Gerald Klingaman, PhD, is an emeritus professor of horticulture at the University of Arkansas. He gardens in Fayetteville.

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Runaway Garden: Plan Thoroughly and Choose Wisely When Planting Vines
by Gerald Klingaman       #Vines


Wisteria is an aggressive grower, but it’s quite capable of putting on a stunning display.

Trumpet vine is an indestructible vine that can visually break up a large expanse of stone. It lacks the aggressiveness of wisteria.

Akebia has attractive purple blooms in early spring. Though it’s an aggressive grower, I keep it in bounds on my deck by trimming off errant shoots as they appear during the summer.

Crossvine is a beautiful Southern native that has never been used extensively in gardens. In April, it provides a stunning display.

Clematis are among the least aggressive vines, so don’t worry about them taking over your world.

Hardy in Zone 7b and south, jasmine makes a stunning display in early May. It has sprawling tendencies and needs assistance with climbing.

‘Madam Galen’, a trumpet vine hybrid, has showier blooms than the typical species.

This grape planting not only shades the west wall of this home, but it also produces a good crop of fruit. The grapes are growing on a wire trellis, and vines are pruned annually to keep them in bounds.

I think this irrational fear stems from knowing my own slovenly ways — a recognition that if I let vines get out of hand, like I often do with weeds and overgrown bushes, there is the possibility of losing the house in a giant mound of vegetation. This unfounded fear probably stems from horror stories I’ve heard about kudzu. But take it as a cautionary tale. Many vines are aggressive growers that, left uncontrolled, can become a maintenance nightmare.  

The perfect place to plant a vine is in a sunny spot away from nearby trees and shrubs where its tentacles will never reach. This kind of isolation is a great idea, but it’s not altogether practical. Like every other plant in the garden, vines must fit into the overall context of the space.  

Vines have various means of climbing. Wisteria (Wisteria spp.), trumpet vine (Campsis radicans), akebia (Akebia spp.) and honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) have twining stems that encircle supports. English ivy (Hedera helix), crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) have suction cups that will permit them to climb on any flat surface, including your home. These holdfasts can be very destructive to wooden structures; they can only be removed by sandblasting. Others such as clematis (Clematis spp.) and jasmine (Jasminum spp.) are better at sprawling than climbing and will need assistance to get the job done. 

By selecting the right vine for the right location, the work required to prune can be minimized — but select the wrong vine, and you may lose the house. The accompanying table lists many of the common vines and gives their relative vigor. Size descriptors for vines are misleading, because most will continue to climb as long as there is something to support them. The larger the number in the height column, the more vigorous the vine. Choose wisely — your selection will determine the success you will have with these plants in your garden.  

Vines are grown in one of two ways in the garden. Either they are trained from the get-go with the notion of careful control, just as a grape grower trains vines in the vineyard, or they are allowed to run freely until they get out of hand. Regardless of the type of pruning that is used, pruning and training must begin as soon as the vine is planted and continue on an annual basis thereafter. Ignore a rampant vine at your own peril.  

Controlled pruning is most often used on wisteria and grape (Vitis spp.), but it can be used with any vine. With this system, the extent of the growth of the vine is decided upon when the vine is first planted. If trellising is necessary, it is provided in advance. If a fence is used, the decision is made as to how far the vine will be allowed to travel down the fence, and as the vine grows, it is kept within the predetermined limits. Vines should be treated as if they are limbs on a tree and be allowed to grow until they reach the limits of their area. Some summertime pruning will be necessary, especially if the vine is a vigorous one. During the winter, heavy pruning should be used to remove unwanted side growth and maintain the integrity of the “arms” of your vine. Some flowers will be removed in the process, but there will still be plenty left to provide a good display.  

This is a very contrived pruning style, but it will enable you to keep even the most rampant vine in check. For vigorous vines, such as grapes and wisteria, up to 80 percent of the wood can be removed each year. When pruning side branches from wisteria vines, leave short stubs with two or three nodes to serve as flowering spurs. 

But most of us use the default position, because we don’t think ahead enough to what will happen in a few years. We let vines grow at will until they are out of bounds, and then we try to decide how to control them. In this case, pruning becomes a choice of keeping the plant in bounds by cutting it back in the winter and summer as needed to prevent it from escaping. Managing these vines is like dealing with a willful child. You must set limits. If you ignore them, they will run over you. But if you have established boundaries beyond which they may not go, you can live with them peaceably.  

