Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Vines: The “Incredibles” of the Garden

Lemon lace vine (Fallopia)
Christina Hoyt
        Vines are much like superheroes. They have a notorious reputation and seem to gather either fan clubs or mobs with weed whackers wherever they ramble. We hate them for their uncontrolled behavior, yet love them for their ability to conquer the aesthetic evil in our gardens. They go where no shrub goes, shimmying up walls and defying harsh elements, protecting slopes from erosion and softening structures. There are a few vines whose superhero tendencies should be unleashed with caution (Virginia Creeper, Trumpet Vine, Boston Ivy) and other vines are outright noxious, the Kudzu of the south, and shouldn’t be messed with.
        How do we know what vine to plant?  No one would call in Superman to defend Gothenburg, nor would anyone expect to see Spiderman flying through the night. Nor should anyone ask clematis to scale a wall without support or Virginia creeper to stay in a nice tidy corner. Vines are created differently, and have specific characteristics that make them work for different tasks.
Only clinging vines, vines that grow with the assistance of adhesive disks or adventitious roots, can scale walls or smooth surfaces. They have small sticky pads that hold the vine to the surface and allow it to climb. Clinging vines tend to be some of the more aggressive vines. For example, Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) can scale three stories, growing out of compacted soil, and continue to grow about three feet a year! English Ivy (Hedera Helix), an evergreen, and the native Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefloia) are other examples.  On rough surfaces plants like the elegant but slow-growing climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris) sprout roots from the stem and hold the plant to the surface.
Chocolate vine (Akebia) with spring blossoms
         Vines that do best on poles, arbors or trellises climb by one of two methods:  either twining (the plant twists itself around the object) or by tendrils, little finger-like appendages that attach to the surface.  Most vines fall into one of these categories, giving an array of options to the gardener. Twining climbers like bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), wisteria (Wisteria spp.) and trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) work well on poles or arbors. For arbors and trellises, the best choices are vines that climb mostly by the means of tendrils like the more aggressive grape vine (Vitis spp), lemon lace vine (Fallopia aubertii ‘lemon Lace’), chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) or the less aggressive clematis.
         With all of the possibilities, it is important you check the vine’s credentials to make sure it will work for your site: how it climbs, how aggressive it is, how much support it needs and what it needs in terms of sun, moisture and type of soil.  Any reputable nursery will be able to help you choose.  So next time you have aesthetic evils lurking in your garden, don’t forget to call in the vines! 

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