The Q&A Archives: Climbing Vine

Question: I am looking for a vine that will climb a brick wall. The west end of our house gets very hot in the summer evenings. We cannot plant a tree because we have a water main that runs though our yard on that side, therefore I am looking for a evergreen vine that will shade the house and can tolerate lots of sun.

Answer: Here are a few suggestions:
Bittersweet (Celastrus sp.) Two types of bittersweet commonly grown for ornamental use in the garden are the native plant American bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculata).

The American bittersweet is a vigorous vine that grows 10 to 20 feet tall and climbs by means of twining stems. It will thrive in almost any soil or exposure except a wet, boggy situation.

Bittersweet is planted mainly for its attractive fruit, a favorite in dried arrangements. Reddish-yellow fruit capsules open in early autumn to expose red-orange berries. The fruits are grouped in terminal clusters, which make them conspicuous before the leaves fall.

Oriental bittersweet is similar to the American type, but grows more vigorously. Vines often grow 30 to 40 feet tall. Fruit is similar in appearance but is borne in lateral clusters that are smaller than the American type. It is colorful as a garden plant, but the small clusters are less desirable for dried arrangements. Another type, the Chinese or Loesener bittersweet, is less hardy but grown because of its prolific fruiting habit.

Bittersweet produces male and female flowers on separate plants. Male and female plants must be grown to ensure fruit set. Male plants are more vigorous growers and usually must be pruned harder than female plants to prevent the berry-producing plants from being crowded out. One male plant should be used for each five female plants.

Bittersweet is not easily transplanted due to the spreading root system. Thus small, young plants should be used. Plants grow rapidly once established, and can become a nuisance if not pruned back occasionally to keep them under control. The vines should not be permitted to climb trees or shrubs as they have the ability to choke them out. Bittersweet occasionally may be infested with euonymus scale but has few other insect or disease pests.

Boston ivy or Japanese creeper (Parthenocissus tricuspidata)

Boston ivy or Japanese creeper is one of the best vines for covering large masonry buildings quickly. It is a fast-growing, close-clinging vine that climbs by means of adhesive disks. The vine is tolerant to many soil types and grows in full sunlight or in shade.

Boston ivy grows to a height of 50 to 60 feet. Its green leaves stand out and overlap on long stalks. Leaves turn rich tones of scarlet, orange or purple in the fall. The new growth in spring is reddish bronze. The flowers are inconspicuous but attract a large number of bees. Fruit is fairly showy in the fall after the leaves are gone. The bluish-black berries are attached to the vine in grapelike clusters and persist after the leaves have fallen.

The vine is well adapted to city conditions. When given free rein, the vine will cover windows, doors or other objects in its path. It requires annual pruning.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.)

Only a few climbing honeysuckles are generally available and suitable for landscape use. Most widespread are Hall's honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica 'Halliana,' and Scarlet trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera semperivirens. The semivining Everblooming honeysuckle, Lonicera heckrotti, and the Sweet honeysuckle, Lonicera caprifolium, are also sometimes available.

Hall's honeysuckle is a semievergreen vine with wiry stems that climb 20 to 30 feet by twining, or that form a groundcover by rooting at the joints. It is a rampant vine that easily grows out of bounds, and becomes a pest unless it is carefully controlled. Flowers open white and turn pale yellow. They are produced from June to September. Black berries are produced in the fall, but are of little ornamental value. It is considered by some to be an invasive plant because birds can spread seeds to natural areas. It should not be placed where it can climb on other plants or trees. It needs annual pruning to keep it in bounds.

The trumpet honeysuckle is a loose-growing vine with twining stems and semievergreen bluish-green leaves (see Figure 7). Scarlet trumpet-shaped flowers are produced from May to August at the ends of the branches. A yellow-flowered form is also available. Red fruits attract the birds in early fall. It will grow 15 to 20 feet high.

Everblooming honeysuckle is a semishrubby vine that climbs up to 15 feet by twining. It is somewhat spreading with blue-green leaves and bright carmine flower buds that open to show deep yellow inside the trumpet. It is slow growing and can either be grown on a trellis or trained as a shrub. Its flowers are produced from June until September.

The Sweet honeysuckle has oval to elliptic leaves that are bluish beneath. It is less common than the other types listed here, but along with Tellmann honeysuckle, it is suitable for landscape use if available.

The climbing honeysuckles are among the easiest plants to grow in the garden. They will thrive in either sun or shade. Although they perform best in good garden soil, they will tolerate poor soils. Well-drained soils are best, however, as they do not tolerate wet, boggy conditions.

Honeysuckles stand severe pruning and can be cut back to 6 to 8 inches if they have grown out of bounds or need rejuvenation.

Hope one of these suggestions is just right for your garden!

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