Vines for a Trellis

By Jeff Rugg

July 24, 2019 4 min read

Q: Can you suggest a vine-type plant that can grow and bloom mostly in shade? I have a trellis that I used to grow climbing roses on, but it has become quite shaded now. I don't want the vine to get too big.

A: The answer to your question will depend on how much shade the trellis gets during the summer. Most flowering vines will grow OK in deep shade but won't bloom very well. The less shade the better. If it is possible to prune a few branches from the interior of the trees — ones the trees don't really need — you may be able to get more sunlight to the trellis.

It is the natural habit of vines to grow upward toward the top of other plants to get to the sun and then shade out the plants growing underneath that would compete with the vine's roots for water. A vine growing in the shade will want to get to the top of the other plants. It is the nature of most vines to grow for as long as is necessary to get to sunlight.

Depending on where you live, one of the following vines should work for you.

My favorite shade-tolerant vine is one I have growing on a honeylocust tree trunk. The climbing hydrangea — hydrangea petiolaris — holds on by clusters of rootlets sticking out of the sides of the branches. It has white flower clusters about 4-6 inches across and can be very pretty. It can grow more than 30 feet long, but it fills in well when pruned back.

I have trumpet creeper — Campsis radicans — growing on another tree trunk, where the red flowers attract hummingbirds. This is also a potentially large vine, and it can send up suckers all over the garden.

Clematis varieties grow well in full sun and moist soil but will tolerate shade so long as it isn't full shade all the time. They need some direct sun or at least bright shade. Most of the large flowering clematis vines don't grow more than 10 feet long and work great on a trellis.

I talked to representatives of Donahue's Clematis, and they recommend the following nearly dozen varieties for shady locations: Abilene, Alaina, Bernadine, Candy Stripe, Chantilly Corinne, Fleuri, Nelly Moser, Samaritan Jo, Sapphire Indigo, Silver Moon and texensis Duchess of Albany.

Sweet autumn clematis or Clematis paniculata grows in partial shade and blooms in the fall with very fragrant flowers. It's awesome when it's in full bloom on a trellis. It can become invasive in some landscapes.

Bougainvillea flowers are beautiful, but some varieties have thorns, so be careful as to which one you pick.

Most wisteria sold is Asian wisteria, which can grow too big for your needs; Kentucky wisteria (Wisteria macrostachya) and American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) are good, both growing smaller than the foreign ones.

Purple passionflower has unusual looking flowers, followed by edible fruit called maypops.

Both confederate jasmine and Carolina jessamine have fragrant flowers. They also have evergreen leaves, so there is something to look at during the winter.

Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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