The Complete Guide to Vines
Who can resist lingering beneath a pergola covered with beautiful blooms? Who can resist exploring a garden path, when the arbor entrance is dripping with enticingly fragrant flowers? Who doesn’t love watching hummingbirds and butterflies feasting on nectar, while vining flowers climb and twist, creating a tropical oasis in a garden?
Vines are some of the most under-utilized plants in the landscape. From providing a shade element to adding vertical interest in the garden, vines serve many purposes.
Whether you’re looking to add privacy to your garden with a living screen, soften severe hardscapes, reduce erosion on slopes, or attract wildlife, versatile vines meet many needs. Even unattractive structures can become eye-catching garden features when covered with the twisting, climbing, lush foliage of vines.
The Top Vine Varieties
From beautiful blooming varieties that provide nectar to hummingbirds to bountiful, colorful foliage that grows into a gorgeous cover for unsightly spaces, vines provide many benefits in the landscape. Whether your garden is shady or sunny or somewhere in between, you can find a perfect vine to add beauty to your garden.
Many popular vines add color throughout the year, not only with blooms but also with foliage. If you’re interested in flowering vines, however, you can plan an ongoing explosion of color throughout the seasons by selecting vines that flower in spring, summer, and fall:
Spring Blooming Vines
Wisteria blooms announce spring, exploding with enormous purple clusters of flowers and intoxicating fragrance. From elegant estates to the arbor of a backyard, wisteria is perfectly at home in any setting. Train it to climb a pergola, and you’ll enjoy its lavender/gardenia-like fragrance while watching the pollinators flock to its blooms. To add instant impact to the garden, choose Purple Wisteria. It will climb as tall as its support, typically growing 20-30 feet high. For a more compact alternative with the same fabulous blooms, consider Purple Wisteria Tree. With its manageable height of 8-10 feet, the wisteria tree is the perfect specimen for high impact in a small space. Both are pest and disease resistant and drought tolerant. For best blooms, plant in full sun to partial shade, zones 4-9.
Spring through Fall Blooming
Jasmine is one of the most fragrant blooming vines available, providing delicate, bright flowers amidst thick, climbing foliage. Yellow Jasmine blooms in early spring, perfuming the garden with golden, bell-shaped flowers. Besides a delicious fragrance, the vine is evergreen, with its deep green leaves turning a brilliant bronze in fall, making it a perfect addition to add impact into the landscape year-round. 15-20’ height, 6-8’ width, zones 7-9. ‘Star Jasmine’ offers sweetly fragrant, long-lasting white blooms that appear in the spring. Also know as ‘Confederate’ Jasmine, Star Jasmine is considered a night bloomer, with the flowers opening in early evening as the temperatures cool. It’s a perfect addition to a moon garden. 15-20’ height, 6-8’ width, zone 8-11.
Large, showy blooms of vining clematis add impact to trellises, mailboxes, arbors, and even as groundcovers. With dozens of varieties available, it’s challenging to decide which to select. Two of the best varieties are ‘Henryi’ Clematis and ‘Jackmanii’ Clematis. ‘Henryi’ is a perfect accent plant or ideal cover for fences, with its easy maintenance and non-stop blooms. With flowers up to 8 inches wide, it provides a perfect burst of vertical color among a background of shrubs. 10-12’ height, 1-3’ width, zones 4-9. ‘Jackmanii’ is the most fragrant clematis available. Filled with spectacular purple blooms against deep green leaves, the vine can blanket large areas with amazing 6-inch-wide blooms and lush foliage. It’s excellent as a lovely privacy screen or to hide pool equipment or an AC unit. Masses of blooms on the easy-to-grow, adaptable vine make it a perfect addition to your garden. 16-20’ height, 4-6’ width, zones 4-9.
