Vines: The Easy Way to Add Beauty and Interest

Easy to grow, amazing to behold and totally underutilized by many gardeners, vines are among my favorite plants. Imagine a 20 foot honeysuckle vine exploding with flowers – all season long! A favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies, vines can provide privacy when grown on fence lines; add vertical interest when twined on an 8’ obelisk, and offer shelter and food for your local birds.

The incredible variety of vines assures that there is at least one for you. Whether in sun or shade, vines are pretty hardy and one of the least fussy plants around. There are perennial and annual vines, and if you want to try them, I suggest planting an annual vine first, to see if you like them. I guarantee you will be hooked. Here are some suggestions for annual vines:

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Annual vines

Cup and Saucer

Officially known as Cobaea scandens, this vine is my absolute new favorite. It takes a while to start growing, but once it does, it doesn’t stop until frost. Preferring full sun, Cup and Saucer can grow up to 20 feet, so I suggest having a tall structure for it to wind its surprisingly strong tendrils on. What amazes me most about this vine is the way the two inch flowers change color as they mature. They start out a creamy white, change to lavender, and then a deep royal purple. Gorgeous!

It is called Cup and Saucer because the flowers are shaped like a cup, or bell, with a saucer at the base. Very vigorous, dense and definitely an attention getter, it will bloom throughout summer and into late fall.

While labeled as an annual in most areas, if grown in hardiness zones 9-10, it can reach 40+ feet.

Spanish Flag

A VERY colorful vine, the flowers on this 10 foot plus vine are amazing. They look like tiny flags on a pole, progressing in color from light yellow, then orange, and finally deep red. Related to the Morning Glory vine, Spanish Flag’s Latin name is Mina lobata, and is also known as Firecracker Vine.

This vine should be a focal point in your garden. Plant it on a tall obelisk in a sunny spot and it grows fast. It will flower until frost, providing you with eye candy all season long. While large tri-lobed leaves are also attractive, Spanish Flag tends to lose them near the ground, so surround the vine with low growing plants, like sedge grass.

Nasturtium

A gorgeous, edible (yes, flowers on your salad provide a peppery taste) incredibly fast growing vine, Nasturtium comes in an array of rich colors such as red, orange, yellow and cream. The leaves are round, and some are variegated. Climbing six feet or more, its colors show best in full sun and continue blooming throughout the fall.

I have also grown this vine in a large pot, wrapping it around the center spike plant, and it’s flowers cascade over the side. Very easy to grow, you can even neglect it and it will be happy. As a matter of fact, if you fertilize it, you will have more leaves and less blooms!

Black-Eyed Susan

If you plant this smile inducing vine in full sun, you will be rewarded with a mass of colorful blooms throughout the growing season. A very cheery climber, it needs a trellis or some twine to support its growth. Easily reaching 10 – 12 feet, its flowers come in white, yellow, gold, orange and cream with a dark brown center, hence the name Black-Eyed Susan.

I planted a yellow Black-Eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata) on a trellis next to my mailbox post, and before I knew it, I could not even SEE my mailbox anymore! You will always be happy with this vine.

Cypress vine

Also related to the Morning Glory, Cypress Vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) is a fast growing flowering vine, with hundreds of white, red, rose or pink, star shaped flowers. Definitely one to try!

Easy to grow, it grows fast! Up to 15 feet in a growing season, it can produce massive amounts of flowers. A favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies alike, you will soon see many flying jewels enjoying Cypress Vine’s nectar. Deadhead spent flowers and you will be rewarded with many more blooms.

A warning – I planted this vine on a 4 foot obelisk. Big mistake. It grew so fast that it quickly covered the obelisk and then reached out elsewhere, grabbing on to my grasses and shrubs. I actually built a tepee over the obelisk to contain the vine. So, ensure you have a tall enough structure to support Cypress Vine, and you will have many months of enjoyment.

Moonflower

Very popular and also related to the Morning Glory family, Moonflower (Calonyction aculeatum) has amazingly fragrant white flowers that open at night. While it does best in full sun, it LOVES poor soil! Plant them where you can enjoy their fragrance during an evening stroll.

Morning Glory

Finally! What garden doesn’t have Morning Glory? This very popular, fast-growing vine produces many colorful blooms. Offered in shades of blue, purple, pink and white, the flowers come in many sizes and shapes, such as double petals, bi-colored, large or small, round or star shaped. You can even get one with variegated foliage. Unlike the night blooming Moonflower, Morning Glory (Ipomoea xxx) opens in the morning. Climbing to 15 feet or more, most of the varieties like full sun; however some varieties do prefer part sun, providing you with more options for planting locations. Labeled as an annual, this vine does self-seed, and it does it very well. You can rest assured that once you plant it, you will probably always have it. Be patient, as it can take up to four months to bloom, so plant it early. It lasts well into the season, so you will have plenty of time to enjoy the many varieties of Morning Glory.

