Vines and Ivy

Philadelphia Area Gardening Book--Liz Ball


Introduction to Vines


In addition to beauty, upwardly mobile plants offer a third spatial dimension to the landscape. By taking advantage of airspace vines and other climbers increase its size, while defining it in wonderful new ways.


Vines also solve landscape problems. Their foliage tapestry cools bare walls exposed to summer sun. It muffles street noise, insures privacy and obscures eyesores such as utility meters and old stumps. Clambering over pergolas or arbors, vines provide a transiton between hardscape and softscape and substitute for trees to create shade for other plants. Planted as specimens on trellises they become focal points. Of course, they are ideal for small properties where planting ground is at a premium, requiring just a few square inches of soil. Many will grow happily in pots. In the winter the ropes of woody stems of some perennial vines add drama and structure to an otherwise bleak landscape.


About Vines

Vining and climbing plants may be annuals or perennials. The annual ones grow from seed or seedlings, starting slowly in the cool spring, then exploding with bloom when the heat arrives until frost kills them back. Many self-sow their seeds to assure a vine the next season. Perennial vines tend to proceed more decorously, taking time their first season to develop strong roots and sturdy stems that will hold them up over the long haul. Most are deciduous, and many benefit from pruning back in the fall so they can bloom on new wood next year.


A vine’s distinction, of course, is its willingness to grow vertically. Vines and other climbers achieve this in one of several ways. Some, like ivy, are clingers. They attach themselves directly to a surface with sticky rootlets on their stems. Others, like wisteria, are twiners and wrap themselves around supports. Still others, such as clematis, are grabbers, latching onto the nearest support with special tendrils that they produce from their leaf stems. Finally, there are sprawlers, such as climbing roses. Their elongated branches lean on whatever is convenient and stretch up or across it



Proper support is a critical issue with vines and climbers. Choose a support that accommodates each vine’s growing style and its future size. Mount trellises a bit away from walls that will need maintenance over the years. Clingers adhere directly to a smooth surface, but they may damage walls where mortar or stucco is deteriorating or soft. Grabbers do best with thin supports such as wire, lattice or netting that their tendrils can grasp easily.. Tie the long canes of sprawlers to a sturdy trellis or arbor that can hold their mature weight. Twiners are the biggest challenge. Vines like kiwi and wisteria last for many years, so the support should be very strong like a pergola.


Vines, like groundcovers (which are sometimes--as with ivy and wintercreeper--the same plant), earn their keep by spreading. Some are so vigorous however, that the words “rampant” or “invasive” come to mind. Only faithful pruning qualifies them as garden assets. Virginia creeper is a a good example--it roams at will up phone poles and over utility lines if permitted. However, because this rowdyism is balanced by the fact that it is relatively easy to pull up and it offers food and shelter to wildlife, it earns a place in a residential landscape. Alan Lacey points out that there is a bargain required with rampant vines--to have the beauty you must be willing to do the pruning.


Sometimes it is a close call as to whether a particular vine is can truly be controlled enough. Many lovely vines pose an environmental problem when they “escape” from backyard cultivation into the wild. Their uncontrolled spread suffocates natural vegetation and degrades the health of the forest. While plants introduced into the area from elsewhere are often the worst culprits, sometimes native plants are a problem too.


FLORA NON GRATA-- these vines are generally regarded as having more vices than virtues and should not be planted residential gardens in our area.

Hall’s honeysuckle (^Lonicera japonica^ ‘Halliana’)

Fiveleaf Akebia (^Akebia quinata^)

Porclainberry (^Ampelopsis brevipedunculata^)

Oriental bittersweet (^Celastrus orbiculatus^)

see all questions...

Do you have a gardening question? Ask Nancy