Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
April, 2005
Regional Report

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These wonderfully scented sweet peas bloom near my front porch from early summer until first frost.

Perk Up Your Garden With Annuals Vines

Annual vines are really versatile. Their wide range of foliage textures and flower colors offers choices that complement every garden style. These plants are especially suited to small gardens where there is rarely room to spread outward, but always room to reach upward. Fences, walls, arbors, or even the air space above beds and borders can provide annual vines with a home.

I think annual vines are among the most rewarding of garden plants. They are easily started from seed, fast-growing, and undemanding. Most annual vines bloom profusely in summer when many other plants flag from the heat.

Choosing a Support
Finding a structure to support annual vines can be one of the most creative aspects of growing them. Fences, walls, trellises, and poles are the most common supports, but you can allow your vines to romp harmlessly over spring-blooming deciduous shrubs or dwarf conifers, or you can build a rustic tripod out of cedar stakes. A friend of mine turned an old weather vane into a colorful sight by planting a mixture of morning glories at its base. The key to success is to match the support to the vine's mature height and its climbing habit, and always make the support stronger than you think is needed.

Annual vines need little care. I fertilize and water them as I would any other annual flower. Most do not require deadheading, and I've never had to spray for insects or diseases. But they do require support and often some training to start climbing.

I prop up fledgling vines with a bamboo stake or thin twig to help them reach their permanent support. The first shoot may need a little coaxing to get a foothold, but then you can stand back and let the vine do the work. As the vines mature, a network of stems and leaves provides support for the new shoots to grasp onto. Errant shoots can be gently tucked back in with the rest of the plant, and if the vine oversteps it boundaries, just prune back the wayward shoots.

Favorite Annual Vines
Scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) will quickly and brilliantly cover fences, trellises, and other garden structures. These are a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies. The plants need full sun, plenty of water, and moderately rich, well-drained soil for best growth. This vine produces flaming scarlet-red flowers throughout the summer. The blossoms are less than an inch across and grow in clusters similar to those of sweet peas. The flowers are followed by edible pods, some up to a foot long. The purple and black speckled beans are edible. Pick the pods often to promote continued flowering.

Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) lend a cottage feel to gardens. These twining climbers bear clusters of flowers in a wide variety of colors including red, pink, blue, white, and lavender. The stems appear folded and the flowers resemble fringed butterflies. The old-fashioned varieties have clear colors and intense fragrance. Some of the newer cultivars have vibrant colors but only mild fragrance or no fragrance at all.

Sweet peas are very easy to grow, doing well in a variety of soils, and flowering best in full sunshine. I water mine during dry periods and fertilize once in the spring. Aside from removing dead flowers before seeds develop, sweet peas require little maintenance.

Morning glories (Ipomoea tricolor) give much in return for little effort. Their flower colors include white and white combinations, as well as blue, purple, pink, and near-red. I like 'Heavenly Blue' because of its pure blue flowers, but another striking cultivar is 'Chocolate', which has variegated leaves and pinkish brown flowers outlined in white. Morning glories enjoy full sun and well-draining soils and seem to flower best in hot weather.

Another dazzling twiner is hyacinth bean (Dolichos lablab). This member of the pea and bean family is a spectacular vine that never fails to attract attention. Its stems and flower buds are beet purple, its compound leaves are purplish green, and its flowers, clustered on upright spikes, are purple-pink and white. Hyacinth bean is a heat-lover and will scramble over a west- or south-facing wall with ease, or happily grow up a trellis in a sunny spot in your garden.

The world of annual climbers is rich with possibilities. This wonderful group of garden plants will never fail to provide summertime pleasure. No matter what size garden you have, or where you garden, there is an annual vine for you.

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Today's site banner is by nmumpton and is called "Gymnocalycium andreae"