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Gardening Articles

Annual Vines

by Joan Reynolds

You do not necessarily need a fence to have vines. To add vertical interest to a garden, you can make a teepee with plant stakes or put in a pole and tie strings in a circular or semi-circular arrangement for vines to grow up. You can also use arbors, arches or unusual found objects to create all kinds of looks. Containers can easily hold tomato cages or small arbors - be creative! Just make sure whatever you're using as a support can handle the vine's weight. Annual vines can add a wall of living color in a sunny location. I would suggest starting the annual vines from seed, sowing in March or April. If seeds are not commonly found at nurseries, I'll try to give catalog references. Know that ordering by catalog will give you far more varieties than most nurseries have room to display. I'll start with a few veggie's.


There are many varieties. You will need to start seeds 4-5 weeks before 'setting out'. They prefer a limey soil with good drainage. These vines get pretty heavy; also be sure you have access to both 'sides' (front and back) for picking. I grew these one year in a greenhouse and had a great crop.


Again, there are many varieties. Choose plants or seeds that are disease resistant with a short growing season. I do mine in the greenhouse, with a few in large pots too. Tomato cages are a must! I have had to invert cages on top of the first one in the greenhouse, adding string to support things to the hooks in the ceiling. You'll need soil with abundant phosphorus for early crops. Do not set outside until night time temperatures are above 45 degrees. Tomatoes need consistent watering. Blossom end rot (where the non-attached end of the tomato turns brown and mushy) is a sure sign of inconsistent watering. They like potash and comfrey tea is a great source of potash. Be brave and try some of the unusual yellow varieties the cherry tomatoes do well in containers, as do the pear tomatoes.

Pole Beans 
Make sure you're not getting bush beans or you won't have a vine! These are real space savers in the garden and can be great producers if harvested regularly. There are several varieties available from seed including the very slender 'Filet' or French beans that are so tender and pricey if you can find them. Look for short growing season varieties. Johnny's Selected Seeds has many varieties including the skinny ones. Park Seed also has a good selection.


Hyacinth Bean
These are beautiful vines with dark green leaves tinged with purple. The blossoms are a gorgeous violet with deep maroon beans. They are great trailing from a hanging basket. They will grow 3-6' tall. The stems are also deep violet. These are more ornamental than for eating, although they are edible


Scarlet Runner Bean
These beauties grow 6-9' and are wonderful for attracting hummingbirds. The blooms are orange-scarlet and will continue blooming if the beans (which are tasty when picked young) are continuously harvested.


Sugar Peas or Snap Peas

These are the wonderful peas we like to eat raw or put in salads or stir-fries. I grow them on the east side of our deck where there is lattice to the ground (about 10'). I learned long ago that they do NOT like overhead watering. (It was so easy from the deck!). I now have a soaker hose along the base of them & they grow much happier. Soak the seeds overnight - Julaine taught me to add some kelp while soaking. This should prolong their season. Keep them harvested for more crops. Many of mine never make it to the kitchen-they get eaten in the garden. The old 'rule' is to plant on St. Patrick's Day. I have found that the ground is usually still frozen and if I do put them in too early, they rot. I now start them in the greenhouse and transplant them when things have warmed up.


Annual Sweet Peas
Oh, the fragrance of these charming flowers. There are endless varieties of colors, all of which are lovely. But the fragrance and enchanting shape are their best qualities. I look for the most fragrant ones with longish stems for cutting. Again, soak the seeds overnight. They grow 4-5' and like to have cool roots, so mulch them well. They aren't crazy about heat, so plant them in a cooler spot. (Often not a problem for us!) These look spectacular in a 'teepee' and can be done in a container in this way too.

These vines grow to 6' in sun to part shade. There are many colors - white, purple, red, pink, etc. They have small foliage with clusters of tubular, lip shaped 2" flowers. Some have contrasting throats. Very striking when they bloom!

Black-Eyed Susan Vine- You can decorate a mailbox post, porch railing or use in containers - these 6' cheery golden-orange flowers with black eyes blooms, really brighten the trip to the mailbox.

Cobaea or Cup & Saucer Vine - This lovely vine has huge, graceful, bell shaped flowers. The most popular is violet, but other varieties are white or key lime colored. They are vigorous growers to 20' in full sun to part shade.

Madagascar Jasmine
Stephanotis floribunde- This incredibly fragrant flower is used in bridal bouquets. It has thick, shiny green leaves with clusters of 3-6 tubular waxy, white flowers. I had these in my wedding bouquet and definitely want to try them. I found seeds available from Park Seed and Thompson and Morgan.

Love in a Puff (Cardiospermum halicacabum)
This vigorous climber will reach 8'. It sports sprays of small white blossoms that are then followed by pale green, 3 sided 'balloons' which are actually seed pods. They are quite intriguing - popular with children. The foliage is lacy green and can easily create a screen. Also known as Balloon Vine.


This grouping has many different flowers - the Morning Glory being the best known. These seeds will need soaking or notching (take a sharp knife and take a small 'notch' out of the outer hard coating of the seed). The Morning Glory vines come in a huge assortment of colors - many bi-colors. Generally they grow from 6-8' - some taller. Most open in the evening and close before mid-day, but will remain open on cloudy days. They like full sun and have 2 to 4 to 6" trumpet shaped blossoms - some highly fragrant. The hummingbirds love the red, orange and maroon ones. Growing many colors together can be fun, but remember, you need to admire them early to see them opened.

Mini Lobata or Spanish Flag
These vines easily climb 10' or more and have 3 lobed, red tinged leaves that look like upside down fleur-de-lis. The blooms are vertical sprays of tubular flowers that range from crimson to creamy yellow in color. Plant in a sunny spot and watch them bloom many colors at once!

Nasturtium - These peppery tasting, edible vines can be used as ground covers, in hanging baskets or on supports. They can grow to 8' and prefer cool weather. Many are only 12-20" - so they are better suited for baskets. The color span is from creamy yellow to hot pink to hot orange to deep brown-maroon. Some have bi-color leaves, which are also tasty in salads. Peggy Fetchenhier has a wonderful recipe for stuffed blossoms that I have been fortunate enough to enjoy.

Purple Bell Vine (Rhodochiton atrosanguineum)
This spectacular vine grows to 6-10' and produces masses of pendant, deep purple bell shaped flowers. They like sun to partial shade and are another one I've just discovered and now must try! Seeds available from Park Seed, The Cook's Garden, and Thompson and Morgan. I hope you will try a few vines this year, containers make it easy if you're short on space. Seeds are so much fun - watching the miracle of seed to sprout to seedling to a tall vine, twining and cascading with flowers is a magical gift that nature gives us.

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