Every Blooming Thing: The pros and cons of vines

A Cecile Brunner climbing rose, which has very fragrant clusters of pink flowers for a long time in spring, generally is a vine that needs to be tied, although the thorns allow it to hold itself up a bit.


Many times when adding plants in the garden, planting a vine can be a fast and easy way to fill in an area. Many vines are quite fast-growing and free of pest and disease problems, and often provide a lot of colorful flowers over a long blooming season. Some vines that only bloom over a specific time of year, such as wisteria, bloom abundantly and provide a dramatic effect.  Some, such as star jasmine, will do well in full north valley sun or almost complete shade. They can fill in a bare area such as the surface of a fence or an archway over a gate in a fairly short period of time.  A few varieties can grow as an informal groundcover that will spread and cover bare ground.

The downside, however, is that many vines grow so fast that in a few years they can completely overwhelm an area they have grown onto. Varieties of trumpet vine can grow so fast that before long there are only leaves and flowers on the topmost growth, with a ton of bare brown stems underneath. Sometimes when a vine has grown so massive that it needs to be heavily cut back it can be hard to prune it without creating huge dead zones where we have cut the main stems unintentionally. Other times growth can start climbing into a nearby tree and after a couple of years the tree is practically smothered. And varieties that climb by twining around anything they come in contact with can start to strangle other plants or break wood structures they may be growing onto.

Some vines that we plant do need to be supported by being tied onto stakes or posts, but most have their own way of climbing. Tendrils, arial roots, holdfasts, thorns, or a twining growth habit all allow a vine to attach to nearby surfaces in order to climb. For the gardener these methods can be a pro or a con, often depending on the surface they are attaching to.  We’ve all seen the damage that aerial roots of English ivy can do to the wall of a house. They can begin to crack siding as they expand in size, and will leave an unsightly mess on walls even after the vines are pulled away. It’s interesting to note that “ivy league” universities whose older buildings are covered in climbing vines are not covered in what we think of as ivy at all, but rather it is varieties of the deciduous vine Parthenocissus, which rather than the aerial roots of ivy are holding on with holdfasts which don’t damage the surface beneath.

An important advantage of gardening with vines is that almost all of them can be easily propagated from cuttings. Probably all of us have started grape vines from cuttings at one time or another, but more than any other group of plants vines tend to be easy in this regard, provided the cuttings are taken from growth that’s not too new or too woody.

In order to thrive, plants in our area need to be able to tolerate a light frost as well as the summertime heat. There’s some flexibility with heat tolerance when there are shaded or sheltered location, and as a result there are many varieties of beautiful blooming vines to choose from. As will be apparent by now, my opinion is that some varieties are more trouble than they’re worth, but there are several that stand out with no downside. One of my favorites, shown in the photo, is the climbing rose ‘Cecile Brunner’ which has very fragrant clusters of pink flowers for a long time in spring. Generally it will need to be tied, although the thorns allow it to hold itself up a bit. I took cuttings of this climber from the home I grew up in when I moved to this area. That rose, which covers a long front fence and would get covered with thousands of fragrant blooms, was itself planted from a cutting by my father when I was young.

A very versatile option, mentioned above, is star jasmine. Knowing the botanical name, Trachelospermum jasminoides, is useful considering how many types of jasmine vines exist. There are many locations in our area where this plant can be seen doing well in full sun all day in summer, and it can also look good, but with fewer flowers, in nearly full shade. The very fragrant white flowers bloom in spring. This plant has a twining habit but grows slowly, and is unlikely to take over an area.  Plants that are placed without support will spread across the ground to form a groundcover about 8 inch tall.

To round off my favorites is a variety of honeysuckle that is harder to find for sale but which tolerates light frost, though a heavier freeze may cause some dieback of stems. Giant Burmese honeysuckle, or Lonicera hildebrandiana has, as its name suggests, leaves and flowers that are about three times larger than common honeysuckle vine. The large yellow and orange flowers are dramatic looking, and although this vine grows fast, it tends to have single stems that grow long and which can be trained where to grow instead of forming a huge tangled mass. Hopefully this plant will start to become easier to find in our area.

The Red Bluff Garden Club is affiliated with the Cascade District Garden Club; California Garden Clubs, Inc; Pacific Region Garden Clubs and Natural Garden Clubs Inc. 


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