In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Although not in bloom during the winter, bougainvillea softens a concrete wall in this downtown San Francisco garden.
Vines are a wonderful addition to any garden or patio and are easy to grow, especially if your area is small. Even if you don't have soil in your patio, you can plant vines in a container and train them to grow vertically by attaching some type of support on a nearby wall. I once supported sweet peas on a wooden fence by creating string sculpture of a snail using thumbtacks and twine. The sweet peas covered the sculpture quickly, but I knew it was there!
Vines are especially helpful for concealing a not-so-pleasant view, or for hiding and covering unattractive structures, such as drain pipes or gutters. The pipe can actually work as the support for the vine.
Think of vertical surfaces, such as fences and walls, as a blank palette for growing beautiful vines. Some vines, such as the creeping fig (Ficus pumila), will climb up a wall all by themselves, requiring no wires for support. Just keep in mind that the same adhesive that enables this type of vine to climb can also stick to, and remove, the paint from your house.
Others, such as trumpet vine (Distictis spp.), are more well mannered and do nicely on fences. Planting fast-growing vines in a planter box that has been adapted with a freestanding trellis is a common way to divide space in the garden.
You can buy all kinds of trellises at garden centers and nurseries. Plastic, wood, or metal trellises are all suited for growing different types of vines. There are even compact plastic trellises -- perfect for annual vines such as sweet peas -- that you roll up and store during the winter months.
Setting Up a Trellis
When growing vines or plants vertically, remember to set your trellis or support system in place before planting to avoid damaging the plant. Hammering and pounding after planting can be hazardous, and not only to the vine, if you get my drift.... Anchor trellises securely in the ground. In the case of a pole bean tripod or cucumber trellis, you should push or hammer your stakes into the soil at least 8 inches, deeper if possible. If you are planting aggressive climbers such as wisteria, it's a good idea to actually cement the support posts in the ground.
When you secure a vine to a fence or trellis, tie it loosely to allow room for the stems to grow and expand. Brads from a hardware store are handy for securing woody-stemmed vines to a wooden surface. Plastic tie wraps also work well, especially when securing young vines to chain-link fences. If you are into recycling, panty hose make excellent plant ties. Cut them into strips and keep them on hand in your garden shed.
Vines to Watch Out For
Some vines, such as the well mannered clematis, have lovely manners and are not invasive. I find the unique seedpods of the clematis almost as beautiful as the flowers. Wisteria, kiwi, trumpet creeper, and ivy, on the other hand, can topple arbors and trellises and strangle host plants. Keep aggressive vines in check with constant pruning. Runners from wisteria quickly make an escape into surrounding trees if you are not vigilant with your clippers.
Most importantly, if you grow ivy, please keep it out of trees. As the tree grows and increases in girth, and the ivy does the same, it will actually kill the tree, much as an anaconda squeezes the life from its victim. If you have ivy growing near trees, keep it trimmed at least 18 inches away from the trunk. If it is actually growing into your trees right now, quit reading this and go outside immediately and remove it!
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