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Choosing the Right Vines for Your Garden

Ask yourself what you want from a vine. Do you have a good spot, or can you create one? Some vines are big, rambling plants; others can fill and remain in their allotted spaces. Some vines offer temporary coverage, and others are long-lasting. Figure out whether you want flowers or fruit and whether you want the vine for part of the growing season or all.

Like other plants, vines fall into annual and perennial categories. Read on for info on which kind of vine may be a good fit.

Annuals and tender perennials

If you want quick gratification, annuals and tender perennials are for you. The vines grow quickly. If they're genuine annuals, they're capable of growing from seed to plant to flowering-and-fruiting plant over the course of one growing season. If they're tender perennials, they can accomplish much the same thing but benefit from a head start indoors (because they can't go outside until all danger of frost is past).

Neither annuals nor tender perennials tend to survive a typical, cold North American winter with temperatures that go down to freezing or below; thus, gardeners have to replace these vines each year. The tender perennials survive in Zones 9 through 11. Favorite tender perennials include black-eyed Susan vine, cup-and-saucer vine, bougainvillea, jasmine, and passionflower; favorite annual vines include moonflower, morning glory, climbing nasturtium, and annual sweet pea.

Hardy perennials

For a longer-term, dependable investment in your garden, perennial vines are a practical choice. Much like the perennials in your flowerbeds, perennial vines typically spend their first season getting established. An old gardener's saying describes the growth pattern of most perennial vines well: "The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap!"

In ensuing seasons, these vines return reliably and put on a good show year after glorious year. Please note that over time, their growth may get woody and some pruning may be necessary. Some favorite perennial vines include Boston ivy, English ivy, clematis, climbing hydrangea, mandevilla, creeping fig, crossvine, akebia, honeysuckle, hardy kiwi, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, and wintercreeper.

Perennial vines can differ in their foliage:

  • Deciduous: The definition of a deciduous vine is one that sheds its foliage at the end of the growing season (just like a deciduous tree). And just like a deciduous tree, the vine may treat you to a colorful fall foliage display first. Winter is a dormant period, and then the vine revives the following spring. Favorites include clematis (the fluffy fall seed heads are an attraction), silver fleece vine, trumpet vine, hardy kiwi, and climbing hydrangea (when the leaves fall off, you can admire the handsome shedding red bark).
  • Evergreen: Evergreen vines keep their foliage over the winter months (individual leaves do get replaced over time, but you don't run into wholesale or dramatic shedding time). In colder areas, the leaves may look rather freeze-dried, but they hang on. In milder climates, winter's show is mainly foliage, not flowers or fruit. No matter where you live, if you don't want a barren-looking winter in your yard, evergreen vines are worthwhile. Favorites include various kinds of ivy, creeping fig (tender perennial), crossvine, and some honeysuckles.
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