Long before a ‘Vine’ became a short video that kids watch, and long after those videos are gone, vines have been part of the garden, both beneficial and malevolent. The right vine, in the right spot, can add flowers, privacy and interest where other plants simply will not fit. The wrong vine in the wrong spot can wreak havoc in the landscape.
What distinguishes a plant as a vine is the need for support. Vines use different methods to climb up walls, posts, fences and even other plants. Many vines such as wisteria, clematis and honeysuckle (Lonicera) use twining. That is to say, they wrap themselves around and around an object for support. This is important when you want (or don’t want) a vine to climb something. These vines will not do well climbing a flat wall for example, but do great on a trellis. Problems arise when this type of vine is growing up a tree or fragile structure. As they mature, they can choke or crush what they are growing on. Thick vines such as wisteria, bittersweet and wild grapes can overpower their support, be it a tree or trellis, over time. These aggressive vines can be heavily pruned in the off season to keep them in check.
Vines like grapes (Vitis) and peas use tendrils to hang on. This means they need smaller objects to wrap around, like a wire or a string. Some vines such as climbing hydrangea (H. anomala petiolaris), trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) and English ivy (Hedra helix) attach themselves to structures using aerial rootlets. This allows them to hang onto walls where twining vines cannot climb. It also means they can sometimes leave marks on what they attach to.
After you have considered the type of support needed, you can choose what other attributes you want from your vine such as flowers, fall color, berries or attractive foliage. The flowers on both trumpet vine and honeysuckle will attract hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden. Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) offers fragrant yellow flowers in the spring. Most varieties of clematis provide showy blooms in the spring, but autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) has small fragrant white flowers in late summer. For blooms all summer long you may want to try a tropical mandevilla such as the pink blooming ‘Alice Du Pont.’ Just keep in mind, it is not cold hardy, so you will need to plant a new one next year.
One of my personal favorite vines is climbing hydrangea which has attractive white flowers for much of the summer. There are also vines with unique foliage such as the large leafed dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia) and variegated kiwi vine (Actinidia kolomikta) with its random pink and white leaves. For fall color, Boston ivy (Parthenocissis tricuspidata) is hard to beat.
A few species of vines that were brought here have escaped the garden and have made themselves a little too at home. Vines like kudzu (the vine that ate the south), oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) and wild grape have taken over woodland edges in various regions of the country. If one of these vines is inhabiting your property, you should remove it before it spreads and damages your other plants, not to mention the rest of the neighborhood!