Gardeners have known for a long time that plants, such as shrubs, ornamental grasses and tall flowers, soften the hard look at the corners of a house. The sharp appearance of squared house edges blur into an inviting angle with a touch of greenery.
Vines are the ideal plants to relieve the harshness of trellises, pergolas, arbors, patio and fence posts. Vines climb up, over or around these structures with ease, creating attractive companions to them. They camouflage walls, utility poles and other unsightly objects that distract from the beauty of the garden.
Likewise, when space is at a premium, the use of vines expands the garden vertically. With only a few strands of thick string tacked from ground to an overhead rail, an instant garden spot is ready to accept a vine.
Used strategically, vines can provide privacy in the landscape. Their leafy foliage and sometimes fragrant and showy flowers put a lush barrier between you and would-be onlookers.
Room to grow
The function of the vine, the desired height, and of course, the amount of sunlight are factors to consider when choosing a vine. Vine selection also depends on the type of surface on which the plant will grow for different vines climb in different ways. Vines climb surfaces by clinging, twining or binding.
Clinging vines have small tendrils along their stems that fasten around string, a small trellis, or even wire. These tendrils wrap tightly around the structure, keeping the vine in place. Any item small enough for the vine tendrils to wrap around is suitable providing it is strong enough to support the weight of the vine. However, wire may not be the best structure to use in full sun because the heat it absorbs may cause the plant to burn. Bittersweet, clematis and grape vines are examples of vines with tendrils.
Twining vines, such as honeysuckle, wisteria and morning glory, twist their entire stems around an object as they grow. Some, like the wisteria, may need additional support for their massive foliage and flowers. Twining vines generally grow along the same kind of surfaces as the clinging vines. They may harm other plants if allowed to twist around them, however.
Unlike the clinging or twisting vines, binding vines use another method to climb surfaces. They have either adhesive disks that act as suction cups or root-like holdfasts that attach to dry surfaces. Vines such as Boston ivy, Virginia creeper, climbing hydrangea and trumpet vine easily climb brick or wooden surfaces using this method.
Something to fall back on
Maintaining the structure on which vines climb should be a consideration prior to choosing a vine. For example, wooden trellises may need painting and repair throughout the growing season, which can mean the vine needs to be removed or disentangled. This is a difficult task. Better to plant an annual vine and repair the trellis after the frost has struck down the vine.
Vines may be annuals or perennials. Annuals grow quickly in one season and generally produce abundant blooms. They can reach incredible heights in short periods of time and reward the gardener quickly. Pinching back the leading edge of the plant after a few sets of leaves have formed will increase side branching and produce a thicker looking vine.
Morning glories are popular annual vines. They easily reach a height of 15 feet and produce an abundance of funnel-shaped or tubular flowers in mid to late summer. They perform best in full sun and are not particular about the soil. Although they are easy to grow, the seeds are best germinated indoors by nicking or scoring the seed coat and soaking in water overnight before planting.
A less familiar annual vine is Nautilus vine, 'Vinga Caracalla.' Pea-like flowers have distinctively coiled petals that develop in clusters. Though some varieties have edible pods, they are frequently grown for their ornamental value. Nautilus vine prefers full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. Additional support may be needed.
Year after year
Typically, more patience is needed with perennial vines than with annual ones. They take longer to establish and may not bloom for a year or two. It is often said about perennial vines that the first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap. Some, like ivy, only grow a few inches a year. Actinidia, on the other hand, is a twining perennial vine that grows rapidly. Clematis, wisteria and honeysuckle are popular perennial vines.
Some perennial vines die back during the winter and grow rapidly during spring. Others maintain their form throughout the cold season. To maintain an abundance of blooms it is important to know where blooms form -- on old wood or new growth. Pruning flowering perennial vines should be done after blooming so the next year's flowers will have maximum time to develop.
Without a doubt, the use of flowering vines extends your garden area upward, adding beauty, color, fragrance, privacy and charm.
Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and garden writer for the Journal-World.