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Time For A Vine?


By Paul James

Vines deserve more credit. After all, they can be beautiful. They can be extremely effective in providing color and texture. And they can provide privacy quickly in the garden. Moreover, their growth habit is both unusual in terms of the ways they attach themselves to surfaces and amazing in that they can grow up to 60-feet long!

So in my attempt to get more folks to use vines in their gardens, I’ve assembled a list of my favorites.
The world of vines includes some bad actors such as kudzu, bindweed, and of course poison ivy.


Growing from only three feet to 20 feet, depending on the variety, Clematis are known as the “Queen of Climbers,” and for good reason. They scramble up arbors, trellises, or posts with ease, offering a kaleidoscope of stunning flowers -- some in spring, others in summer, and still others in fall -- in a range of shapes and sizes. Most need full sun, but their roots should be kept cool with mulch. For clematis that produce flowers on last year’s vines, prune ever so lightly in late summer, after they bloom. Those that produce flowers on new vines that grow from the base of the plant can be pruned in early spring to a height of 12 to 18 inches.
Crossvine ‘Tangerine Beauty’
I love this vine! It’s a fast grower, capable of reaching 30 feet, and it produces an astounding number of tubular flowers over a period of several weeks in spring, followed by sporadic blooms in summer and fall. It’ll even bloom well with only a half day of sun. Can be pruned after flowering to control its size. 
Wisteria ‘Betty Tam’ is a Japanese variety that grows rapidly to 20 feet or more, as you’ve likely seen on the pergola at Southwood. ‘Amethyst Falls’ (an American variety) typically grows to just 10 feet or so, making it great for smaller spaces or even containers. Both produce a profusion of pendulous, lavender flowers. A white variety is also available. 
Carolina Jessamine
This well-mannered, hugely popular beauty boasts an abundance of canary-yellow blooms in spring. It’s a fast grower, capable of growing 20 feet in a single season! Does best in full sun (a little afternoon shade is okay) and well-drained soil that’s kept evenly moist, but not soggy.
Honeysuckle ‘Goldflame’
The sweet fragrance of this variety is intoxicating, and the profusion of purple to pink buds open to golden yellow, tubular flowers -- prized by hummingbirds -- pretty much all summer long. Vining stems grow quickly to 15 feet, but can be pruned to form a dense shrub. Needs sun, and plenty of it.
Trumpet Vine
Stand back! This vigorous, deciduous vine can reach 30 feet in one season, and produce hundreds of tubular flowers from spring to fall. Plant in full sun and water deeply and regularly the first year, after which time it’s pretty drought tolerant. Another hummingbird magnet.
Climbing Roses
Climbing roses don’t actually climb, but their elongated stems make them appear to do so, which is why I think it’s okay to include them here. So while they may not technically be a vine, they look pretty vine-like, and are capable of growing up to 20-feet long with support.
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Boston Ivy
Deciduous, fast-growing to 50 feet, and related to grapes, Boston Ivy attaches readily to surfaces with suction-cup feet, which can be a good thing if the surface is brick, stone, or metal, not so much if it’s wood because if you pull the vines off paint will come with it. It produces a beautiful reddish fall color in sun or shade.
English Ivy
A classic evergreen vine that will climb vertical surfaces but can also be used horizontally as a dense groundcover. It grows in sun to partial shade and produces berries that birds love (yes, it blooms, but the flowers are inconspicuous). This is a vigorous vine, capable of growing up to 60 feet, and is considered invasive throughout much of the U.S. (but not here).


Although they aren’t hardy, many annual vines are gorgeous! Among my favorites are sweet potato vine (available as transplants with chartreuse or purplish-black leaves), or from seed you should try sweet peas, hyacinth bean, scarlet runner bean, and gourds of all kinds.


Being a wine geek, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention grapes, although most gardeners grow them for eating fresh rather than for making wine. (My dad used to make homemade wine, and it was truly awful!) Throughout the year we offer several varieties, and we currently have a seedless red one called ‘Flame’ which is self-pollinating and produces clusters of delicious fruit.
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Kudzu was imported from Japan for erosion control. It soon got out of control thanks to its rapid growth rate -- up to a foot a day! Worse still, the vines can reach 100 feet and quickly cover anything in their path, including trees, cars, even houses.

Support for Vines

Vines have various ways of attaching themselves to structures. Some twine, some use tendrils, others attach themselves to surfaces with sticky “feet.” Regardless, nearly all vines benefit from some sort of support that allows you to train them and keep them under control.
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Shop Garden Stakes and Cages
 The world’s longest vine is known as elephant creeper or snuff box sea bean, and is capable of growing nearly a mile long!

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Tip Of The Week

One of the coolest ways to grow Clematis is to let it ramble on, around, and through shrubs. The vines get all the sun they need and the shrubs shade the soil to keep the vine’s roots cool.