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Growing Together: Vines for fruit, flowers and fall color

Engelmann ivy can climb walls because tendrils have small suction cups called holdfasts. Photos by David Samson / The Forum

We can be fickle, and I’m amazed at Mother Nature’s patience.

A national garden center once received a request for a vine to cover a garage wall eyesore. The customer wanted it to fill in quickly because they couldn’t wait forever. The garden center sold them a vine that would fulfill their wish for quick cover. Two years later the irate client complained to the garden center that the vine was now growing over the roof. I guess they wanted a fast-growing, vigorous vine that had the intelligence to stop once it reached the rain gutters.

Vines can visually soften the hard lines of a wooden fence or add privacy to a chain-link fence. A vine-covered arbor creates a cool resting spot on a hot day. Vines hide unsightly views and provide privacy.

The main criteria in vine selection, besides regional hardiness, is matching the proper vine to the area you wish to fill. Some can cover a house solidly, including roof, windows and doors. Secondarily, decide if fruit, flowers or fall color would be nice.

Vines vary in the way they cling, and different structures are needed for different vines. Most vines climb by twisting themselves around the slats of a trellis as they grow. Others are able to climb brick walls and solid wood fences because they have little suction cups called holdfasts at the end of tendrils. Whether you need a wood trellis, a wire structure or just a solid wall will depend on the vine type.

Here are the vines best suited to our region:

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquifolia) is very vigorous, easily climbing to 50 feet. Its lack of suction cup holdfasts makes it unable to cling to solid surfaces of wood or masonry. But it turns a chain link fence into a living wall. Fall color is vibrant scarlet.

Engelmann ivy (Parthenocissus ‘Engelmannii’) is a selection of Virginia Creeper with holdfasts, giving it the ability to cling to walls. Vines growing on area buildings are usually Engelmann ivy. It can easily reach the roofline of a two-story building and has a scarlet fall color.

Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is a cousin of the previous two. Holdfasts and tendrils allow it to cling to masonry. It is less vigorous than its relatives, and smaller leaves give it a finer texture. Boston ivy can freeze back in severe winters but regrows from lower portions and turns scarlet in fall.

Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia durior) grows by twining, so trellis-like support is needed. Dark green, heart-shaped leaves conceal green-brown unique flowers that are shaped like a meerschaum pipe. Tops may freeze back but regrow from base.

American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) requires a trellis or wire fence. Prized for its showy scarlet ornamental berries, older varieties required both male and female plants for berry formation. A hot new variety called Autumn Revolution has perfect flowers with both male and female parts, so two separate plants are no longer necessary. This plant can grow to 20 feet.

Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) produces large, red-orange flowers on a vine that will cling to wood or brick surfaces. Although it is capable of reaching 30 feet, it commonly freezes back during winter, which reduces its height.

Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle vine (Lonicera) twines and twirls, producing a weighty vine requiring sturdy trellising. It will grow up to 15 feet, with bright scarlet tubular flowers from June to September.

Clematis is the most popular regional flowering vine. Dark purple-flowered Jackman clematis blooms prolifically with a twining habit. Ideal for a wall trellis or wooden fence with wire support added. The plant dies back yearly to ground level or slightly above but quickly regrows each spring, reaching 10 feet by season’s end.

Wisteria’s lavender flowers hanging in grape-like clusters and are popular in southern climates. Varieties like Aunt Dee are hardy enough for us, as is Blue Moon, which is a great improvement. Summer Cascade is being tested. Heights will average about 12 feet.

Climbing roses can’t twine or cling, so their canes must be tied to a trellis as they grow. Most of the climbers pictured in national catalogs covering arbors aren’t winter hardy. Choose William Baffin, John Cabot or Henry Kelsey.

Grape vines with tops that are winter hardy include Valiant and Beta, both useful for juice. Table grapes for fresh eating are less hardy, and tops should be pruned as needed. Try Edelweiss, Swenson’s Red, Canadice, St. Croix and others offered at locally-owned garden centers.

Kiwi vines hardy enough to produce fruit include Arctic Beauty, which needs male and female plants. Issai is self-pollinating but will produce better if a male is also planted.

Hops vines grow well, and the flowers are well-known for beer-making. But the vine is not very picturesque and becomes weedy.

Annual vines are planted from seed each spring and include Morning Glories, sweet peas, hyacinth bean and Cardinal Climber.