Choosing the Right Vines for Your Outdoor Designs

For any sort of cover-up operation, just enlist a vine.

Vines can be an ideal solution for any cover-up operation, but choose wisely: A mismatched pairing can do more harm than good.

Need something super that will scale tall obstacles in a single leap? Do you have a less-than-gorgeous building that you want to camouflage? Or maybe you need some privacy from the prying eyes of neighbors when you’re hosting that romantic candlelit dinner alfresco. To soften a fence in green, disguise anything unsightly, or mask a multitude of sins, just grow up!

To make things happen vertically in a hurry, you can’t beat vines. They do athletics with the greatest of ease. Plus, they perform with panache. Most vines have handsome leaves, and flowers might be in your future. A well-chosen vine can turn an eyesore into a head-turner in fast order, without your having to hire a carpentry crew. The trick lies in choosing the right vine for the job. Insert something with too much muscle, and you might regret the relationship. Vines can be the answer to your issues, or they can be bullies. Select carefully.

Vines are all about pairing. Before letting one of these jolly-green climbers loose, consider the support system that you plan to provide. A metal trellis or wooden tuteur is fine company for a lightweight vine. But for shouldering the weight of a hefty rambler, you need something sturdy. Although vines can be your best friends, keeping the relationship balanced takes some planning before planting. Remember that vines can be clingy. Find the right chemistry, and you can have a positive relationship.

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Got an Obelisk?

Vines can furnish a great, quick vertical accent (or exclamation point!) in a garden. Rather than waiting for a shrub to gain height, train a vine on an obelisk or tuteur, and you’ve got instant height. Here are some dainty perennial vines that won’t become weighty issues.

Clematis: Most clematis vines are sufficiently lightweight for a long-term relationship with a metal or wooden support. Plus, its colorful stars are so pretty to look at (although some clematis form nodding bells). Clematis bloom over a long period of time, with large flowers that can be seen from a distance.


Honeysuckles: Although Lonicera sempervirens and its kin might eventually become hefty tangles of arms and legs, if you keep them under control by pruning, they can be accommodated by a strong trellis. And the tubular blossoms are a boon for attracting hummingbirds.

Passionflowers: Although most passionflowers are annuals, Passiflora ‘Incense’ and the native maypop are hardy. Climbing by ornamental tendrils, they produce abundant, intricate blossoms in shades of blue and purple throughout the growing season.


Long and Lean

Not all vines are grabby. Leaners are the safest vines for supports that might need to be painted. That way, you can simply prune your climber back or pull it away, as needed.

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Climbing Roses: Roses such as ‘New Dawn’ are legendary for their beauty. Planted in the right place (hint: away from foot traffic), a rose is one of the more romantic cover-ups you can plant. Want a climbing rose with no thorns? Try the pink blooming ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ — it doesn’t frisk passersby.


Want a plant that will fully camouflage an eyesore? These vines will do the job. Don’t be fooled because they start slowly. They have the capacity to envelope large blocks of space when they reach maturity.

Hops: A favorite with the home-brewing crowd, hops are fast-paced vines with masses of leaves capable of full coverage — so you want to be careful where you install the plant. The dangling cone-like flowers of Humulus lupulus are the parts used to flavor beer. Warning: Japanese beetles can be an issue.

Climbing Hydrangea: Although Hydrangea petiolaris can take a few years to gather steam, it eventually becomes a force that can cover just about anything. With lace-like flowers in summer, climbing hydrangea is often sent up the trunks of trees to provide interest at eye level.

Quick Camouflage

Annual vines are ideal when you need a temporary climber but don’t want to make a permanent commitment. They can be just as energetic as their perennial counterparts without your needing to worry about future seasons. There are lots of candidates. In addition to the vines mentioned here, check out cathedral bells, hyacinth beans, and scarlet runner beans.

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Jasmine: Most jasmines are not winter hardy in our region, but they quickly grow into lacy vines from starter plants in a single season. The winter-blooming jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) often stages a summertime performance, producing fragrant white flowers.


Spanish Flag: Hummingbirds flock to this late-summer/early-autumn blooming vine with arching wands of yellow and red tubular blossoms. Ipomoea lobata (formerly Mina lobata) also has lacy leaves on slender stems that wrap around their support.

Black-Eyed Susan Vine: Originally available only in bright orange with a black eye in the center, this plentiful bloomer is now sold with canary yellow or burgundy/pink blossoms. Called the clock vine, Thunbergia alata climbs only clockwise — so don’t confuse the poor thing by trying to train it otherwise.

Black-Eyed Susan vine

Edible Vines

Want to get maximum mileage from your space? Try growing an edible vine and reap the benefits for the dinner table. Peas (Pisum sativum) are delicious spring vines, but they usually peter out after the first heatwave. Note: Don’t confuse shelling and snap peas with sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), which are toxic. Most winter squashes and pumpkins cover ground quickly, and you can’t beat the rewards. And don’t forget beans. Plant pole beans, and you’ll have handsome flowers, a bountiful harvest, and a cover-up, as well.

Caution: Danger Vines

Some vines are capable of bringing down the house — literally. Japanese and Chinese wisterias are gorgeous, especially when they blossom. But beware! They are heavy leaners and send out underground colonies. Try the native Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’ instead. Boston ivy, Dutchman’s pipe, and trumpet vine can also become too rambunctious and require annual discipline. The silver lace vine (Polygonum aubertii) tends to seed itself hither and yon. And porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) has also proved invasive. Annual morning glories are a national mailbox tradition — but certain purple cultivars can seed themselves everywhere. The solution for this annual vine is to cut off all the seed pods before they scatter. With a little savvy, these energetic athletes can be your ally in the garden.

Porcelain berry

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