18 Valuable Vines
Choose the right vine for your garden to cover a wall, trellis or porch.
Foot-long panicles of wisteria dangle overhead, a moonvine sends out its evening aroma, a trumpet vine offers its nectar to hummingbirds--the right vine can turn a garden into something special. Besides providing a little romance and ambiance, vines trained to climb arbors, trellises or walls provide that critical design element of verticality.
Plus, there's lots of payoff for very little effort. Not only are vines no-fuss plants, several are fast growers and will cover a large area quickly. Use them to help provide privacy or soften a wall, add interest to a trellis, cover a "fort" for the kids or add lushness and fragrance to the porch. Whether you're interested in flowers, fruit or foliage, there's a vine for you.
Calico Dutchman's Pipe
Instead of purple-and-cream flowers, the very unusual flowers on calico Dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia elegans) are larger in size and have a spotted purple coloration that resembles the pattern of calico fabric. It also has the attractive heart-shaped leaves. Instead of a vigorous vine that's hardy to USDA Zone 4, this twining vine is native to Brazil and is not as rampant. It also makes a quick cover for a trellis, to drape a porch or to grow along a fence in the vegetable garden. Place it in a highly visible area where garden visitors can see its intriguing blooms. Plant in partial sun or shade. Evergreen where hardy. This tropical version of the more cold-hardy Dutchman's pipe (A. macrophylla) is native to South America. USDA Zones (8)9 to 11.
The colorful bougainvillea (Bougainvillea sp.) is the climber seen growing on arbors and trellis in warm climates. It's a twining shrubby vine that needs support to climb up a smooth surface and should be trained up a trellis, arbor or fence. It develops spiny thorns, so wear durable gloves when handling. The showy bracts that surround the tiny true flowers look like crepe paper and come in a variety of colors, including pink, red, salmon-orange and yellow. It flowers best when under the slightly stressful conditions of a drier soil. Prefers a slightly acidic soil and leaves will show signs of chlorosis in an alkaline soil. Plant in full sun. Grows 20 to 40 feet where hardy. Some species are evergreen. Drought-tolerant. USDA Zones 9 to 11.
Silky, 2-1/2- to 3-inch trumpet pink (or sometimes white) flowers blooming en masse on a tendril-climbing woody vine are sure to make you think of balmier climes. Although commonly planted around a mailbox, mandevilla (Mandevilla sp.) looks stunning either climbing a trellis or trailing from a basket. A large, south to southwest window or a sunroom is best. Use sheer curtains in the afternoon. Water thoroughly, allowing soil to dry slightly between waterings. Fertilize every two weeks. In the summer move it outdoors. USDA Zones 8b to 11.
Looking for a plant to enjoy in the evening after a hard day's work? Take a look at moonvine (Ipomoea alba). This vigorous twining vine--a cousin of the morning glory--provides enchantment on a late-summer evening when its five- to six-inch, trumpet-shaped flowers open. Fragrant, creamy-white blooms open up in the early evening hours, ready to greet the weary after work. Plant in full sun to partial shade. Train up a trellis or fence; grows 10 to 15 feet. Use moonvine to create your moon garden. USDA Zones 8 to 11.
Purple Hyacinth Bean
What keeps gardeners flocking to this annual vine are its pinkish-purple flowers, abundant purple-green foliage, reddish-purple stems and, from late summer on, the purple hyacinth bean's (Lablab purpurea, formerly Dolichos lablab) signature--vibrant-reddish-purple pods. Pair its ornamental value with the fact that the seeds germinate with almost 100% reliability, and you have a perfectly easy-to-grow, fast-growing vine that looks good all summer long. Grows 10 to 20 feet; does best in full sun. May reseed in warm climates. Annual vine.
An easy-to-grow vine that produces fruits of different sizes and shapes, gourds (includes Curcubita, Lagenaria and Luffa) can be trained to climb trellises, arbors and fences. They grow quickly, producing large foliage and fruit that attracts kids and adults alike. Gourds have a wide variety of uses and fall into two main categories--edible and ornamental. In other cultures, gourds are used as dippers, bottles, dishes, musical instruments and more. Gourds are easily grown from seed; plant in clusters of five or six to ensure a sufficient harvest in case some plants don't thrive. Water daily and provide with ample fertilizer and full sun. During active growth, make sure the vines have adequate support. Foliage may become tattered and ratty-looking in late summer. Annual vine.
