Vines offer a wide variety of uses in the landscape. They may be used as a ground cover or a fast-growing screen on fences or walls.

Often vines are displayed on a trellis or an arbor to provide shade for a deck or patio.

In addition to adding height to an area, vines require less space to grow; therefore, they are useful in tight spaces in a small garden. Versatile vines can be used to create privacy and hide unattractive areas in the landscape while also reducing noise and air pollutants.

Many flowering vines will also attract birds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects.

How to select a vine

When selecting a vine for a particular location, there are a number of things to consider. Start by evaluating the environmental conditions of the site. Choosing a vine that is well-suited for the location will help the plant be more successful. This includes determining the number of hours of available sunlight and space along with proper soil drainage needed for the vine. Vines may be either annual or perennial.

Annual vines provide beautiful flowers during the warmer months in South Carolina and are killed by the first heavy frost. Perennial vines, on the other hand, are more permanent additions to the landscape and may be either deciduous (losing their leaves in the fall) or evergreen.

When choosing a vine for a limited garden space, select one that offers year-round interests, such as colorful blooms, interesting foliage or bark, or a vibrant fall color.

Supporting vines

Many vines have a vigorous growth habit, and the weight may collapse weak support structures that are not strong enough. Knowing a vine’s grow habit will determine the type of support system required for optimum support. Do not allow any vine to climb to the top of a tree. Vigorous vines may compromise the health of the tree; therefore, maintain the vine’s height at a reasonable level.

Planting a vine on a chain-link fence will camouflage an unattractive eyesore into a more pleasing wall of color. Plant moderate growing vines, such as clematis, which climbs by twining, at the base of a small tree or shrub. Clematis likes cool roots and a sunny top and will make a delightful companion to a Japanese maple.

Pruning vines

Since most vines have an aggressive growth habit, periodic pruning will keep the plant healthy and attractive. Along with limiting the overall size, pruning thins out the interior stems and branches to allow more air and light exposure for a healthier plant.

Dead or damaged wood should also be removed. It is essential to know when the vine blooms to determine the best time of year to prune. If a vine is spring flowering, then flower buds were formed the previous late summer or early fall.

The best time to prune these vines would be immediately after they bloom in the spring. For all other types of vines, late winter is the best time to prune. A light pruning may be done during the growing season to keep a rampant vine in check.

Climbing vines

According to the way vines climb, they are grouped into four basic categories: clinging, sprawling, tendrils, or twining. Some vines will use a combination of climbing methods. Typically, all of these vine types will need some type of support system.

  • Clinging vines

Clinging vines, such as trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), cross vine (Bignonia capreolata) and climbing hydrangea (Decumaria barbara), have specialized growths called adventitious roots that act like suction cups. These tenacious roots grow along the stems of the vine and can attach onto any surface they touch.

Care should be taken in planting a vine that clings on rock, brick, or stucco structures. If the vine has to be removed for maintenance purposes, the suction cup-like roots will work their way into cracks and crevices of the structure, making them difficult to remove and will likely cause damage.

This is especially true when removing vines from stucco surfaces, as adventitious roots will actually pull off sections of the stucco from the building or wall.

One option to protect surfaces is to build a trellis a few feet away from the structure to support the vine. This allows space for maintaining or painting the wall behind the trellis. Also, avoid using a clinging vine on a wooden building or fence as it will damage the wood or cause it to rot due to excessive moisture.

  • Sprawling vines

A good example of a sprawling vine is a climbing rose (Rosa species). These vines tend to be vigorous and spreading. Sprawling vines do not have any type of natural support system; therefore, will need to be tied to a trellis or arbor for support.

  • Climbing by tendrils

Tendrils are slim, flexible, leafless stems that enable the vine to wrap around the support structure. The tendrils enable the vine to grab and wrap around a point of contact. Evergreen smilax (Smilax lanceolata) or passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) are good examples of vines that climb by tendrils.

  • Twining vines

The stems of these vines twine around any available support system. Similar to vines that climb by tendrils, twining vines grow best on wires, trellises or arbors. The South Carolina state flower, Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), climbs by twining. 

Barbara H. Smith is HGIC Horticulture Extension Agent at Clemson University.