Few plants add a more tropical feel to a garden than bougainvillea, with its bright, elegant blooms and climbing habit. ‘Barbara Karst’ offers striking, vibrant pink bracts from summer until fall, providing a burst of color when many plants begin to fade in the intense summer heat. 10-12’ height, 8-10’ width, zones 8-10. ‘Purple Queen’ adds rich, purple color to the landscape, contrasting with its deep green leaves. Best of all, it’s one of the few reblooming vines, with a first flush of blooms in early summer, followed by a second wave of color in early fall. In warmer climates, you might be treated to a third wave of blooms. Because it is tropical, plant in a container in zones colder than 9 and bring inside during winter. 10-12’ height, 8-10’ width, zones 9-11 in ground, 4-11 in container.
Every hummingbird lover needs to grow mandevilla in the garden. With its fabulous tropical flavor and showy blooms, even northern gardeners can enjoy it as a container planting—just take it inside in the winter. ‘Crimson Red’ is one of the most stunning varieties. With its trumpet shaped blooms beckoning bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, you’ll want to place it in a highly visible area to enjoy the wildlife show. 15-20’ height, 1-2’ width, zones 9-11 (in ground), 4-11 (in container.)
What’s better than growing a beautiful vine? Growing a beautiful vine that produces snacks in the garden! Grape vines are easily trained to grow into stately, sturdy garden features—with the added benefits of producing delicious fruit. ‘Summit’ Grape is a member of the Muscadine family. With its greenish, rosy-bronze coloration, it’s more specifically referred to as a Scuppernong. Summit grapes prefer the warmer southern climates, but they are found in northern climates as well. They can be grown along a fence or trained to climb a pergola or arbor. Summit grapes also thrive as container plantings. Plant in full sun and pair with another grape vine for pollination to ensure a bountiful harvest of fruit. 12’ height, 5-8’ width, zones 7-10.
Background Information on Vines
Technically, vines are simply flexible stems that keep growing, reaching toward the sun. Most vines attach themselves to supports by twisting around objects or clinging with root-like tendrils. Some vines require support with string or ties. With dozens of vines to choose from, it can be overwhelming to select the best ones for your needs.
One of the reasons for the appeal of vines is the wide-range of interest they add to the landscape throughout the year: gorgeous blooms, fabulous fall foliage, and outstanding vertical interest. Vines also serve practical purposes by providing erosion control on slopes, screening unsightly objects, and adding privacy to the garden by creating a living wall.
When you’re planning your landscape, think about the bloom cycles of various vines to extend the color in your garden. By selecting vines that bloom in different seasons, you’ll extend the interest in your landscape.
Consider, too, where a vine can add benefits in the garden. Do you need a burst of color to frame an entranceway or vertical blooms among a row of boxwoods? Vines can serve many aesthetic and practical purposes in the garden.
How to Select the Right Vines
Before you purchase your vines, take a moment to assess your site and decide how you want the plant to perform. Do you have full sun to encourage blooms? Is there a slope that needs a colorful anchor? Are there other plants that might compete for nutrients where you’re considering adding a vine? Are you looking to make a statement at the entrance of your home or add shade to a backyard seating area? Also, what is your hardiness zone? Most flowering vines require full sun for best performance. Some vines grow into large specimens, while others can be planted in a container to add vertical interest to a patio. Whatever your zone, space allocation, or color preference, there’s a perfect vine for your garden.
While most of us are quick to select flowering vines based on bloom color, read the plant’s specifications carefully. Some blooming vines can become quite large. Ensure that your support is adequate for the size of the vine you select, and then read the plant’s information, paying particular attention to the plant’s mature height. While most vines are typically low-maintenance plants, an improperly planted vine can become a maintenance headache.
As always, if you need assistance selecting the plant that is right for your garden, we’re happy to help. Just give us a call at 800-399-9514.
How to Plant Vines
As soon as you receive your plant, give it a good drink, particularly if you plan to wait a day or two to plant it.