Perennial vines

Once you have realized just how much you love vines, you will want to plant some perennials. They will come back every year, and you won’t have to do much to them, except trim them or cut them back occasionally. Following are some wonderful perennial vines:

Bittersweet

Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) has gorgeous red, orange and yellow berries each fall, and is a favorite of crafty people who like to work with a fall theme. It is very quick growing and can climb to 30 feet, so ensure that you have proper support, like a hefty, large trellis, for it. While the vine is very easy to grow, you need both male and female vines in order to get fruit, unless you select the newer Autumn Revolution, which contains both male and female parts. Highly recommended!

While the berries are wonderful food for birds, Bittersweet is poisonous to humans! It is good for decorating, especially in fall, because of its autumnal colors. Use a couple branches to decorate your mantle in the winter. It is a beautiful decorative vine.

Note: the Oriental version of Bittersweet is considered invasive, so make sure you choose the native American bittersweet.

Trumpet Vine

Also known as Trumpet Creeper or Hummingbird Vine (Campsis raducans), this vine is GORGEOUS! It blooms in mid to late summer with red, orange or yellow flowers and can reach 30 feet. Again, be sure you have a very solid support, because this is one hefty vine. Trumpet vine is easy to care for and grows in just about any soil. Its flowers appear at the end of a vine, in clusters of five and up. Be patient for this lovely, as it may take several years before it blooms. And please learn from MY mistake, don’t trim the ends until AFTER blooming, as I did so and cut off any chance of flowers that year.

Hummingbirds love this vine and are frequent visitors. Their tiny bodies disappear into the blooms as the flowers are quite large. Please note, this vine can spread through underground stems, so watch out for them and cut them back as far as you can.

Wisteria

Wisteria (Wisteria xxx) is beautiful and smells fantastic. However, it requires commitment. It is a very thick, woody vine and needs a very sturdy structure on which to twine for up to 30 feet. It also needs watching, as it can quickly get out of hand with its underground runners. It will take over a garden! To me, the benefits are worth the extra care.

Like Trumpet vine, do not cut the ends as that is where the flowers burst forth. And of course, I lost two seasons of flowers before realizing this! You can cut them back after blooming.

Wisteria takes several years before it will bloom, and those large, grape like clusters arrive in spring in shades of blue, purple, pink or white, depending on your variety.

Clematis

A very versatile vine, Clematis (Clematis xxx) has so many varieties that it is very difficult to choose which to adopt! Some bloom in spring, some in fall, or all season long. Some like part shade, some like sun. Flowers come in every color and shape; some with only a few giant blooms, and some with thousands of star like blossoms. The variety is seemingly endless, and butterflies, like me, love them all. One thing to note is that no matter the variety, Clematis like their feet cool and their heads in the sun.

Clematis, like all other vines, requires support, and a trellis would provide a lovely backdrop for this beauty. It climbs anywhere from four to 25 feet, and after the first season grows very quickly. I personally have about 20 clematis vines – each different and requiring different care. And I cannot choose a favorite among them! Please note that all parts of a clematis vine are poisonous!

Honeysuckle Vine

Honeysuckle (Lonicera xxx) is another great vine choice if you want to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. This easy-care vine can grow up to 20 feet, depending on type, and has highly fragrant, tube-shaped flowers of red, orange, pink, white or yellow that can bloom from late spring throughout the growing season. Grow them on a double trellis, or a very tall obelisk, as I do, and when it blooms, it is an amazing display of color. Some varieties are similar to evergreens and remain green all year round.

Available in many varieties, it grows well in sun and just about any type of soil. Its berries are a wildlife favorite in the fall. Please note that some types of honeysuckle may be invasive in your area, so check first before committing to this beauty.

Chocolate Vine (Akebia Quinata)

If you want a vine that is the talk of the neighborhood, and has flowers that smell like chocolate, this one is for you. Not only do its unique, dangling, bell shaped flowers have a lovely plum color, its foliage is also something to talk about. Each leaf is divided into five bluish-green, delicate looking leaflets. It is a vigorous grower and woody, so once you plant it, it is there to stay. Taking several years to bloom, be patient, as it is worth it.

Chocolate vine develops fruits in late summer. They look like little eggplants, are edible and have the texture of tapioca. I haven’t tried eating them, but I have heard that they don’t taste so good.

As with other vines, ensure that its support is strong and stable, as Chocolate can grow up to 40 feet! It can, of course, be trimmed after blooming to keep it in check.

Virginia creeper

I love this vine. Even though its flowers are tiny, its foliage is very attractive – growing red-tipped green leaves consisting of five leaflets – and turns deep red in fall. It is good for birds, as it develops purple berries in the fall. Be careful as the berries are poisonous to humans.

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) climbs, and climbs, up to 50 feet! I planted it on a trellis on a side of my house with no windows. It has filled out nicely and is beautiful.

This vine is also used as a grown cover – it doesn’t need to climb, but runs along the ground and quickly covers trouble areas.