Selecting, Using, and Maintaining Climbing Vines

Vines are unique for their flexible stems which make them useful for sprawling, trailing, and training in a multitude of directions. Without support, many vines make good ground covers. And, with support, they grow upright and thus take up little ground space. At the same time they introduce an interesting vertical dimension to the landscape. This is especially important in today's smaller landscapes where often the only direction to go is up. But vines do more than just cling and grow upward, and they have a great deal to offer in the way of ornamental appeal.

Vines offer a broad array of floral and foliar interest. Wisterias provide excellent color and a very classic look with their pendant trains of fragrant flowers. But they also offer vibrant green fernlike deeply compound leaves. The trumpet vines (Campsis species) have large tubular flowers that appeal to hummingbirds -as do those of honeysuckles which range from white to pink to yellow and often are pleasantly fragrant. Honeysuckle leaves, by the way, range from yellow to green to purple. On the small end of the spectrum are the flowers of Boston ivies and Virginia creeper with their tiny green nearly invisible flowers. Such vines as these compensate for their tiny flowers with magnificent showy leaves that turn bright red or yellow during fall.

Some vines even produce interesting fruit. That of Boston ivy (Parthenocissus) is grapelike and persists through winter. The fruit of Akebias is colorful, large, and exotic, and that of trumpetvine resembles a miniature banana.

Vines as Ground Covers:
Vines that work well as ground covers tend to grow rapidly and fill in to make a dense weed-impenetrable blanket. Hall's honeysuckle is a popular ground covering vine, and English ivy and purple wintercreeper are so popular as ground covers that they are often overlooked as climbers.

Vines as Accents:
Used as accent plants, climbing vines help draw one's attention to other plants as well as such objects as trellises, pillars, railings, light poles, chimneys, or other attractive ornamental features. For the purpose of accent, one or two plants are usually sufficient. The specific variety should be selected so as to contrast - through foliage color and texture, or flowers, with the feature that is being accented.

Vines as Screens:
Vines are wonderful for ornamental screening or concealment and there is a vine that will screen most anything. When using vines in this manner it is important to choose one with the proper growth characteristic so that it will effectively attach itself. It is also important to use a vine with the proper texture and leaf size to match the object being screened. Textures will vary according to the size and shape of the leaf. There is a broad range of leaf sizes available.

Vines For Decorating Walls, Fences, and Tree Trunks:
Vines are exceptional for adding color and textural interest to drab walls and harsh looking fences. They are also fantastic for dressing up the trunks of coarse barked trees and for draping over the edges of retaining walls and planter boxes.

Attracting Hummingbirds and Butterflies:
Vines with tubular flowers (like honeysuckles and trumpet vines) are magnets to hummingbirds. Others, such as climbing hydrangea, are good for butterfly gardening.

Methods of Attachment:
Twining Vines: Twiners have stems that circle around other plants or objects to gain their support. These vines are good to use on chainlink fences, light poles, and trellises. They won't wrap around a large tree but they can overrun small trees and shrubs so be sure to use them in areas away from such plants.

Clinging Vines: Clinging vines attach themselves by aerial rootlets or adhesive disks and are great for attaching to flat surfaces. Those with aerial rootlets need a coarse surface to cling to, such as brick or coarse textured bark. They are good for use with large trees and brick walls and chimneys. Those with adhesive discs will attach to smooth (as well as coarse textured) surfaces and will climb just about anything.

Maintaining Vines:
The maintenance of vines varies with the variety, its growth rate, and where it is planted. Ground covering vines usually need a simple trimming back once or twice a year to keep them in bounds. Those grown against a wall may need annual pruning to keep them away from windows and eave-troughs. And climbers growing on fences may go for several years without pruning.

Planting, Spacing, and Watering:
Similar to ground covers. Please refer to the ground cover section of this brochure.

Controlling Weeds in Vine Plantings:
Follow the directions in the ground cover section of this brochure.

Fertilizing Vines:
Most vines are moderate feeders and should be fertilized in similar manner as ground covers (see ground cover section).

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