Some gardeners don’t like vines because of their unruly nature. Vigorous climbers like silver lace, honeysuckle, clematis, and hops can easily grow so big that they start to feel unmanageable. While that level of growth might be warranted in some locations, there's no reason that those of us working with smaller spaces can't also enjoy these plants. Pruning and trellising your garden vines will keep them under control and looking their best.
Growing Silver Lace
Silver lace vine, or Polygonum aubertii, is a deciduous or semi-evergreen (depending on the zone it's in) member of the Buckwheat family. These vines can thrive in a variety of soil conditions and don't require much maintenance once they've matured. In certain zones, silver lace can even become invasive and grow past the boundaries of the garden it was planted in.
Native to western China and Russia, these vigorous vines form dense growths of twisted limbs that look great wrapped around garden fences and arbors. Depending on your location, your silver lace vines could produce their small fragrant flowers from spring all the way into late fall. It's thanks to these white, wooly plumes that silver lace has also come to be known as "Fleece" vine.
Silver lace can usually handle being cut back down to ground level each year but responds better if trimmed early in the spring. While they're also drought tolerant, it's important to give these vines a good soaking at least once or twice a month — especially if you aren't regularly watering them with an irrigation system of some sort. It can take a year or two to establish itself in a less-than-optimal growing environment, but once it's grown accustomed to the area, silver lace proves to be a hardy climber.
The Sweetness of Honeysuckle
There are actually a few honeysuckle, or Lonicera, plants that are native to the U.S. These vining plants can easily be grown in either sun or partial shade and produce sweet-smelling flowers that attract hummingbirds with their nectar. As a kid, I used to pinch off these flowers and nip their bases to suck this delightful treat out of them. Honeysuckle varieties that are more shrub-like produce berries that attract seed-eating birds.
Unfortunately, the benefits these vines offer local wildlife come at a price. Some varieties of Japanese honeysuckle (L. japonica) can grow to cover extremely large areas, smothering other plants if left untamed. Still, these more aggressive species can be used to stabilize banks or hillsides with less-than-ideal soil conditions. In private yards and gardens, honeysuckle plants will require extensive annual pruning to be kept in check, but they can provide some excellent screening if trained along a fence or trellis.
Clematis, the Queen of Vines
The majority of the 200-plus species in the genus Clematis are twisting deciduous vines. Their erratic growth habits are often the reason gardeners either love them or can't stand them. These vines do well when supported by a sturdy fence, tree trunk, or garden arbor.
Like silver lace and honeysuckle, clematis is capable of growing in a variety of soil types. They prefer fast-draining soil that contains enough organic material to keep their roots cool and aerated. Some nurseries suggest placing rocks over the tops of clematis roots or placing a ground cover around their stems for additional protection.
Clematis vines also respond well to pruning, but because the group is made up of so many different species and varieties that bloom at different times of year, it's hard to say exactly when to prune them. For instance, those that bloom in spring should be pruned about a month after the flowering period ends, maintaining the main branches and restricting the sprawl. Varieties that bloom in the summer or fall should respectively be pruned in the fall and early spring.
After cutting flowers off of your clematis vines, try burning their stems to make them last longer indoors. I picked this tip up from The New Sunset Western Garden Book, my go-to guide for plant care. Who would have thought to do something like that?
If you ever find yourself in Lake Oswego, Oregon (on the outskirts of Portland), consider checking out the Rogerson Clematis Garden at Luscher Farm. This neat little place offers onsite tours and hosts lectures on clematis. In late May, the garden even puts on a vine-centric anniversary celebration.
Selecting the Right Vine
No matter where you live or what your vining plant needs might be, you should have plenty of options to choose from. I’ve even seen some gardeners use grape vines as ground cover in places where cold winters and summer frosts prevent them from being trellised upwards. Other vines like wisteria, bougainvillea, ivy, or star jasmine might also do well in your zones (though they certainly don't in mine). No matter what varieties you decide to bring home, remember than vining plants all serve the same purpose: they cover surfaces. Some will twist and wrap around themselves or nearby posts. Others might have smaller tendrils that reach out and wrap around other vines, wire mesh, or wooden slats. Decide what kind you want to work into your garden, do some homework, and visit a local nursery to see what options are available for your hardiness zone.