Looking for a way to decorate a fence, create privacy, complement a good architectural feature (or hide a bad one), or break a monotonous corner? Climbing vines, which have a large effect on a landscape but use a only small amount of ground space, could be your answer.
Their diversity of leaves, flowers, fruit, and structure makes vines exciting, and they should be considered an integral part of the landscape. The best thing about vines, though, is they are easy to grow, colorful, interesting, and fun, and they make nice fast-growing screens.
Vines are opportunistic plants with long flexible stems that typically rely on neighboring plants and other structures for support. Vines can provide shade, and many have colorful, interesting, and often fragrant flowers. Often they’re attractive to birds, and, if used as ground cover, they can help control erosion.
You’ve got a wide range of choices for structures to support your vines: a pergola or arbor, a trellis set 12 to 18 inches from the wall of the building, pillars linked by ropes, a fence, an arch framing an entryway to a garden, barrels, tree stumps. Structures may be made of wood, metal or plastic; the best types of wood to use for support structures are redwood, cedar, and cypress. Make sure that the support is strong enough to hold the weight of a mature vine.
Different vines attach themselves in several ways:
¥ Aerial rootlets, which don’t penetrate but secrete a cementlike material that helps them adhere to the surface, grow best on brick, block, and coarse bark or wood surfaces. English ivy and climbing hydrangea are examples of this kind of vine.
¥ Some vines climb with the use of tendrils — thin wirelike appendages, often with disk-shaped pads at their tips. Tendrils either wrap around their support or, if they have disks, secrete that cementlike material we discussed earlier, helping them stick to the surface. Usually tendrils are formed on the shady sides of the leaves. Plants with tendrils attach well to chain-link fences, metal-sculpted supports, and trellises. Tendrils with disks they cling well to brick, block, coarse bark, and other smooth or coarse surfaces. Grapevines, Boston ivy, Virginia creeper, and sweet pea are examples of vines with tendrils.
¥ Twiners are vines whose stems spiral around their base of support. They’re good for covering chain-link fences, trellises, poles, tripods, and trees with thin trunks. Twiners will not ascend the trunks of large trees. They either spiral clockwise or counterclockwise, although about 5 percent of species don’t show a clear direction). Examples include wisteria, bittersweet, honeysuckle, and Dutchman’s pipe.
There are many types of vines, differing in size, growth habits, means of attachment, leaf and flower characteristics, and blooming season. Some are slow growers that need help to get started; others take off at warp speed.
Every yard needs at least one vine. For more information, attend the University of Illinois Extension’s program on May 3 or 5 (see sidebar), or visit North Carolina State University’s Web page on vines, www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/hortinternet/vines.html.
Credit for information used in this article goes to Greg Stack, a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension.
Vines offer an exciting diversity of leaves, flowers, fruit, and structure that can add a new dimension to your garden.
The Sangamon-Menard unit of the University of Illinois Extension will offer “Climbers and Twiners: Vines for the Home Garden” at 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, and again at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 5.
Join Greg Stack, horticulture educator, as he explains how these versatile plants can add a whole different look to even small gardens. You’ll leave knowing what to look for in vines and how to care for them.
The program will be held at the U of I Extension Building, on the Illinois State Fairgrounds. To reserve a seat and obtain a packet of information, call 217-782-4617. There is a $2 fee.
“Vines for the Home Garden” is the latest installment in the U of I Extension’s “Four Seasons” telenet series.