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Past Articles Library | Gardening Design | Climbing Vines In Your Garden

Climbing Vines In Your Garden

Whether they are climbing up a trellis, over an arbor, or up the back of your house, climbing vines are can be beautiful.  However, vines can also overwhelm the object they are climbing or be ill suited for climbing the object they are planted near.  Here are some things to consider when planning what vine you plant in your garden.


Annual climbing vines last only one season.  You must plant them every year.  Perennial vines, however, will come back year after year.  When picking a perennial vine to grow, you must pay attention to the hardiness zone you live in and the hardiness zone listed for the vine.  The hardiness zone tells you if the plant will survive the winter where you live.  If your zone is larger than the plant’s zone, it will function as an annual, dying every winter.  However, if your zone is equal to or smaller than the vine’s zone, than it will survive the winter at your location.  The vine will go dormant in the winter, unless you live in a place where it does not get cold in the winter.  After the cold has gone, however, the perennial will start growing again.

In addition to selecting a vine for its winter hardiness or annual appeal, consider the size the vine will be when it is full grown.  A huge vine may overwhelm a trellis or arbor in a small garden, while it may look fine in a larger garden. A fine, delicate looking vine may add character to a brick or stone wall or fence.

Invasive versus aggressive

Some vines are invasive, meaning they will escape your garden and disrupt the natural environment by growing there and displacing native species.  A vine may be invasive in one location and not invasive in another location.  Check with your local Extension agent for a list of recommended vines for your location.

Aggressive vines may grow very quickly each season.  They grow over other plants.  They may overwhelm the trellis or arbor they are on.  These vines must be pruned constantly to keep them in check.  If you do not mind the constant maintenance, the vine may look very nice in your garden.  However, if you just want to plant the vine and watch it grow, these vines are probably not for you.

Methods of attachment

  • Vines use different methods to attach to the structure they are planted near.  Some vines twine around the attachment.  This means that structures such as trellises, chain link fences, or arbors provide the best support.  Wisteria, trumpet vine, and honeysuckle are examples of vines that twine.
  • Some vines use thin, leafless tendrils to attach themselves to objects.  They can attach themselves best to thin lattice, chain link fences, wires, twine, and other objects with small diameters.  Grapes are an example of this type of vine.
  • Another method of attachment for vines is wrapping their petioles (the short stem that attaches the leaf to the vine trunk) around the object they are climbing.  Clemantis is an example of this kind of climbing vine.
  • Aerial roots can also be used by vines to attach to objects.  These roots need something rough to attach so such as masonry, rough wood, or bark.  Note that allowing these vines to climb your trees may smother the trees and kill them.  Climbing hydrangea is an example of such a vine.
  • Hold fasts are smooth disks that some vines use to attach to smooth surfaces.  Virginia creeper is an example of a vine that uses this method of attachment.

Support structures

Large vines, especially perennial vines that grow every year, can get very heavy.  It is important to make sure that the support structure they are growing on can take that much weight.  For example, a honeysuckle vine can easily get large enough to cause a wooden fence to collapse.  If you want a vine on a structure that is not able to support a lot of weight, either choose an annual or be ready to prune the vine vigorously every year.


Most vines prefer being in the full sun.  There are, however, a number of vines that will grow in part shade.  Flowering vines planted in part or full shade will not flower as well as they will in full sun.  Be sure and check whether your vine needs full sun, part shade, or full shade and plant accordingly.

Vines also need fertile, well drained soil.  They will not tolerate wet feet without getting root rot.  The soil must be very fertile to support the large mass of most vines.  Before planting the vine, till the soil to a depth of six inches.  Spread three inches of compost on the tilled dirt.  Till in the compost until it is well mixed with the soil throughout the entire six inches of the tilled soil. This provides fertile soil that drains well.

When planting, dig a hole that is twice as wide as the vine’s root ball and half again as deep.  Carefully spread the roots in the hole so that they are in good contact with the soil.  Fill in the hole, making sure that the trunk of the vine is buried to the same depth it was in the pot it grew in.  Water it in well, using additional soil to fill in the hole as the water settles it in.

The exception to these instructions is the clemantis.  It should be planted with the first two buds on the trunk buried in the dirt.


Basic maintenance varies by the vine.  Some vines should be pruned in the winter or early spring, while other vines are pruned in the summer after flowering is done.  Your local nursery or Extension agent can tell you when the best time to prune your vine so you do not inadvertently harm it.

Fertilizing also varies by vine.  Annual vines that are growing well need little fertilizer.  Perennial vines should have a cup of general purpose fertilizer such as 10-10-10 worked into the soil around them.  After applying fertilizer, water it in to deliver the nutrients to the root zone.


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