Flowering Vine Types and How to Use Them

The Pros and Cons of Common Climbers and Ground Covers

Wisteria (image) is very popular. The vines are widely used in North America.
David Beaulieu

It is high time to praise the virtue of the best flowering vines and other attractive climbers and creepers, while also admitting the drawbacks of some selections from the vine world. While some vines are indeed aggressive or even invasive plants, perhaps no other category of plants has the versatility of flowering vines. A lot of that versatility has to do with the fact that they can either stay close to the ground (that is, function as ground covers) or they can climb.

A Quick Guide to Using Vines

True to their versatility, flowering vines are great for filling specific needs. Here are 10 common landscape design uses and the vines that work best for them (many of these selections are discussed in detail below).

  1. For a ground cover: Periwinkle or "creeping myrtle" (Vinca minor)
  2. For fall crafts: American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)
  3. For hanging baskets: Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas)
  4. For disguising unattractive fences: Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), silver lace vine, or morning glories (Ipomoea tricolor)
  5. For edible landscaping: Grapevines (Vitis spp.)
  6. For fall color: Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
  7. For adorning mailboxes and lampposts: Jackman's clematis 
  8. For rambling over stone walls: Sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) or sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus), or climbing hydrangea (in lieu of trumpet vine)
  9. For erosion control: Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)
  10. For "roofing" a shade-giving arbor: Wisteria, Dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla)

Wisteria

Wisteria vines make excellent "roofing" for garden arbors. Make sure your structure is solid because these plants become quite heavy as they mature. But with their fantastic drooping racemes, they are unquestionably best displayed when grown above ground level, so it behooves you to provide support for them.

You can be sure that the flowering of any successful wisteria vine has been the subject of many a double-take from passersby. A stunning bloomer, in spring this climbing plant yields large, drooping clusters of fragrant bluish-purple or white flowers. Wisteria vines can be grown in zones 3 through 9.

Trumpet Vine

Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) produces reddish orange or salmon flowers throughout most of the summer months. It is suitable for zones 4 through 9. Provide it with an arbor, trellis, or fence on which to grow. This vigorous grower does need to be contained if you do not want it spreading all over the place. Faithfully pull up any new shoots that pop up from the root system, and remove the seeds before they fall upon the earth.

Trumpet vine is an aggressive spreader and, in some area, such as the southeastern U.S., it is considered a weed. Birdwatchers will love the fact that trumpet vines draw hummingbirds, but those who seek a lower-maintenance vine will want to substitute with something like sweet pea.

Wintercreeper

Wintercreeper is winter-hardy to zone 4. This broadleaf evergreen is grown for its foliage, not its flower. There are numerous cultivars of wintercreeper. Some are used as ground covers for erosion control, while others are allowed to grow up walls (for instance, to hide an unattractive shed wall). Unfortunately, its "effectiveness" as a ground cover has much to do with its invasive quality.

Jackman's Clematis

Jackman's clematis is well-behaved and highly sought after for its large red, white, pink, purple, or lavender flowers. It grows in zones 3 through 8. A trick to success with clematis is growing the plant in sunlight but keeping its roots cool. This may be achieved by mulching or by planting low plants over the clematis' root zone to provide ground shade. Be careful when pruning clematis. Some types flower on the previous season's wood, others on new growth. Make sure you know what type of clematis that you have before pruning it.

Silver Lace Vine

China fleece, or silver lace vine (Polygonum aubertii) is related to Polygonum cuspidatum, commonly known as Japanese knotweed. The fact that silver lace vine can grow and produce its white blooms in shade makes planting it a temptation for gardeners not blessed with a sunny locale. But you should resist the temptation to grow silver lace vine; it may turn out to be an invasive species.

No close relative of Japanese knotweed is welcome on the landscape. A much better choice for a vine that flowers in shade is climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris).

Virginia Creeper

Virginia creepers (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) do bloom, but they are valued mainly as plants for great fall color. Their green leaves morph to brilliant colors in fall, ranging from red to burgundy. In the Eastern U.S., this specimen is a native, making it easy to grow there. In fact, in the southern part of its range, it is considered a weed. While this flowering vine plant is not, technically, invasive in North America (it is native there, and only alien plants are rightly classified as invasive), it is definitely aggressive.

There is another caveat to mention about Virginia creeper. If you wish to grow Virginia creeper up the walls of any buildings, make sure first that you desire it as a permanent fixture. Once Virginia creeper gets a toehold, it is difficult to remove it from its supporting structure. You could do damage to a wall in your attempts to rid it of entrenched vines. It is better to let Virginia creeper creep on the dirt as a ground cover, unless you are sure that you want it as permanent "siding" on your wall.

Grapevines

If edible landscaping is your passion, incorporate grapevines into your landscape. Their flowers are not impressive, but they do yield grapes. Grapevine could easily be substituted for wisteria as an arbor cover. And just because the fruit will be edible, don't dismiss grapevine as an ornamental. Grapevines lend themselves admirably to fall foliage displays.

Morning Glory

The silky blue of the common morning glory is a must for any traditional landscaper, but lavender, deep purple, and antique rose morning glories are available as well. Morning glory is another hummingbird and butterfly magnet and is treated as an annual in all but the warmest of climates. Some of these flowering vine plants can be invasive species in certain regions of the United States. Japanese honeysuckle is also invasive in some parts of North America.

Sweet Potato Vine

"Blackie" ornamental sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas 'Blackie') is another specimen grown for its foliage, not its flower. Like its relative, morning glory, this specimen will be an annual in the northerly zones of North America, so it will be well-behaved there. Besides serving as an attractive component of hanging baskets, sweet potato vine is often used in window boxes.

Bittersweet Vine

The Oriental variety of bittersweet vine (Celastrus orbiculatus) is much more prevalent than the native variety (Celastrus scandens), but it is also terribly invasive. Although it does flower, this flowering vine plant is grown for its berries and foliage, not its flower. In fall its foliage is yellow, and orange berries burst out of golden husks—a sight rivaled by no other vine. It is easy to understand why this vine is commonly gathered for fall crafts—it makes for a knockout autumn door wreath. If you live in North America, do make it a point to grow the native, "American bittersweet." 

Periwinkle Vinca Vines

Common periwinkle vinca vines (Vinca minor) are flowering vine plants that bear pretty blue blooms in spring, but they are valued equally for their foliage. This species is a creeper and has been a traditional favorite among the ground covers, often going by the alias, "creeping myrtle." Periwinkle vine will thrive where turf grass fears to tread: namely, in the shade of large trees. As is the case with many "thriving" species, this one is invasive.