Selecting Landscape Plants: Ornamental Vines

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Ray R. Rothenberger
Department of Horticulture

Vines serve many useful landscaping purposes. Where space is limited, vines may be used as dividers or barriers. They can screen unsightly views or provide privacy for the patio or porch. The monotony of a long fence or blank wall may be broken with vines. They can soften harsh structural lines and blend the structure with other plantings. On steep banks and in other areas where grass is difficult to establish and maintain, vines may be used as groundcovers.


Selection of a suitable vine depends on its intended use, location, soil adaptability and type of support. Dense, coarse foliage is desirable if a screen is needed. A fine-textured, slow-growing vine should be selected to add pattern and interest to a stone or brick wall. A decorative vine should possess desirable flowers, fruit or foliage for seasonal interest.

Some vines have tendrils Figure 1
Some vines have tendrils that wrap around any type of support.

Twining vines Figure 2
The twining vines climb by winding their stems around any available support.

Disklike adhesive tips Figure 3
Some clinging vines climb by means of tendrils with disklike adhesive tips that attach to any surface.

Small aerial rootlets Figure 4
Other clinging vines attach themselves to surfaces with small aerial rootlets along the stem.


Vines are of three different types according to their method of climbing whether by tendrils, twining or clinging. The kind of support may be determined by the type of vine selected.

Tendrils are slim, flexible, leafless stems that wrap themselves around anything they contact (Figure 1). The grape is probably the best known vine that climbs by means of tendrils. Twining vines wind their stems around any available support (Figure 2). Clinging vines climb by means of either tendrils with disklike adhesive tips that attach themselves to any surface (Figure 3) or by means of small aerial rootlets along the stems that attach themselves into crevices of a rough-textured surface (Figure 4).

Vine supports

Twining and tendril-type vines climb best on wires, trellises and arbors. They can be grown on flat surfaces only if proper supports are also provided.

Clinging vines can be used on either brick or masonry walls. They should never be used on the walls of frame buildings. Their method of climbing has a tendency to damage wood. These vines cling so closely to the wall that moisture is likely to collect under them and cause the wood to rot. Grow clinging vines on trellises far enough from the siding of wood structures to allow for free air circulation behind the vines. The trellis should be removable to permit painting the siding without damaging the vine.

Vine supports should be constructed with sturdy, durable materials. Wire, tubing or wood may be used to make suitable support. Copper or aluminum wire or tubing supports are preferred over other metals, because they will not rust. Redwood, cedar or cypress are the more durable woods for such structures. Structures made from CCA-treated lumber will also have a greatly increased life span.


Most vines grow best in a fertile, well-drained soil.

Plant bare-rooted vines in the spring before new growth starts. Plants growing in containers may be planted any time during the year.

Young vines should be trained to provide the desired growth pattern. New canes may need to be fastened into position by tying them with a soft cloth.

Some vines grow rampant and appear overgrown unless they are severely pruned at frequent intervals. Only when a naturalistic effect is desired and there is adequate space should vines be allowed to grow freely. Vines may develop sparse foliage low on the trellis and develop a mass of foliage at the top. To prevent this, pinch back the terminal growth of the stems as they develop. Pinching forces lower branching and more even distribution of foliage on the trellis.

Vines growing poorly should be fertilized in early spring. One cup of a 5-10-5 or similar analysis fertilizer should be worked into the soil around each vine.