A woody twining vine that's fast out of the starting gate, akebia (Akebia quinata) can grow 20 to 40 feet in a single season. Use as a quick cover for arbors, fences and trellises or as a groundcover for stabilizing slopes or planting in a sun or shade garden. In early spring flowers appear with the five-leaflet, clean-green leaves; in fall purple pods appear. Easily grown in a range of light and moisture conditions, it is so adaptable that you have to prune it regularly and often to keep it in bounds. Keep it in check by growing it in large containers. Akebia is such a fast grower that it's considered an invasive species by some. Sometimes there's a thin line between a fast-growing vine and a weed out of control. USDA Zones (4)5 to 8.
Native to China, Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is a deciduous, self-clinging vine with large (up to six inches across) glossy green leaves that turn a brilliant orange to deep red in autumn. Blue-black berries occur in late spring and are attractive to birds and bees. Don't confuse this plant with evergreen English ivy, which clings much tighter to a surface. The tracery of the bare branches in winter is also attractive. Grow in any ordinary garden soil. Trim back as needed. Does best in climates with cool summer nights. USDA Zones (3)4 to 10.
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). It's as common on the brick walls of university buildings as it is on brush piles in the middle of agricultural land. Farmers who have spent the better part of a Saturday trying in vain to get a handle on creeper-run-amok wouldn't knowingly invite this plant into their gardens. But this very vigorous woody vine can have a place in the landscape—as a cover for fences or walls in tough terrain where more finicky plants won't grow. Virginia creeper climbs by tiny adhesive-tipped tendrils, this plant can scale walls, trees, fence posts, and cover a brush pile in no time. A climb of 25 to 40 feet in a season is the least of its growth potential. Its calcium carbonate "cement" is hard to remove, so it's best to be certain you want it to climb a wall before you ask it to. Other gardeners appreciate this deciduous vine for its fall color (crimson to burgundy). One great cultivar is variegated. Warning: Virginia creeper has invasive tendencies in some areas of the country. Always check with your local extension office or trusted nurseryman to find out which plants are invasive in your area. USDA Zone (3)4 to 9.
The spring-flowering Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is a twining evergreen or semi-evergreen vine that climbs 10 to 20 feet on a trellis, arbor or wall. The fragrant tubular flowers are vibrant yellow and one to two inches long. Wind- and drought-tolerant. Noted species include swamp jessamine (G. rankinii) and cultivars include 'Margarita' and 'Pride of Augusta' ('Plena'). USDA Zones 6 to 10 (11).
Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) is a native semi-evergreen to evergreen woody vine that can climb a trellis using its tendrils or cling to smooth walls with its small disks. Its season of glory is in spring when large clusters of bright tubular flowers make a spectacular display for several weeks. 'Tangerine Beauty' is a show-stopping version that sometimes sporadically reblooms later in the season, but it doesn't have the fragrance of the species. Eventual height depends in part on its support--anywhere from 15 to 50 feet is usual. USDA Zones (5) 6 to 9. --Photo courtesy of Monrovia
Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans). It may take a year for this decidous vine to become established, but it grows extremely fast after it's settled in. The vine attaches itself to supports by means of aerial roots and also climbs by twining and grows quickly to 30 feet or more. The relatively new cultivar 'Monbal' offers clusters of up to 12 flowers, each four inches long. This tough vine grows anywhere--the woody-plant guru Michael Dirr says "If you cannot grow this, give up gardening; grows in any soil and also prospers in sidewalk cracks." Deciduous, hardy to USDA Zone 4. A tropical version of the trumpet vine, Distictis buccinatoria, is evergreen, has larger flowers and blooms over a longer period of time. It's hardy in the coastal regions of the South. The vine clings via tiny suction cups which leave visible scars whenever they're removed. Warning: Both of these vines may become invasive in the landscape and may require their growth to be kept in check. Read further about these dual trumpet vines. Always check with your local extension office or trusted nurseryman to find out which plants are invasive in your area. --Photo courtesy of Monrovia
Goldflame honeysuckle (Lonicera x heckrottii x 'Goldflame') is probably the best of the climbing honeysuckles. The two-toned deep-pink and creamy-yellow flowers appear in spring with sporadic flowering on new growth until fall. A twiner to 15 or 20 feet. Hardy to USDA Zone 5 (or possibly 4).
