In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
October, 2009
Regional Report

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The porcelain vine shows off its brightly colored berries in early autumn.

The Showy Attributes of Porcelain Vine

It won't be long before a hard frost hits my garden and this year's deciduous vines lose their leaves and their fruits shrivel up. For now, though, it's time to enjoy their beauty. The vines' foliage and fruit make them a necessity in the landscape, where they provide screening and add texture and color to the autumn canvas.

One of my favorites for this region is porcelain vine, Ampelopsis brevipendunculata 'Elegans'. The foliage resembles grape leaves but with green and white speckling, making it quite handsome in the evening garden. I use it to cover the chain link fence, but this vine will also grow very nicely on trellises, arbors, and pergolas. You can choose which method is best for support depending upon your style of gardening.

This non-invasive vine is relatively fast-growing, putting on 15 to 20 feet of growth every year. In a hard winter it may die back, but it will regrow in spring. Porcelain vine has three-lobed foliage and climbs by tendrils; it's very similar in growth habit to concord grapes. Though its flowers are inconspicuous clusters of greenish-yellow blooms in summer, they're visited by bees in profusion and in late summer and early autumn, you will be rewarded with showy clusters of round, bluish-lilac fruits. As these fruits mature, they turn brighter with deeper shades of porcelain blue and amethyst.

To have porcelain vine produce the best display of colorful fruit, it is important to grow it in full sun to dappled shade. It needs support or it will grow rangy, sprawling over the ground. This spreading habit makes the vine good for spilling over large boulders or a retaining wall.

As long as the weather remains mild and the ground hasn't frozen solid, autumn is a good time to plant porcelain vine in your landscape. Just be sure to prepare the planting hole first. I add about one third compost to my native soil and then use this for backfill at the time of transplanting. With the coming of winter, don't forget to apply light mulch around the root zone to help in root development and also to retain moisture. If the weather is dry for prolonged periods, drag out the hose and do some winter watering. Many new transplants will succumb if we ignore winter watering, so now is a good time to make notes in your calendar to periodically check plants.

Take inventory of your landscape and see if porcelain vine or another similar plant would add interest. While the weather remains comfortably mild, I will continue to enjoy the unique beauty of my variegated specimen.


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