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Vines add interest to the garden by providing a variety of shapes, colors, textures, and in some cases, fragrance to your landscape. They can climb walls, cover arbors, hide ugly fences, creep along rock gardens, create a sense of privacy and shade us from the sun. The best part about perennial vines is that they do it year after year.
Some vines, such as wisteria, are wonderful for the shade they provide, as well as the beautiful flowers. Others, such as ivy, do well when trained against a wall or as a frame around a doorway. Still others, like clematis, mask a plain wall, fence or post by transforming it into a beautiful spot in the garden.
Most perennial vines are classified by how they cling to a support: twining stems, tendrils, adhesive disks and aerial roots. Twining vines, like wisteria, wrap themselves or "twine" around a structure. Tendril vines, like grapes, use leaves or tendrils to reach out, grab supports and pull themselves up a wall. Still others, like Virginia creeper or English ivy have adhesive, "suction cup" disks on their aerial roots, enabling them to cling to walls without any additional support.
The type of vine you choose for your garden will determine the type of support structure you need. A twining or tendril vine will need wires, trellises or arbors to grasp as they climb. A vine with root-like tentacles can be grown on stone, brick or concrete, but should not be grown on wood due to their propensity to collect moisture and cause structural damage.
Pruning is necessary to remove old wood, keep a vine in bounds, and produce more flowers. Vines that flower on new wood are pruned before new growth begins; those that flower on last season's growth are pruned immediately after flowering. Since foliage vines are pruned to control growth and direction, timing is less crucial.
Wisteria: As a northern gardener, I had wisteria envy for the longest time. Usually only hardy to Zone 6 or 7, there are now varieties hardy to Zone 4 (although they seldom grow to their full-size). Wisteria vines need full sun and because established plants get quite heavy, they need a sturdy support structure. Species grow to 15 feet or more and have fragrant white, pink, lavender, or violet flowers on long clusters. These vines flower in late spring or early summer and look like their dripping cascades fragrant blossoms.
Everlasting Pea (Sweet Pea): Perennial pea is and old favorite twining vine that likes full sun. It has white, rose, or magenta flowers beginning in summer and continuing to bloom through fall. The flowers have little or no fragrance and because of its large size, this vine is well suited to fences and back borders. Sweet pea grows rapidly and are a breeze to start from seed.
Clematis: Tried and true, the clematis is a vine that enjoys sun to partial shade and loves to climb its way up an arbor. The large, dramatic flowers are available in so many colors and forms now, that it's hard to stop collecting them. Clematis blooms in the summer and produces a prolific amount of long lasting flowers. This versatile vine also works great on balcony railings, draped in containers or sprawling along the ground.
Climbing Hydrangea: These vines are not nearly as well known or as popular as the hydrangea shrub, but they outperform the shrub in beauty. With dark, shiny green leaves, and huge white clusters of fragrant flowers, climbing hydrangea bloom in late June and early July. With bright yellow foliage in the fall and interesting winter bark, this vine is gorgeous all year long. Climbing hydrangea is slow to establish. It needs moist, well-drained, and fertile soil in sun or shade. It does not twine, but clings with its roots and needs a strong support structure.
Honeysuckle: Honeysuckle vines vary widely in type and desirability. The pink flower buds of the Goldflame honeysuckle open to a creamy yellow center starting in March and lasting until winter. The flowers are slightly fragrant and the hummingbirds love them. Goldflame honeysuckle is also evergreen. It is the first plant to show growth in the spring and the leaves stay on the vine until the temperature falls below 20 degrees. It doesn't form berries like its invasive cousins. This vine grows 10 to 20 feet, so it easily traverses a fence, goes over an arbor, or up a trellis. It will grow in shade, but with fewer flowers.
Trumpet honeysuckle has bluish-green leaves and while its flowers are not fragrant, they are very showy. 'Magnifica' has big, bright red flowers with yellow centers. 'Alabama Scarlet' is dark red. 'Sulphurea' has gorgeous, pure yellow flowers with bright green leaves. Trumpet honeysuckle can grow 10 to 20 feet or higher depending on the structure.
Depending on where they are grown, many vines can become invasive and take over your garden. For example, stay away from Japanese honeysuckle (also called Hall's Honeysuckle). This invasive plant is illegal to cultivate in Illinois because it has invaded many miles of woodlands, choking out all other plants. Before planting any vines, check with your country extension office to determine if it has been problematic in your area or if cultivation restrictions apply.