Planting and Maintaining Vines

Climbing plants are ideal for landscaping because you can effectively plan for and limit their size. Their eventual heights and widths are determined by the structures on which they are grown. The structures themselves fill the space before the vines or climbers have reached full growth.

Be careful not to let vines escape their bounds by climbing into nearby trees. Clinging vines can damage the house structure by working their roots into the mortar, if it is weak. It's better to train vines up trellises set about a foot away from the house.

Vines can provide a beautiful layer of ground cover for your yard.

Vines can provide a beautiful layer of ground cover for your yard.

There are many different kinds of vines, and they climb in different ways:

  • Twining vines need something to twist around. The new growth twists onto supports as it grows. Sturdy poles and pergolas make good supports. Examples are kiwi, bougainvillea, American bittersweet, morning glory, honeysuckle, American wisteria, and black-eyed Susan vine. All of these can grow prodigiously in a single season.

  • Vines with tendrils need slender strings, wires, or narrow supports to grasp onto. Examples are clematis, passionflower, and grape. They are easy to train, but do not let them start climbing into trees. They can be used to beautify chain-link fences but need additional wires or trellising to grow on wooden fences.

  • Clinging vines stick to solid objects. These vines work their aerial roots into the smallest of crevices in solid walls. They can damage some kinds of walls, especially brick walls with old mortar that is beginning to weaken, but are safe to grow if the wall is sound. Do not grow them on surfaces that need to be painted from time to time. Clinging vines are fine on other walls and sturdy supports. These vines include climbing hydrangea, trumpet creeper, and winter-creeper.

Designing with Vines

Flowers, foliage, or fruit make them spectacular vertical accents to train on a fence, trellis, or lamppost. As an added bonus, vines can hide unsightly eyesores, provide shade, and blend tree trunks, walls, and fences into the scenery with a patina of greenery. Use these tips to help you:

  • Add height to a perennial border with annual or perennial vines on wire cages, tepees, or scrims. When you want a dynamic high point for a flower garden, an upward-trained vine will be effective throughout the growing season and sometimes beyond. In contrast, many of the tallest perennials reach their maximum height only when in flower, which may last for just a few weeks. Here are some support options to consider:

    Wire cages: These work like tomato cages but can be made from wire mesh in any height or shape. A narrow, upright pillar shape is elegant in a formal garden.

    Tepees: Make a support of angled posts tied together at the top. Plant one or several vines at the base and let them twine up and fill out to cover the post.

    Scrims: These are open-structured, see-through supports that vines can climb and still provide a veiled view of the scene beyond. With imagination, scrims can be made of braided wire or other creative materials.

  • Try an extra-easy way to support annual vines with a trellis made from biodegradable twine. Set two 4-foot-high posts about 4 feet apart, pounding their bases about 10 inches deep into the ground. Run the twine between the posts, knotting it around the posts occasionally to keep the twine from slipping down. You may want to make vertical webbing by working the twine up and down between horizontal strands, which helps some vines climb more efficiently.
    Plant annual vines such as sweet peas, cardinal climbers, or black-eyed Susan beneath the new trellis, and allow them to grow and cover it. When frost arrives or the vines begin to look shabby, simply cut off the twine trellis and throw it, vines and all, in the compost pile.

  • Create summer shade on a porch with a string trellis covered with vines. String trellises, available from garden centers or mail-order garden catalogs, can be hung from a roof or held upright with posts. Set the trellis to the south or west side of the porch to block the most sun.

  • Use a wire trellis and vines to cover a blank, dull wall or a utility pipe. A trellis-covered wall comes to life with greenery. Just make sure the trellis is far enough away from the wall; a trellis snug against a wall is not good for either the building or the vines. If you are screening a utility pipe, be sure to leave access openings for maintenance.

    Decorative vines, such as this purple clematis, can be trained to climb fences and trellises.

    Decorative vines, such as this purple clematis,
    can be trained to climb fences and trellises.

  • Use vines to cover a chain-link fence or other backyard eyesore. Vines can screen off your garage (or your neighbor's garage) from view, make a hidden alcove for your garbage cans, or cover a bare tree trunk or a fenced dog run. Remember to plant vines that twine or have tendrils on open supports like chain-link fencing and vines that climb on solid supports like walls.

  • Use vines to make a dead tree disappear into a mass of blooms. Just as grapevines in the woods can cover trees and turn them into a dripping mass of green vines, an old stump can become a garden pillar.

    In mild climates, evergreen vines can provide reliable cover year-round. In cold climates, some evergreen vines can be more prone to dieback when temperatures really drop. Look for extra-hardy vines for this job.

  • Plant vines on an open pergola frame to create a cool, shaded retreat. A pergola is an arborlike structure with an overhead trellis that forms a garden roof. It can make a shady place to sit outside in summer and give the garden elegant architecture at the same time.

  • To fill out the roof with foliage and flowers, try planting vines that have abundant growth so they will be well able to go the distance needed. Some possibilities are wisteria, silver fleece vine, kiwi, hops, and grapes.

Use the tips outlined in this article to manipulate your trees, shrubbery, and vines into wonderfully ornate creations that your neighbors will envy at your next garden party. In the last section, we provide you with links to find out more information about gardening.