them up.