Proper site selection and preparation will help grow a happy plant. Full sun, good drainage, and adequate airflow are all ingredients for a healthy plant. If you plan to trellis your vine on a support, install the structure prior to planting so that you won’t damage the plant’s roots.
Most vines can tolerate a wide variety of sites and soils. However, amending heavy, compact clay soils with compost will improve the health of your plant, allowing water to drain adequately so it won’t rot the plant’s roots.
Late fall or early spring are ideal times to plant, allowing the plants to settle in without severe heat stress or impending freezes before roots establish in their new home. However, beautiful summertime blooms tempt many of us when we spy them in the nursery, and somehow that lovely plant manages to follow us home in June. With a little extra pampering, the vine will be fine—just keep it well watered during the heat of summer.
When planting your vine, don’t skimp on the digging. Your hole should be approximately twice as large as the plant’s root ball. A well-dug hole gives you the opportunity to breakup any compacted soil, add amendments, and give your plant a good start without overcrowding its roots. Your vine will thank you. Loosen the plant in the container, carefully removing it, and massaging the root ball. Place in the center of the hole, making certain the soil lines of both the root ball and the hole align. You want to ensure that you don’t plant too deep in the hole. Back fill the hole, pressing the soil into place. Water well. Add a layer of mulch over the site, but avoid the “volcano” effect—simply spread mulch over the site to conserve moisture.
Each spring, add a layer of compost over the planting site, as well as a good, organic fertilizer. However, do not over-fertilize. Too much nitrogen will promote lush foliage—and few blooms.
Keep the plant well watered through the first growing season, approximately one inch per week. As it becomes established in your garden, normal rains should suffice. Most vines are fairly drought tolerant once established.
While most vines are pest and disease resistant, Japanese beetles and aphids can damage some plants. For smaller specimens, handpicking Japanese beetles and dropping them in a bucket of soapy water is an easy solution, although one that requires a little time each day. Diluted Neem oil or organic insecticidal soap spray works well for aphids. Make certain to spray both sides of the leaves.
Most vines don’t require pruning. Some can benefit from light pruning to encourage reblooming or to maintain size.
Pruning is best done when the plant is dormant in the winter or after blooming in early spring. Just prune sparingly to maintain a lovely, healthy plant.
Wisteria can live more than 100 years. The oldest wisteria is located in Ashikaga Flower Park in Japan and dates back to 1870. The vine covers half an acre, held up with metal supports so that visitors can walk underneath it. The largest wisteria vine is located in Sierra Madre, California, and covers 4,000 square meters.
Wisteria symbolizes immortality and longevity. The blooms, which cascade in elegant clusters, are symbolic of bowing or kneeling to show respect in Feng Shui. Practitioners of Feng Shui are encouraged to plant wisteria in quadrants around homes to instill contemplation and honor.
Clematis means “a climbing plant’ in Ancient Greek. With more than 400 varieties of wild clematis, the species originated in China and Japan. The first clematis introduced to England was clematis viticella, brought from Spain in 1569. The large flowered variety wasn’t introduced until the 19th century from China. While clematis is considered toxic, Native Americans used small amounts of it to treat migraines.
The first European to describe bougainvillea was Philibert Commercon, a botanist who accompanied French Navy admiral and explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville during his circumnavigation of the globe. However, his lover, Jeanne Baré may have been the first person to see the plant. Because women were not allowed on ships, she disguised herself as a man to travel with him—and was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.
The flowers of bougainvillea are actually very small. The showy, colorful “blooms” are bracts, not flowers.
Jasmine is highly prized and cultivated for the perfume industry. In India, flowers are used in worship, as well as in hair ornaments. Jasmine is used in aromatherapy, valued as an antidepressant, aphrodisiac, and sleep aid. It’s also valued medicinally, used as a tea and to create lotions for rashes and sunburns.
In Ancient Greek mythology, Dionysus is celebrated as the god of the grape harvest, winemaking, and wine.