Vines and Climbers

As a group, vines are problematic. We want them to perform very particular functions, and there aren’t a lot of great options, especially in the shade, and evergreen, and flowering — and noninvasive. Yes, we want it all!

Uses

  • To cover chain-link fences and other ugly garden “features”.
  • To add interest to the trunks of large trees.
  • To scramble down walls and up trellises.
  • To add verticality and simply more plant space in small gardens.
  • For screening in narrow spots, and for extremely narrow spots, espaliering is an option.
  • To provide shade over a pergola or a hot west-facing deck.
  • To attract pollinators.

Problems

  • Twiners like honeysuckle and English ivy can kill a tree.
  • English ivy, Japanese honeysuckle and lots of others can overrun the garden and invade natural areas.
  • Most take lots of human attention to train them to grow up their supports.
  • Many require lots of pruning to keep them just where you want them, a problem I rant about in this article about hardy kiwi.
  • Some, like wisteria (even the better-behaved American species) need strong supports, stronger than many gardeners give them.
  • In high-visibility spots, like at garden entrances or near the front door, nonevergreen vines can look pretty sad for half the year.

Supports

  • Lattice, with lots of affordable types available in the hardware stores and lumber yards, in wood, plastic, fiberglass or metal.
  • Fences. Wood fences need to be pressure-treated.
  • Walls. Don’t attach English or Boston ivy directly, but to a trellis in front of it.
  • Galvanized pipes or rebar set in concrete on the ground and reaching as high as the eaves of the house. Wires can then be strung across the bars, creating a ladder effect. Nonrusting, sturdy and utilitarian. Plastic-coated or galvanized reinforcing wire can be attached to walls or fences. Always leave space between plants and wooden structures, though.

Top photo (honeysuckle) by Dave McMillian at USDA. Bottom photo: Bignonia/crossvine.