By Ginny Frizzi

February 18, 2011 5 min read

When it comes to home landscaping, most people think of such traditional things as grass, bushes, flowers and trees. But have you ever considered vines? They can add a unique look to property.

Vines are worth considering for several reasons, according to horticulturalist Neil Moran. "They can give you an instant landscape," he says. "Most people think horizontal when they think of landscape. Vines offer a vertical appeal and get away from traditional thinking that everything must be on the ground."

Gina Clemmons of Twisted Vine Design lists several advantages of including vines in home landscaping: "There are ecological reasons. Vines can provide tons of shade. Deciduous vines, which lose their leaves, provide cool shade in the summer and let the sun come through in winter. They can also provide privacy, blocking decks or hot tubs from the neighbors' view. Vines add interest against a stucco or brick house."

Other benefits include the colors and fragrances that vines bring to outdoor entertaining spaces. And some produce food, such as grapes.

"Grapevines are fun and beneficial for kids. They can go out and pick some grapes, which are healthy," says Clemmons, adding that some vines, such as the trumpet vine, also attract birds and butterflies.

Most vines grow fairly quickly and can be started in gallon tubs. Nursery owner Patti Rowlson recommends homeowners pay attention to the nature, size and eventual height of the vines they are considering. "You may not want a succoring vine or something you have to prune all of the time," she says, noting that honeysuckle is among those vines that grow quickly. Heritage roses, one of Rowlson's favorite vines, would be a good choice.

Clematis and Boston ivy are among the easiest vines to grow, according to Moran. "Clematis comes in nice varieties of colors," he says. "Once it is established, clematis is on its way but will stay contained. You don't have to worry about it being invasive. Just thin it out every few years."

Boston ivy is hardy and attractive and looks good on an outer wall or on a screen. "Everyone raves about Boston ivy," Moran says. "It is reddish in the spring and grows well" in most parts of the country.

Rowlson is a fan of akebia, also known as the chocolate vine. "We live in the northwestern corner of Washington state, where this plant maintains its unique foliage for nine months. The small flowers come in late spring and are multicolored creams and purples," she says. "I love it because the leaf structure is different and looks almost like an indoor houseplant. It has a unique flower."

Clemmons has a special affinity for the sweet autumn clematis. "It is super-fragrant and blooms in the fall, when other plants are petering out for winter," she says.

Rowlson has grown akebia on a trellis in her arbor. She planted vines on both sides, and they grew together at the top of the trellis.

Clemmons suggests planting vines in arbors and pergolas. And "vines can provide especially good lines along a fence," she says.

All three experts agree that people considering adding vines to their home landscaping should do their homework first.

"Many people don't know what they are getting into when they plant vines. Something that looks pretty, such as the Virginia creeper, can turn out to do damage," Clemmons says. "Be aware of how it grows and its growth specifications. A vine in a 1-gallon bucket that looks pretty at the nursery can grow so much in two years that it takes over your garden. Something like a grapevine is good because it is easy to control, has big leaves and is interesting to look at even when the leaves drop."

Kudzu is one vine that should be avoided, according to Moran. The reason can be found in the old but true saying "grows like kudzu." "Someone who plants kudzu might be in for a surprise. It grows quickly and can overrun a lawn or garden," he says.

Moran recommends that anyone looking to add vines to landscaping purchase them from a reputable nursery. "Be careful not to just stop along the road and dig up something. You really don't know what you're getting, and it could get away from you," he advises.

Rowlson agrees. "I don't recommend digging up anything. You might want to start your vine from a cutting from a friend or from a community plant sale or swap," she says.

Rowlson encourages gardeners to be open to new plantings. "Visit your local garden centers or nurseries; talk to your friends; or take a garden tour," she says. "Seeing what others are growing can provide some good ideas for your own options."

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