Pretend for a moment that your garden is a room, carpeted with rich, colorful flowers and covered by a beautiful vine or two to cover the walls, and your garden room will be picture perfect.
But how do you choose the right vines, and how do you care for them once they’re in place? For the answers to these and other questions, let’s take a closer look at these accommodating plants.
Choosing a Vine
Before selecting a vine, think about where you’d like to grow it. For example, you could train a vine to cover a wall or fence, decorate a pillar or lamppost, create a sunscreen, cover an arbor, or simply take advantage of vertical space.
Once you’ve decided where to grow your vine, look for one that will be able to climb that type of support. Some vines, such as Boston ivy, trumpet vine, and Virginia creeper, have sticky disk-shaped pads that can cling to almost anything. This type of vine is perfect for scampering over rocks or up a brick wall.
Other vines, such as clematis and passion flower, have tendrils (spiral-shaped offshoots of the stem) that twine around supports. This type of vine is ideal for climbing fences or trellises.
Still other vines, such as wisteria and silver lace, climb by wrapping just their stems around a support. These vines are best suited for growing over pillars, posts, and tree trunks.
Planting and Supporting
Once you’ve narrowed the field to the right type of vine, the real fun begins.
Before you plant, make sure the support you’ve chosen will be strong enough to support the mature vine. Otherwise, the weight of the plant may damage the structure – or you may have to tear it down and retrain it after it’s grown.
If you’re planting along a fence or a wall, you may need to improve the soil first. That’s especially true if you plant on the leeward side of the wall, which gets less rain than the windward side. Mix in plenty of organic matter, and mulch after planting to conserve moisture. For flowering vines, you may also want to add some bloom-boosting fertilizer to the soil.
A self-supporting vine, such as Ivy, Virginia creeper, and climbing hydrangea, should be planted about three inches away from the structures you want them to climb. They need to be close enough to easily fasten themselves to their support.
Other vines, such as climbing roses, have no real way of supporting themselves and will require tying or weaving through a trellis. Lattices, horizontal wires, and plastic netting all make good supports. For the best results, plant the supported vines about six inches away from their structures, and tie the new shoots to the support using a soft, nonabrasive material like string, strips of cloth, florist’s tape, or twist ties. Once you’ve shown the vines which way to grow, they should carry on by themselves.
As a rule, vines need very little pruning – just enough to keep them under control. Remember to prune flowering varieties after they bloom so you don’t remove the flower buds. Non-flowering vines can be pruned at any time during spring or summer.
Unless the vine is self-supporting, remove it from the wall or trellis before pruning. If the main stems are very old, cut the branches back to 12”, leaving only the young, healthy stems. When the vine begins its new growth, reattach it to its support. If the main stems are fairly young, 1-2 years old, just remove their lateral growth.
Sometimes vines stop blooming for several years. In that case, you can prune the roots of flowering vines to force them into bloom. This slight trauma makes the plant think its life is in danger, so it blooms and sets seed to pass on its life. To prune the roots, simply plunge a spade into the ground in a circle about 18” from the center of the plant and again in two or three spots around the plant. Before long, your vine will be in bloom.
Vines are so beautiful and so versatile, no garden should be without at least one. So add one to your garden room this summer, and sit back to watch it grow!