No other group of plants can quite duplicate what vines do for us in the landscape. Vines can be used to provide shade, privacy, flowers, ground cover, edible or attractive fruit, fragrance and food for wildlife. It would be hard to imagine a well-planted landscape without vines somewhere. Now is a great time to plant hardy vines.
What is it that makes a plant a vine? Vines are a remarkably diverse group of plants. They include annuals and perennials and can be woody or herbaceous, evergreen or deciduous. They may be grown for their attractive foliage, colorful flowers or edible fruit. What binds this varied group of plants together is their unique characteristic of weak, lax stems.
Instead of producing a strong stem to hold itself upright, a vine applies the resources for growth instead. As a result, vines are among the fastest growing plants in the landscape. If you plant vines, you must be prepared for their extraordinary rate of growth and be willing to train and control them. In addition to being aware that vines are fast growing, you also need to know how they climb. This will influence how you use them and the type of support you must provide.
Vines climb in several ways.
Twining vines climb by wrapping their stems, leaves or tendrils around a support. Vines that wrap their stems around or interweave their stems into the support are common. They can climb on a pole, wire, string, lattice or other structures around which they can wrap their stems, leaves or tendrils. Vines such as morning glory, honeysuckle, hyacinth bean, cypress vine, cucumbers, sweet peas and clematis are good examples.
Clinging vines can grow on flat surfaces by using holdfasts or roots along their stems that adhere to the surface. They are useful for covering sides of buildings or walls without needing a support. But you must use them cautiously. Once they get started, they are hard to control without frequent effort. Examples are English ivy, cat’s-claw vine, trumpet creeper and creeping fig.
Some plants we call vines don’t really climb that well but rather tend to sprawl. These plants generally don’t grab hold of a support – they tend to grow through it, over it or lay on it. Or they may insinuate themselves into larger plants. Typically, these vines need to be physically woven or tied onto the support as they are trained. Bougainvillea, Russian olive, nasturtium and climbing roses are examples.
When you determine you want a vine in your landscape, the selection process is the same as for any plant. Decide the purpose of the vine, choose characteristics you would like it to have and determine the growing conditions in the area where it will be planted. Then select the vine from those that most closely fit the desired characteristics and will thrive in the growing conditions.
More than anything else, caring for vines involves controlling them in addition to watering, fertilizing and controlling pests on occasion.
Annual plants are great to play around with if you are not very familiar with vines and how to use them. Because annuals only last for one season, they have little chance of getting out of control compared to perennial vines that live for many years. Reseeding, however, can be an issue with some annual vines, notably the cypress vine, Ipomoea quamoclit. There are few cool-season annual vines but lots of warm-season annual vines.
Hardy perennial vines live for many years and become fairly permanent parts of your landscape.
Evergreen perennial vines are the best for creating screens, hiding ugly hurricane fences and covering arches and trellises. Deciduous perennial vines are good for covering arbors or pergolas where you want shade in summer but allow the warm sun to shine through in winter. Hardy perennial vines are not bothered by typical winter freezes.
Tropical tender perennial vines are well worth planting but will not reliably survive the winter. Mandevilla is a good example. Nevertheless, many perennial vine choices are available to Louisiana gardeners.
Vines add so much to our gardens it would be hard to imagine doing without them. The following lists will introduce you to a few of the many vines that can provide so much to our landscapes. Just remember, vines, bless their hearts, have no self-control. Be prepared to control and guide their enthusiasm when your invite these charming plants into your garden.
Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu