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Gardening Articles

Perennial Vines

by Joan Reynolds

After years of gardening for the elk & deer, I finally demanded we get "elk proof" fencing. It was not installed until this fall, but so far, I have seen no evidence of them getting in. Last year they were SO naughty, devouring so many of my favorites. I started out the season with a positive attitude, "oh, but look what they left." By late July I was screaming, "Have they no mercy?"

Anyway, I have planted a few things, but want to do more. Here are some suggestions for perennial vines that will help to cover and beautify the elk fencing.

Actinidia - Hardy Kiwi
2 Varieties that will grow in Zones 3-8. These are woody, climbing vines with 3 to 6 inch heart shaped leaves. They get delicious, 1 inch long berries that look like hairless kiwi fruit. They grow 10 - 20 feet in height and 3 - 5 foot spread. Plant in full sun to partial shade. They like evenly moist, well-drained, ordinary garden soil. They are said to grow rapidly & will need trimming each year.

  • Actinidia arguta - has fragrant, 3/4" white flowers that bloom in mid to late spring. The foliage of this variety is green.

  • Actinidia kolomikta - also has fragrant ¾" blossoms, however it sounds more interesting with foliage that is variegated with white or pink.

Ampelopsis - Porcelain Berry Vine
Some books say Zone 4-8; others say Zone 5. My nail lady has been raving about this vine, which she planted in a container with a trellis in Lakewood. I plan to plant this in my sheltered garden, which is bordered on the North with the house, the East with the greenhouse and the West with the front porch, leaving it open on the south & well protected from wind. This is a little 'microclimate' garden that I can try things that are 'iffy'. If it thrives there, I'll take cuttings & root some for the fencing. My friend purchased her plants at Echter's. I'm very anxious to try this intriguing plant!


Ampelopsis brevipedunculata 
A woody, deciduous vine with beautiful ¼ inch berries in late summer and fall. The 3 lobed leaves are quite attractive - often mistaken for wild grape leaves. The foliage turns a lovely scarlet in fall & the berries start out yellowish- green, then change to turquoise-teal, then deep purple. The berries have a unique crackling effect that resembles fine porcelain. This vigorous vine can grow 15 - 25 feet in height with a 5 - 10 foot spread. Plant in full sun to partial shade with ordinary, well drained soil. It can tolerate dry, rocky soil. For optimum conditions, plant in humus - rich soil. It can become invasive, although the cultivar, A. b 'Elegens', which has variegated foliage is less rampant.


Aristolochia durior - Dutchman's Pipe Vine 
Grows in Zones 4-8. Another deciduous, woody vine with 6 - 12 inch leaves, heart to kidney shaped. It has tubular, 3" ill- scented flowers that are often hidden under the leaves, that are shaped like tiny pipes. It can grow to 30 feet high with a 2-5 foot spread in full sun to full shade. It likes moist, well - drained humus enriched soil. Excellent for an arbor or screening plant; be sure to provide good support. Campsis -Trumpet Creeper grows in Zone 4-9 and has blooms of yellow, orange or scarlet, depending on the cultivar. The blooms are tubular, 3 inches long with 5 lobes. The foliage is glossy green with compound leaves with 7-11 leaflets. (Kind of a Jacob's ladder type foliage.) They climb by aerial rootlets to 10-40 feet with a 1-2 foot spread. Plant in full sun to light shade in fertile, moist soil. They may require winter protection from the wind although some varieties die to the ground each winter.

Celastrus scandens - American Bittersweet 
Grows in Zones 3- 8. It grows 10-25 feet with a 4-6 foot spread. A beautiful vine with grown for its bright red-orange 1/3 inch fruits, that are surrounded by waxy golden bracts that appear in the fall. The deep green 3-4 inch leaves are egg shaped. Plant in full sun to light shade in any kind of soil. If grown in fertile soil, it can become rampant. "Grow both male & female plants to ensure fruit production."

There are MANY varieties and hardy from Zone 4-10, depending on the variety. The blooms can be purple, pink, mauve, lavender, blue, yellow or white. The prefer slightly alkaline soil, that is rich, moist and well drained. The most important thing to know about these gorgeous vines is that they really like to have shaded, cool roots and sun up top where the vines grow. They are shallow rooted, so don't plant other things too closely or they will compete for nutrients. Mulch the heck out of the roots & provide good support. They may need tying up as they grow. The elk are very fond of these. I have a "native clematis" - bridal veil that has taken over my entire front porch and beyond. Because it was blocking sun to the front door (and I got a rare prune-happy whim), I cut it to its ankles summer before last. Last summer it recovered nicely and grew about 8 feet. Need cuttings?

Humulus lupulus - Common Hops
A spectacular vine that grows in Zones 3-11. It grows 10-25 feet with a 12-18 foot spread. This twining vine has attractive grape-like leaves that are rough surfaced with 3-5 deep lobes on long stems. The dangling fruits are kind of cone shaped and used for beer flavoring. They like full sun with deep, well drained soil amended with humus. Peggy Fetchenhier has had success with these. They are grown from roots (which aren't easy to find).


Humulus japonicus - Japanese hops 
Grow 20-30 feet, but the flowers do not make true hops. The variety 'Variegatus' has foliage marked with white. Japanese hops can be grown from seed which should be sown in the spring where the plants are to grow. The roots are perennial; the tops die back in the fall. If anyone finds any hops roots, seeds or plants - please let me know! I will continue trying to find seed/root sources.

Lathyrus latifolius - Perennial Sweet Pea
Grows 4-8 feet with a 1-3 foot spread in Zones 4-9. The sweet pea flowers come in white, pink, red or purple. They are incredibly woody rooted- I thought I was digging up pine tree roots when I transplanted some this fall! I hope they survive. They prefer full sun with well-drained, evenly moist soil. (I found they could tolerate less water.) Remove old flowers or pick for a sweet bouquet to prolong flowering.

Lonicera - Honeysuckle grow in Zones 4-9 with a height of 5-15 feet and a spread of 1-2 feet. There are loads of varieties. Great for trellis's or arbors. The humming birds love them and the tubular flowers come in pink, purple, yellow, orange or red. Some have contrasting colors on the inside of the bloom. They like full sun in moist, well-drained soil. Once they become established they can tolerate dry soil. They smell wonderful! Try growing 2 different varieties to twine together on a fence or arbor.


Parthenoocissus quinquefolia - Virginia Creeper or Woodbine

Highly adaptable vines grown in Zones 4-8. The can grow 10-50 feet high with a 2-3 foot spread. Full sun to full shade with moist, well-drained soil makes them happy. Karla Briggs advises to mulch them heavily in the winter to get them established. The foliage is incredible with large 2-6 inch toothed leaves that are divided into 5 finger like leaflets. In spring the leaves are tinged purple, then turn deep green. In the fall they turn a magnificent scarlet. Clusters of tiny greenish flowers in the summer turn to ¼ inch dark blue berries. There used to be one in our neighborhood that grew up a 2 story garage, then over on the power lines. It was spectacular in the Fall!


Rosa - Climbing Roses
Not really not true vines, just roses that have exceptionally long canes that can be trained over an arbor, trellis or fence. Many varieties are hardy up here, but may require winter protection. They will need to be tied up to train them. Check our LOCAL nurseries for the best varieties for our short summers & tough winters. Be sure to get roses that are grown on their own roots for the best success up here.


Wisteria floribunda- Japanese Wisteria 
Vigorously growing woody vines that are hardy in Zones 4-9 or Zone 5 depending on which book you consult. They bloom best in full sun and take patience: they often require several seasons before they will bloom. The much awaited pea-like, fragrant, lavender, 1-2 inch flowers grow on clusters 1 foot or longer. The foliage has compound leaves that are 10-15 inches long with 13-19 leaflets. Moist, well-drained humus enriched soil is their preference and can grow 20-50 feet in height and 4-8 feet wide.


This seems like another candidate for my micro-climate garden. I have often admired pictures of them, but always thought they would be impossible here. I see myself looking very feminine sipping lemonade and reading a book of poems under an arbor of wisteria in my odd flights of fancy. More likely, I'd be taking a rest with compost all over me, and a warm bottled water to slug down. Who knows what a lot of time and patience might bring?


The books I checked out at our Evergreen Library for reference include:

  • Lawns, Ground Covers & Vines from Better Homes and Gardens

  • Step by Step Successful Gardening - Janet H Sanchez and

  • The Climbing Garden by Cathy Wilkinson Barash.

  • Western Garden Book from Sunset (the often referred to Bible of Gardening!)


A few sources for hops vines: The Thyme Garden 1-800-487-8670 has 4 or 5 varieties. Web address is

Paulino's catalogs will have nearly all the perennial vines (including the Porcelain Berry Vine & Wisteria) as well as Hops. If you've never been there, it's a marvelous nursery with very knowledgeable staff and a huge selection.

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