If you have a postage stamp-sized yard or even a good-sized garden that's chock-full of plants, you may have to grow up -- with vines.
Both ornamental and functional, vines can provide privacy, screen out unsightly views and break up large expanses of wall with appealing foliage, flowers or fruit. They can soften and shade outdoor spaces and give your garden that instantly aged look.
But vines do more than just look good. They also help create sustainable landscapes by cooling buildings, radiating oxygen and absorbing CO2, while supplying wildlife habitat. In addition to being grown vertically as living walls, vines can be grown horizontally, as "green cloaks" that provide thermal insulation and delay stormwater runoff from rooftops.
Making sure you have the right plant for the right place is essential when growing vines. That's because the same qualities that make them desirable -- fast growth, ability to spread and adaptability -- also can make them hard to manage. When you're considering a perennial vine, be sure to determine its mature size, growth habit, weight and climbing mechanism.
Twist or grab
Most vines climb by twisting and twining around a support, but others anchor themselves with tendrils, suction-cups or rootlike holdfasts that help them cling to a wall or lattice.
Twining vines can be supported by almost any kind of trellis, from wires to rods to fences. Vines that use tendrils need thinner supports, such as wire, bamboo or narrow stakes that they can grip. Vines with heavy ropelike stems obviously need heftier support.
And those that climb by means of suction cups or holdfasts, such as Boston ivy or Virginia creeper, can scale walls, posts, arbors and trellises without any support at all. These types of vines, sometimes referred to as self-adhesives, are excellent choices for growing against a building, but be careful where you plant them: Their suction cups can stain wood and be difficult to remove from surfaces. Experts disagree about whether these vines can damage masonry, but they recommend against using Boston ivy or Virginia creeper in places where mortar is cracked or crumbling.
Care and training
Once established, vines are relatively low-maintenance, needing little water or fertilizer. An annual pruning will help keep more aggressive vines in check and allow them to maintain an attractive shape. To get uniform coverage, you may need to train vines on trellises at first. Always train the vine in the direction that it naturally grows. Vines can also be grown horizontally as a groundcover, especially on sloping sites, or left to tumble over walls.
Some vines will suffer dieback in Minnesota winters, but regrow from the roots in spring.
POPULAR PERENNIAL VINES FOR MINNESOTA
(Actinidia kolomikta 'Arctic Beauty')
Prized for its variegated foliage splashed with pink, green and white, Arctic Beauty is hardy to zone 3. Both male and female plants are required to produce the small, edible grape-sized fruit. Hardy kiwi does best in full sun to partial shade and can grow to a height of 15 feet.
The attractive, heart-shaped foliage creates a dense curtain of shade, almost hiding the unique flowers that resemble old-fashioned smoking pipes. Hardy to zone 4, it grows best in moist soil in sun to partial shade.
American Bittersweet *
Bittersweet is highly prized for its orange seed capsules, which are used in holiday decorations. Male and female plants are needed to produce fruit. To avoid Oriental bittersweet, which can become invasive, try named cultivars such as Indian Maid or Indian Brave.
Clematis is among the showiest of vines, with its delightful blooms that are shaped like star bursts or bells and come in a variety of colors. The lightweight vines are perfect for trellises, obelisks and other decorative supports. Most clematis sold in Minnesota will bloom on the current season's growth if cut to the ground before new growth starts. Clematis does best with an eastern exposure, but also thrives in full sun if it's planted in moist soil and receives shade at its roots.
Virgin's bower *
One of the best native vines for a back yard, virgin's bower is covered with lots of small, creamy white flowers in summer, which are followed by interesting seed clusters. This vigorous vine is hardy to zone 3 and grows in full sun to partial shade.
(Lonicera x brownii 'Dropmore Scarlet')
Dropmore is one of the hardier honeysuckles, surviving through zone 3. Its beautiful orange-red flowers are fragrant and attract scores of hummingbirds. In fall, birds eat the fruit the plant produces. One caution: It can be aggressive.
Virginia creeper, which climbs by using disk-like tendrils, can be a rampant grower, reaching 40 to 60 feet tall. It also can be used as a groundcover. In fall, its compound leaflets of five turn a blazing red color.
Boston ivy forms a dense screen by clinging with its suction-cup tips. This versatile vine can grow in full sun or deep shade and tolerates poor soils. In spring, its small white flowers attract bees. In fall, its foliage changes from brilliant orange to deep red.
Wild grape *
Wild grapes can be found growing along riverbanks and in woodlands across Minnesota. The fragrant white flowers yield small berries that make a delicious jelly -- if the birds don't get them first.
(Wisteria macrostachya 'Aunt Dee,' 'Blue Moon')
Wisteria is well loved for the beautiful, fragrant lavender-blue racemes that dangle from the vine in early summer. "Blue Moon" is a Minnesota-bred cultivar capable of surviving our winters. It flowers with two smaller flushes of blooms later in the season.
* Indicates a Minnesota native.
Rhonda Fleming Hayes is a Minneapolis-based garden writer. She blogs at www.thegardenbuzz.com.