February 2013
The Magic of Gardening

Landscaping a Wall


Tangerine Beauty Crossvine

Putting Vines to Good Use

Vines are sometimes called the thugs of the plant world because many of them do harm to other plants. Generally speaking, they get their light by climbing on other plants which can be harmful to those plants. Think about kudzu, Chinese wisteria and even English ivy which make their living by climbing whatever they are close to including other plants.

This thuggish quality can be put to good use in the landscape in many ways, but it is all about proper plant selection for the job you have in mind. For instance, vines can be used to cover an arbor or pergola, or they could be used on a southern wall to reduce heat buildup in the summer.

There are several things to consider when choosing an appropriate vine for your intended purpose. First, vines climb in various ways. They may use tendrils to grab or they might twine around something or lastly they may cling with disk-like adhesive tips. The first two will require something to attach the tendrils to or twist around such as a frame or wire support. The last type can attach itself directly to a structure, but can do damage to the structure over time. You would not want to use clinging vines on wood structures because they can cause moisture problems which would lead to decay. Some of these vines can even cause problems to the mortar in brick or block buildings.

Virginia creeper


To avoid damaging a building, it is best to grow vines on a support system a few inches from the building to allow both air flow and reduce direct attachment. Aluminum wire or conduit-type tubing can work very well or even concrete reinforcing wire. Wood material can be used if it has been treated or is a slowly decaying type of wood such as cedar or cypress.

When choosing which vine to plant, you first need to determine whether or not you want an evergreen or deciduous vine. If you are covering a wall or structure for summer shade and want the sun to shine through during the cold winter months, choose a deciduous vine. Next you need to consider the amount of light the vines will receive. Lastly, think about the soil and water issues that may come up. It’s a good idea to test the soil and adjust the pH as needed for the species you choose. Pay close attention to water issues because plants near walls may miss out on natural rainfall due to the overhang of the roof or there may be areas that get excess water because of the roof runoff being directed into low spots near the home.

There are many great vines to consider, but some of my favorites include:

Crossvine is a showy orange or reddish-blooming native evergreen for full sun.

Armand’s clematis (evergreen clematis) has beautiful white and fragrant blooms in spring that grows best in part shade.

Coral honeysuckle is a great hummingbird plant for full sun to part shade that is native and not invasive like its Asian cousin the Japanese honeysuckle.

Climbing hydrangea has a beautiful white bloom and tolerates shade well.

American wisteria makes a beautiful arbor covering and is not a complete thug like the Chinese wisteria seen taking over large trees on roadsides all over Alabama.

Virginia creeper is often thought of as a native weed, but it has great fall color for spots where you want summer shade and winter sun and it is a great food source for many native bird species.

Tony A. Glover is a County Extension Coordinator in Cullman County.