What to do this week
By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening” on 970WFLA
Vines which work well in the garden and those that do not
Selecting a flowering vine to cover a wall or pergola should be fairly uncomplicated. Just go to a garden center and pick out one you like, right? Well, it is not that easy. There are many attributes of vines you need to know about before you consider using them in your garden. Some vines grow to enormous sizes. Others may not grow as large, but they will spread throughout your landscape by dropping seeds where you do not want them. In this article, I will go over several of my favorite vines for the landscape and a short list of vines you may need to think about before using them in your garden.
Flowering vines can help you to eliminate unattractive areas within the landscape by creating a mass of flowers that can take your breath away. Fences, rails, and pergolas can be transformed into focal points in the garden as long as the correct plant is chosen to cover them. Choose the wrong vine and that dream you had will turn into a nightmare. Some vines can kill large trees. Not by their sheer weight, but by the masses of foliage they create. These additional leaves act like a wind sail, which can cause undue stress to your plants and trees. One such intrusive vine is the Thunbergia grandiflora or “sky vine.” This particular vine is beautiful when it first starts out, producing loads of lovely blue trumpet-shaped flowers. Unfortunately, as the plant matures, entire tree canopies can be covered requiring major pruning and regular maintenance. I like vines that are slow growing and stay where you put them with little maintenance or pest problems.
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-blue flowers. This cold hardy vine is semi-deciduous meaning it will lose some of its leaves in the winter, but they will come back strong in the spring. Petrea prefers to be in a sunny location that gets afternoon light and acidic soil. To keep this plant healthy, please use an acid-forming fertilizer like you would purchase for Azaleas and Camelia’s. This past week I saw many of these plants sold at the University of South Florida Botanical Garden. If you purchased one of these plants, then you will want to improve the soil with peat, perlite, and a little compost or Black Kow to enhance the soil before planting. Improving the soil you will give your plant a much stronger start and fewer problems as time goes by.
Wisteria is another vine I find to be excellent to cover unsightly fences or pergolas. Look for the purple variety, not the white ones. 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 seven inches across. This was a great vine, too bad it never flowered. The purple wisteria stays where I want it with very little maintenance. Best of all, this vine will bloom profusely for you. I have grown this plant for many years, and it is easy to care for, no bugs. Just lightly fertilize wisteria every two to three months with Osmacote. Remember, too much fertilizer can limit blooming, so be careful!
During the late summer through early fall, wisteria loses their leaves and seed pods will appear. These pods resemble legumes, and you will clearly see why this is a member within the pea family. Seeds from these pods can be planted early in the spring to give you seedlings to share with your friends. I suggest that homeowners who grow wisteria, to put some winter-flowering plants in front of your vines to add color during the dormant season. This brings me to another vine in the pea family, the blue pea vine or Clitoria ternatea.
The Blue Pea vine is usually planted as an annual, but I have grown several that have lasted three years or more before they ultimately died over the winter. Plant seedlings you have started indoors during the winter, on a trellis in the spring. This small vine will produce the most beautiful, blue colored flowers you have ever seen, and you will want to grow additional plants each year. During the summer, this plant will produce its seed pods. These seed pods are edible and very tasty! You should eat some but be sure to save some of the seeds for planting next year. Pinching back the vines regularly will help to initiate new growth and to promote branching, which will give you a fuller looking plant.
Another edible vine I love to grow when I can find it at local nurseries is called the Malabar Spinach Vine. This little vine also known as Ceylon Spinach can be grown on a small trellis is incredibly beautiful. The leaves are dark green with a red midrib and stem. This plant loves the hot sun, but you need to keep the soil moist to prevent blooming. Blooming stops production of leaves and you do not grow this vine for the flowers. Malabar spinach is grown for its tasty foliage, which you can harvest regularly and cook them just like they were spinach. Insects are rare so you will not have to spray them too often to keep this plant in leaf production. The next vine I want to talk about is my favorite of all, the Stephanotis.
Stephanotis floribunda or “Madagascar Jasmine” is a small flowering vine that can be grown in three-gallon containers or planted directly in the ground. I have grown this vine for years, and they are very easily maintained. Typically, I grow mine on small six-foot trellises, but they can also be trained on a hoop. This vine grows very slowly, but the rewards come during the spring and summer when the plant goes into bloom. The waxy blossoms are very fragrant and smell similar to jasmine. Many of these blooms have been used in making leis and in bridal arrangements. Caring for Stephanotis is easy, just water the plants when they are dry and fertilize lightly. I prefer to use a long-lasting fertilizer such as Osmacote, which can be applied every two months. Prune plants only after the last blooms fade in the fall.
I do have a list of some vines you need to be careful of if planting them in your landscape. Lonicera sempervirens or Cape Honeysuckle is great for hummingbirds, but can grow very large. Confederate Jasmine starts out looking great, but over time gets top heavy and can pull fences over. Passion Vines produce beautiful flowers and fruit but require regular maintenance. Carolina jessamine can grow twenty feet a year; make sure you have enough room for its spreading habit. Kiwi vines will grow here but are also hard to manage. Bougainvillea vines are beautiful, but can easily grow out of their planting areas. Rangoon creeper has showy red flowers, but its spreading habits and thorns can be a nuisance.
I hope that if you are thinking about planting a vine for your garden, then you should consider one that will not overgrow the area you have chosen to plant it. The vines I have mentioned here are only a few of the choices you have but should help you make a proper decision. Vines can add beautiful color and are a means of covering unattractive items in the landscape. Thank you for your support and until next time, remember without plants we would not be here!