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Beautiful Vines for Shade & Screening

by Nellie Neal

Versatile vines look like hanging carpets of color and texture in your garden. Whether you use them to shade, screen or just for pure pleasure, you can choose from perennial or annual vines with evergreen or deciduous leaves. Be sure to buy or build a sturdy trellis and install it well – those vines will surprise you with their vigor.

Use vines to:

add height to a new landscape with trellises among growing trees and shrubs.

block the view of the neighbor with lattice panels along the property line.

grow grapes on a pergola with benches and shade-loving plants beneath.

turn an old swingset frame or a bamboo teepee into a shady space for kids.

bring flowers and fragrance up close on a string trellis at the end of a balcony.

break up and soften a blank wall by installing a wire or chain trellis to hold it. 

Design strengths

Evergreen vines rate high with gardeners for color and dense cover. They offer design continuity – their texture and dense cover are a year round landscape feature. Colorful new growth, flowers and even berries add dimension.

Perennial vines mean flowers, shade, often fall color, winter berries and great design lines when leafless. On south and west walls, a perennial vine cools the summer and warms the winter exposure.

Annual vines deliver cover and color fast – you’ll have both in your garden in just a few weeks after planting. Add a view where none exists, harvest a crop of beans or grow flowers for day and night bloom with annual vines.

Buying guide

Growth rate directs your choice of vines when time is of the essence. Read up on the vines you like the look of to see how they’re rated: slow (2 inches a year), medium (about a foot a year), or fast (12 to 20 feet in a season). It’s a wide range of growth, and you can push any of them a bit with frequent applications of fertilizer. But for longest life in your garden, choose the vine that matches its needs with your conditions for sun, shade and moisture. Check your hardiness zone and heat zone, too, when buying perennial and evergreen vines. Buy one to three gallon pots for evergreen and perennial vines with multiple stems as long as you can find. Take the vine’s growth rate into consideration and plant closer together for faster coverage if you’ve chosen a slow grower. Look for good color in the leaves, stems with no bruises or sunken spots, and flowers if they would be on the plant naturally at the time you buy it. Shop for fresh seed for annual vines each season or store your own in a cool, dry place over the winter. For fastest cover, seed thickly and thin right away after they come up.

Keeping up the trellis

Classic wooden trellises, wrought iron beauties, plastic, string, wires and chains – anything you can anchor into the ground that can hold the weight of your vine and won’t rot quickly outdoors can be pressed into use.

Each trellis sends a different message:

Wood – sturdy and rustic, especially the bentwood kind

Iron – romantic, whimsical and sometimes gothic

Plastic – expandable, durable and often recycled materials

String – country garden style, reminiscent of Grandma’s garden

Wires – disappearing supports to send vines soaring

Chains – quirky stylewise, yet versatile to send vines up walls and trees

Trellis materials

Always use pressure treated wood for vine supports and trellis frames. Paint metal trellises in light colors if absorbed heat on black iron dries out your vines. Look for pleasing designs revealed only when perennials are leafless or annuals absent. Use jute string to make trellises and to tie vines onto anything else.

Planned upkeep

Choose vines with maintenance in mind – fast growers may need nearly constant pruning and some annuals won’t rebloom without deadheading their fading flowers. Whatever vine you choose, plan to pinch its leafy tips to encourage bushy new growth and to prune out the oldest canes during the dormant season. Inspect trellises annually: repair as needed with baling wire to reinforce corners and heavy duty staples or nails to reattach loose arms.



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