Perhaps the grande dame of vines is wisteria (Wisteria sp.). When trained to climb a vertical structure, its long purple-blue or white racemes create a spectacular show in mid- to late-spring. This deciduous twining vine should be planted for the long-term, and as a result, should be placed on a structure that can ultimately handle its shrubby habit and resulting weight. Train it to grow up an arbor, trellis, fence, wall or other sturdy climbing structure where it can grow overhead. Can also be trained in tree-form. When planting, it may need extra help in getting started but will take off once established. Plant in a moist, but well-drained soil in a full sun location. Grows about 25 to 35 feet. Chinese wisteria (W. sinensis, USDA Zones 5 to 8) and Japanese wisteria (W. floribunda, USDA Zones (4)5 to 9) are quite beautiful, fragrant species but are known to escape from its garden confines into the wild. (Always check with your local extension office or trusted nurseryman to find out which plants are invasive in your area.) Try the native species, American wisteria (W. frutescens, USDA Zones 5 to 9), which is an equally vigorous climber and blooms later in the season than the Asian selections; notable cultivars include 'Longwood Purple' and 'Amethyst Falls'.
With its delicate but ornate blossoms, the passion flower (Passiflora) is considered by many to be the most beautiful of all vine flowers. Its name is based on the appearance of the flower's pistils, said to resemble the three nails and five wounds of Christ. Flower color for various species is purple, blue, red and white; some are evergreen while others are deciduous. As many selections of Passiflora are vigorous growers, grow on trellis or walls. Attracts wildlife, including butterflies and caterpillars. Some species to consider: Passiflora x alatocaerulea have pinkish-purple flowers on evergreen plants (where it's hardy). P. coccinea produces bright red blooms on evergreen plants (where it's hardy). USDA Zones 9 to 11, depending on species. Perhaps the most cold-hardy passion vine is P. incarnata, which is native to the southeastern U.S. Flowers are pink and purple and appear in mid- to late-summer. USDA Zones (5)6 to 9.
Native to the central and eastern U.S., Dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia durior) is an old favorite long used by Americans to protect porches from the summer sun. Growing 30 feet in one season, this deciduous, twining vine has large, heart-shaped leaves measuring six to 14 inches long. The unique flowers, which are mostly hidden by the foliage, are shaped like a small meerschaum pipe and attract wildlife, primarily butterflies and caterpillars. The vine will cover a 15-foot by 20-foot area in one season, creating an excellent screen that will give an old-fashioned flair to a porch. Plant in sun or part shade in moist, well-drained soil. The leaves may wilt in very dry conditions. USDA Zones 4 to 8.
Sweetautumn clematis (Clematis terniflora). For the better part of the growing season, sweetautumn clematis is a twining vine that's pretty innocuous until late summer and early fall, when the foliage is literally smothered with small white flowers—a welcome feast for the eye as the season winds down. Don't depend on sweetautumn clematis to give you full coverage of a support from the ground up. More often it climbs to the top of its support and then tumbles over and over itself, creating a mound of white at the top. A woody vine that comes back every year, it's a very fast grower (USDA Zones 5 to 8, possible 9).
The colorful pinwheels of clematis make this twining vine a beloved garden plant. Bloom habits vary--some types like 'Mrs. Cholmondely' bloom on old wood, others like the popular x jackmanii bloom on new wood, and still others such as 'Henryii'--one of the oldest large-flowering clematis--bloom on both old and new wood. Growth rates and hardiness vary according to species, variety and cultivar. If given the conditions it prefers--shaded roots and sun-exposed tops--clematis typically grow to about 10 feet. Check with your local extension agent or nurseryman to determine which clematis varieties do best in your area.
A long-time favorite of gardeners who love old-fashioned flowers, this rampant twining vine produces prodigious quantities of blooms. Each flower opens early in the day and fades by afternoon, lasting only that day. Plant one of the traditional favorites like 'Heavenly Blue' (Ipomoea tricolor) and you can expect 10 to 15 feet of growth. This annual plant doesn't have an invasive root system, but you can expect plenty of seedlings. If you can accept the weediness, morning glories are a good choice for covering fences and walls where management isn't going to be an issue. Pink, white, lavender, red, bicolors and stripes are also available.
Vines to Avoid
Some vines are better off left alone. Whether or not you decide to pass on morning glory or Virginia creeper, you might want to give cypress vine, porcelain vine (Ampelosis brevipedunculata) and akebia further scrutiny before you invite them home. To a lesser extent, English ivy and wintercreeper (Euonymus fortuneii) are a problem for some gardens; these plants are lovely when they're cultured and inbounds, but they're just as happy climbing trees as buildings.