Many gardeners today are transforming their landscape with “high octane” vines that grow with extreme vigor, climb easily on their own with tendrils or disks and provide almost instant cover. These hot, new vines may be annuals or perennials, depending on the selection.
When you mention vines, the first thoughts in a lot of gardeners’ minds are the long hours spent in training, tying and pruning — plus the years it takes them to cover a single structure. Unfortunately, this misconception prevents so many gardeners from considering one of the most rewarding groups of plants for the landscape.
Like trees, shrubs and ground covers, vines are vitally important to the interest of any garden landscape. Vines add vertical dimension to the landscape and actually may be that key ingredient that transforms it into a garden. Like hanging a mirror on the living room wall, adding an arbor or trellis provides both a sense of depth and an entryway to an outdoor room. In fact, placing climbers on iron trellises is a quick way to add a screen and create a private area for relaxing or entertaining outdoors. By using those noted for bloom, you’ll make your garden even more special.
Perennial vines will be around for a long time, so planning is very important. Is this where you really want the vine? Do you have a support structure large enough and sturdy enough to hold the weight of the vine once it matures and develops a more woody nature?
Planting a perennial vine is a lot like planting a shrub. Prepare the planting location by amending with 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and turning to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. Prepare the area 2 to 3 feet outward. While you are preparing the planting area, incorporate 1 cup of a slow-release 12-6-6 or balanced fertilizer. Give another light application a month after transplanting.
Dig the planting hole two to three times as wide as the root ball, but no deeper. Plant the vine at the same depth it was growing in the container. If the vine is attached to a stake or small trellis with tendrils, leave it in and place it against the new permanent support structure. Water thoroughly, and apply a layer of mulch.
Annual vines are also exceptional in the landscape. These plants grow with unbelievable vigor, covering a trellis in a couple of months and can actually cover a pergola in one season. The tropical vines that we mostly treat as annuals, such as mandevilla, bloom from the minute you get them in late April through November (or the first hard freeze). This is why they are among the best values for the landscape dollar.
Planting an annual vine is much like planting a perennial vine, except that many of them can be grown from seed, such as the morning glory or moonflower. Many of these seed-grown vines provide a perennial-like performance in that they reseed every year. They may or may not reseed where you want them, such as against the trellis, but they are easily transplanted. These vigorous plants should be fed with light, monthly applications of fertilizer and given supplemental water during prolonged dry periods.
Clematis species and hybrids
Scores of books instruct amateur horticulturists that they must do “this” and “that” to have success with clematis. Every year, however, they are found blooming on mailboxes, trellises and arbors at the homes of gardeners who do nothing more than look the other way. Clematis is tougher than you think. Their rich, colorful flowers are among the largest of any vine.
‘Incense’ passion flower (Passiflora incarnata x cinnicata ‘Incense’)
Today’s gardeners want vines with a tropical appearance for that special fence, trellis or arbor — one of the best is the passion flower. The native passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) was used in breeding for this cultivar, and the result is an improved, cold hardy, exotic flower known as ‘Incense’. It produces 5-inch wide, fragrant, royal purple flowers with a lacy corolla overlaying the petals. Unbelievably, ‘Incense’ has been known to survive in Zone 5 with protection.
‘Madame Galen’ trumpet vine (Campsis x tagliabuana ‘Madame Galen’)
Bright orange-red, 3-inch-long trumpet flowers are borne in clusters of six to twelve and produced all summer long. These flowers are a favorite of the ruby-throated hummingbird. This vine tolerates drought, grows aggressively, withstands cold and thrives in heat and humidity. For the gardener who wants a surefire performer, this vine is hard to beat.
‘Tangerine Beauty’ crossvine (Bignonia capreolata ‘Tangerine Beauty’)
In the spring, this evergreen to semi-evergreen native produces more flowers per square foot than any other vine. An arbor, fence or trellis can have brilliant tangerine flowers numbering in the thousands. Cold hardiness, heat and humidity tolerance make this vine most welcome throughout the South. Many older gardeners admit that they smoked crossvine in their youth!
Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata)
Black-eyed Susan vine can go from seed to covering an entire trellis in just one season. From a distance, the flowers do resemble the black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), but a closer inspection reveals that the flowers are tubular with a dark purple throat. The flowers may be orange, white or yellow. The vine is perennial in Zones 9 and 10 and often reseeds in other zones. Look for the new cultivars Sunny series Orange Wonder and Lemon Star.
Exotic love fire vine (Ipomoea lobata)
Gardeners will gaze in awe at the almost indescribable spikes of flowers borne by the hundreds in simultaneous colors of red, orange, yellow and cream. This vigorous vine, grown mostly as an annual, will cover an arbor or trellis and blooms in the fall from seed planted in the spring.
Hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus)
This favorite of Thomas Jefferson will also be a favorite of yours once you start growing it. Even as an annual vine, it’s a fast grower and produces fragrant, lilac-purple and white flowers in staggering numbers. Attractive, glossy, purple bean pods follow blooming. Insect and disease pressures are low and vigor is high, making this an easy vine for anyone to grow.
Mandevilla (Mandevilla x amabilis)
This is the best buy in tropical plants gardeners who live in areas where it freezes. The mandevilla blooms from the moment you buy in April until the first hard freeze in October or November. The flowers are large, trumpet shaped and available in shades of pink (such as the ‘Alice du Pont’), red (such as ‘Ruby Star’) and white (such as ‘Monte’, which is white with a blush of pink). Mandevilla is superior, thriving in high heat and humidity even when planted street side or on a wall.
Morning Glory (Ipomoea purpurea)
Gardeners everywhere love the morning glory with its large, trumpet-shaped, colorful blossoms that look as tropical as a mandevilla. There are also gardeners who hate it, because they have let it escape with abandon (or should we say, by abandon). When managed, this vigorous vine is an asset to landscapes across the country.
Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)
The moonflower is the kind of plant that makes memories for your children. It is an old, heirloom or antique vine in the South that all children (and adults, for that matter) need to experience. Large, pristine, white, fragrant flowers open in the late afternoon and reflect moonlight all night long. This nightly occurrence happens from midsummer through fall. If your are fortunate, a Luna moth will visit, making the whole experience one to reminisce about with the family.
Don’t forget about using vines in containers and baskets. Instead of using an evergreen shrub or grass as the center plant in a large container, a vine on a tower may work just as well and offer unique blooms. Those with large hanging baskets can let tropicals, such as mandevilla, climb the chains as other plants cascade over the rim.
Vines can also be used to frame a doorway, break up the monotony of a large wall or dramatically change a fence. Of course, you shouldn’t overlook the possibility using vines to spruce up white picket fences or street lamps. Once you’ve mastered vines, your neighbors will look on in admiration and marvel at the ways you have “grown up.”
From State-by-State Gardener April 2003. Photos by Patricia K. Ammon & Norman Winter