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Columns

Learning to Grow: Do a little research before choosing vines

" ... Success with clematis is all about site selection," writes columnist and master gardener Jody Lay. "They like their roots to be moist and cool, but the foliage and flowers need full sun."
" ... Success with clematis is all about site selection," writes columnist and master gardener Jody Lay. "They like their roots to be moist and cool, but the foliage and flowers need full sun."

Vines are one of those plants I have always admired in other yards but struggle with them in my own. I’ll tell you a secret – even master gardeners kill plants.

When it comes to clematis, I’m up to seven kills. Yes, I’ve killed seven clematis plants – even a Sweet Autumn clematis, which is supposed to be easy to grow and carefree.

In my defense, success with clematis is all about site selection. They like their roots to be moist and cool, but the foliage and flowers need full sun. Unlike the magnificent, large-flowered varieties, Sweet Autumn boasts delicate, very fragrant, white flowers in fall.

Wisteria and trumpet vines have heavy, woody stems that get thicker each year. Pruning isn’t just suggested, it is required, unless you have very sturdy supports. You’ve probably seen old wisteria vines on pergolas. They look almost like grapevines, twisting and turning as they climb. Their beautiful purple flowers grow in clusters, like grapes. Butterflies and pollinators love them! Hummingbirds prefer trumpet vines with their orange, trumpet-shaped flowers.

If it’s songbirds you want, there’s bittersweet, known for its alluring autumn berries. Pick plants carefully; many species require male and female plants to produce fruit. Look for the American species. It is self-pollinating and easier to keep from spreading too aggressively.

Climbing hydrangeas are often seen growing up a tree or telephone pole. With white, lace-cap flowers, they thrive in shady spots but take a few years to really get going. They take root as they go and can grow anywhere from 30 to 50 feet, similar to many varieties of ivy.

Popular ivies, like Boston ivy or Virginia creeper, attach suckers to their structures. They may invade cracks, crevices and loose mortar. Prune them heavily to keep them at bay, but keep in mind they may be destructive to homes and buildings.

I’ve been most successful with honeysuckle. You can prune it back to almost nothing in the fall to keep the growth at bay each year. It is fragrant and covers my arbor nicely without trying to take over my yard or pull down any structures. No matter what species you decide on, try to avoid the Asian varieties, as they are more invasive and difficult to control in our zone.

Do your homework and find out what vines suit your needs and work within your limits. Find more information at http://extension.illinois.edu/vines/perennials.cfm.

Jody Lay is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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