Why are we talking about vines this time of year? Possibly because “fruit of the vine, bottle of wine” and a warm fire make for a very nice time! Or, more likely, planning for covering an outside wall or fence with a highly fragrant honeysuckle or jasmine vine this spring. That new arbor you’re going to put up for more shade for the patio would be gorgeous dripping with double yellow or trumpet-shaped purple flowers—or both, for a jazzy combination.
If you live in the West you’ll need a stout shovel (and probably a pick) to begin the planting task. If you live in the midsection or Eastern part of the US, you’ll just need a stout spade.
Vines add a variety of new landscape dimensions that are often difficult to accomplish with other plant types. Ground covers, hedges, dividers (for narrow spaces), or even The World’s Largest Rose Bush in Tombstone, AZ, all shield against sun glare or heat and act as a privacy screen. There are many flower shapes, sizes, colors, fragrances, foliage textures, and for some, Fall-colored foliage and fruit (see above fruit reference). Little space is required and some vines thrive in marginal soils with minimal moisture and fertilizer. Many are adaptable to container landscaping for the patio or porch, and can become inside houseplants.
The four basic vine types are: twining vines, tendril-climbing vines, self-climbing vines (masonry), and non-climbing shrub-vines.
Twining vines: They are totally dependent on the size and extent of the supporting elements that their stems are wrapping around.
Tendril-climbing vines: The flexible side-shoot, slender tendrils wrap around and cling to anything they touch.
Trellises, fences, pipes, heavily fastened wire, and upright posts are fair game for tendril-type and twining vines. However, they will not grow against flat wall surfaces without some type of structural support. Depending on the size of the vine at maturity and its ensuing weight (vines can attain the size of something that looks big enough to eat hay and pull a wagon), some support structures may require additional wire stretched between masonry nails.
I recommended covering galvanized wire with sections of garden hose. And remember that the wall you’re going to add a splash of vinery green and color to may be in need of a fresh coat of paint someday. A vine on a hinged trellis can be laid down when the time comes. Also, a few inches of space between the wall and the trellis will help with air flow, reducing the chance of foliage diseases and preventing unwanted critters.
Self-climbing vines (masonry): Rough surfaces like stucco, concrete, stone, and brick are the means by which aerial rootlets, or tendrils tipped with adhesive discs, attach themselves. Plant vines such as these close to the surface so that they climb. Once the vines are attached and climbing, they’ll need little additional support.
A hard wind may peel a portion of the vine from the wall, which will require some creative assistance from you to hold the vine in place until it can reattach (think, one end of a band aid coming loose on that hairy arm and you only have that one band aid to use). One downside of having these types of vines on walls is that walls may require repairing or repainting when the vine is removed. A stiff brush (possibly wire, depending on the porosity of the wall’s texture) may be needed for removal.
Like most shrubs, vines like well-drained soils with adequate organic matter. Water them as you normally would for other shrubs and flowering plants. Use a good quality organic acid (humic acid) which, when applied to the soil, will stimulate beneficial microorganism numbers and diversity (remember, they feed the plant and help protect the plant from soil-borne pathogens). It will also reduce plant stress.
Organic acids are naturally occurring and are the product of the breakdown of any organic matter. Vines benefitting from these organic acids are seedlings, newly planted, and older, established plants.
In general, vines don’t need to be heavily fertilized. In fact, a number of species will bloom more profusely when stressed by reduced amounts of nutrition and/or water. Wisteria, cape honeysuckle, and bougainvillea come to mind.
Nearly all vines demand a commitment to some extra maintenance and pruning. Hedging or shaping for a particular landscaping effect, controlling unruly growth, accentuating flowering through use of a seaweed plant growth regulator, trimming of frost die-back to encourage healthy regrowth in the spring—all may be part of perfecting the art of viniculture.
But wait: that’s just for one particular type of vine!
Types of climbing vines by category (and in no particular order) are:
Grow from seed for a quick screen on a fence, a wall, post, lamp post, or as a container plant. Stout string, twine, or any light trellis for support will suffice. Local stockings of seed packets may include sweet peas, Canary Bird Vine, Hyacinth Bean, Black-Eyed Susan Vine, Morning glory, Balloon Vine, and ornamental gourds.