Vines – By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”

Many of us have areas of the garden we do not like to look at such as unattractive fences, rails, or posts which we can not eliminate because of pets or children but we can cover these areas and make them part of the garden. Vines are nature’s tablecloth. We plant some vines to accent these unattractive areas or in some cases to cover them completely. For the purpose of this article I am going to give you a list of some of the vines I like for their blooming characteristics and others for the covering qualities. I will try to stay away from truly intrusive vines such as the Thunbergia grandifloria (sky vine) which take up too much room and require constant maintenance. I will also add my suggestions for any maintenance which you may be required to do.


 Petrea volubilis or “Queens Wreath” has been gaining more and more recognition as a great flowering vine. Over time Petrea can cover an arbor or fence with beautiful light and dark blue flowers resembling wisteria. This cold hardy vine is semi-deciduous meaning it will lose some of its leaves in the winter but will come back strong in the spring. Petrea prefers to be in a sunny location, preferably in the afternoon sun and acidic soil in the range of 5.5 to 6.5 pH. Use of an acidifying fertilizer like Azalea and Camelia fertilizers can help lower pH in calcareous soils however, if you are planting a new Petrea vine you may want to improve the soil first with peat, perlite, and a little compost or Black Kow to enhance the soil. By enhancing the soil before planting you will give your plant a much stronger start and fewer problems as time goes by. 

Most people look for vines in the one to three gallon range and if you are planning on covering a large pergola you should plant one plant on each upright or at least one on each end. With a little time and patience, your vines will cover your pergola and give you many years of enjoyment.

Wisteria is another vine I find to be excellent to cover unsightly fences or pergolas. Make sure you find the purple varieties which grow and flower in Central Florida. Many of the Chinese varieties will grow here and produce copious amounts of foliage but no flowers. One vine I grew had a trunk about 7 inches across. Great vine, too bad it never flowered. The purple wisteria may be hard to find but I know several nursery’s that now carry this variety and they blossoms regularly. I have grown this plant for many years and it is easy to care for. Just fertilize wisteria with light applications of fertilizer every 2-3 months. Too much fertilizer can limit blooming so be careful!

During the late summer to early fall, wisteria loses its leaves and seed pods will appear. These pods resemble legumes and you will clearly see why this is a member of the pea family. Seeds from these pods can be planted early in the spring giving you additional plants to give away come summer. I suggest that homeowners who grow wisteria to put some winter flowering plants in front of your wisteria plants to add color during the dormant season.  

Clerodendrum thomsoniae or “Bleeding Heart” is another great vine I have grown for years. Bleeding hearts grow best on a single wooden trellis or small fence. This small controllable vine will grow just enough to cover a trellis during the summer but is not invasive. Without tendrils to latch on to a wall or trellis, bleeding hearts rely on its ability to twist around support structures in order to climb. Throughout the summer this plant will produce lovely red flowers which contrast with their white calyces, giving the plant its namesake. More flowers can be produced through additional fertilization as this plant loves to be fertilized.

            Bleeding hearts like to be planted in a shady spot which has afternoon sun. Be sure to improve the soil around the base of your plant if you are going to grow it in the ground. Dig the planting hole twice as large as the root ball and then use peat, perlite, and a little compost to improve the soil before planting. Afterwards, place your trellis about 8 inches behind the root ball. Be sure to water every day for the first two weeks then every other day for the next two weeks. Pruning your plant helps it to branch and will give you a better looking plant. During the winter you will need to protect if from freezing by mulching the plant heavily.
Stephanotis floribunda or “Bridal’s Bouquet” is another vine many of you will enjoy growing in your garden. This small flowering vine can be grown in a small three gallon container or planted directly in the ground. Some people will actually countersink the three gallon container in the ground to protect the plants from weed whackers. This also gives you the benefit of being able to water the plant easier. I have had many of these vines and they typically grow on small 3 foot trellises or can be trained on a hoop. This vine grows very slowly but the rewards come in the summer when the plant goes into bloom. The waxy blooms are very fragrant and smell similar to gardenias. I have seen the flowers used in bridal bouquet arrangements because of their sweet smell and long lasting blossoms.

Caring for Stephanotis is easy. You will need to water the plants when dry and fertilize only lightly. I prefer to use a long lasting fertilizer such as osmacote which can be applied every two months. The blooms arrive in the summer and pruning should be done after the last blooms fade. Because this is a slow grower, many people use this plant indoors in a sunny location. Do not forget to water sparingly if kept indoors as the plants could rot if you overwater them.

I hope that if you are considering a vine for your garden you will consider one of these. There are many other choices of vines but these stand out to me. Thank you for your support and until next time, remember without plants we wouldn’t be here!

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