Spring-blooming vines will lose some blooms during the pruning process, so delaying pruning until after flowering is a possibility — but it’s a lot easier to prune a wisteria in midwinter while it’s dormant than to wait until it’s beginning to leaf out. Pruning before flowering seems more practical for the really vigorous vines. Summer-blooming vines, such as trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) and fleece vine (Polygonum aubertii), are unaffected by dormant-season pruning.  

Mention vines, and wisteria is usually the first to come to mind. Like trying to keep a Labrador retriever in a small apartment, the rambunctious nature of wisteria will give you problems in a small space. It would be a good choice for an isolated, freestanding pergola, but it’s too aggressive to plant on a small gateway arbor leading into your garden. For those smaller locations where you still want the wisteria look, choose American wisteria (W. frutescens) instead.  

Pruning Specific Vines

Wisteria initiates flower buds during the summer prior to when it blooms the following spring. The late-season “rat tail” shoots seen growing out of a mass of wisteria will have no flowers, so these stems can be cut off without losing any blooms. With spring-blooming plants such as wisteria, train a main stem down a support of the structure and cut off the excess. There will still be plenty of flower buds to provide a good display, assuming the plant is old enough to bloom.   Grape and its relative the porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) are occasionally used, but Japanese beetles love to feast on the foliage of these two plants. Also, grape seldom makes fruit unless it’s regularly sprayed to prevent fruit rot — unless you are willing to expend considerable effort, the dream of growing your own fruit is mostly an illusion.  

While wisteria is spring blooming, trumpet vine is summer blooming and noticeably less aggressive. “Less aggressive” is a relative term when compared to wisteria, because trumpet vine still has the potential to take over if left to its own devices. The orange, 4-inch-long trumpets appear in midsummer and are magnets for hummingbirds. Named cultivars and hybrid trumpet vine are more attractive choices than the typical seedling form.  

Akebia has similar vigor to trumpet vine, but is semi-evergreen through Zone 7. It has palmately compound, shiny, green leaves and unusual purple blooms in early spring. All of these vines could be expected to cover a trellis or pergola by the second year.  

Pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla), with its large, heart-shaped leaves and unusual blue, pipe-shaped flowers, will grow large enough to cover a structure. It’s the host plant to the pipevine caterpillar, so expect some feeding injury on the leaves, but your reward will be to enjoy the beautiful butterflies.  

Honeysuckle, crossvine and virgin’s-bower (Clematis virginiana) are not as large as the aforementioned vines and not well suited to cover the tops of a pergola or shaded deck. They are sufficiently large enough to cover a trellis or an archway leading into a garden.  

Clematis vines are new to the business of climbing, so they sprawl about the landscape, looking for something to support them. The stems will weave and twine, but most of the support for climbing comes from the leaf petioles that twist will around anything in their path. Clematis are controlled growers, seldom growing more than 8 to 10 feet tall. 

These beauties are sold as hybrids, always with a nice color tag showing the bloom. Unfortunately, you need to know a bit more about the plant if you are going to prune it effectively. Most clematis hybrids (the C. florida group, C. lanuginosa group and the C. patens group) will bloom on year-old vines in the spring, so they should not be pruned until after they have flowered. Pruning can be severe — you can cut the vines back as much as is needed to control growth and remove any untidiness. 

The C. x jackmanii group and the C. viticella group are summer flowering, so they can be cut back in the spring and will flower in the summer. Fall-flowering species, such as C. paniculata, are also pruned in the spring. To complicate this picture, some hybrids are between spring bloomers and summer bloomers, so when to prune is an open question. 

Truthfully, I don’t see a lot of people pruning their clematis vines. And unless you are a neatnik who is unable to tolerate a bit of unruliness, pruning doesn’t seem critical for a good bloom display. Nipping here and there to keep the plant in bounds can be done during any season. 

Vines add a lot to the garden, but the choices involved — selection, location and maintenance — require more forethought and planning than any other group of garden plants. But if you choose wisely, the beauty of a well-grown vine will make your garden the envy of the neighborhood.

From State-by-State Gardening June 2007. Photos couresy of Gerald Klingaman.


Posted: 09/19/12   RSS | Print


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