The Virginia creeper vine sports gorgeous fall foliage. A close relative of Boston ivy, the fast-growing Virginia creeper can be planted in spring or fall. It is often used for ground cover or a climbing vine on stone walls and trellises, supported by its grasping tendrils. Its leaves have five leaflets and morph from their summer green into a fall foliage color ranging from reddish-orange to burgundy. This spectacular change should earn the plant a spot on any list of the top shrubs and vines for fall color.
The dark blue berries of the Virginia creeper contain amounts of oxalic acid that are toxic to humans, although birds can enjoy eating them without harm. Don't leave curious kids unattended around it. The sap contains needle-like oxalate crystals, which, for a small portion of the population, can irritate the skin and cause a rash. If you are sensitive, wear gloves when handling it.
|Common Name||Virginia creeper, Victoria creeper, five-leaved ivy, five-finger, woodbine|
|Botanical Name||Parthenocissus quinquefolia|
|Family||Vitaceae (grape family)|
|Plant Type||Perennial, Vine|
|Mature Size||30 to 50 feet|
|Sun Exposure||Full, Partial, Shade|
|Soil Type||Sandy, Clay, Loamy|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic (5.1 to 7.3)|
|Flower Color||Greenish white|
|Hardiness Zones||3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Eastern and Central United States|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans|
Virginia Creeper Care
Though Virginia creeper offers beautiful foliage, it is not a good plant choice if you seek low-maintenance landscaping. The sticky, disk-like appendages on its tendrils adhere to wall siding, making it difficult to remove. Don't grow it on walls unless you wish it to be permanent. If you want the look of a wall covered with Virginia creeper but without the risk, install a sturdy trellis near the wall and grow Virginia creeper on the trellis (keeping it well-trimmed).
Virginia creeper will climb trees and cast shade on their leaves, thus depriving them of needed sunlight. Don't allow it to grow on specimen trees. Instead, train it onto garden arbors, pergolas, or fences. Another use for the plant is as a ground cover. Although it's a climbing vine, it will simply sprawl along the ground if not given support on which to climb. When used as a ground cover on a hillside, it can be effective for erosion control.
Because it's native to eastern North America, Virginia creeper cannot, technically, be listed as an invasive plant there. A plant that spreads out of control where it is native is said to be "aggressive" instead. It is a vigorous grower and may get out of hand if not kept in check with equal vigor.
Although one of the vines tolerant of shade, this plant is more likely to achieve its best autumn color if grown in full sun. At the southern end of its range, giving it partial shade is not such a bad idea, though. A suggested location is on a wall facing east or west.
Grow Virginia creeper in well-drained soil. It will grow well in a variety of soil types, including clay, sand, or loam. It will tolerate a range of soil acidity and alkalinity.
During its first growing season, you will need to water it regularly, with deep watering. Once the vine is established, it only needs occasional deep watering. If there is extreme heat, you may need to water it more frequently.
Temperature and Humidity
Parthenocissus quinquefolia is indigenous to eastern North America and can be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 to 10. The plant should survive down to temperatures of -10 degrees Fahrenheit when dormant in winter. It can be damaged by a late frost after spring growth has started.
You can feed Virginia creeper once per year in the spring with a general-purpose fertilizer to keep it vigorous. Sprinkle granular fertilizer on the soil.
Varieties of Virginia Creeper
Although common Virginia creeper grows well in most yards, you might try several improved horticultural varieties for increased pest resistance:
- Engelmann's ivy (P. quinquefolia var. engelmannii) This cultivar is considered less vigorous than the species plant. Some bronze color tends to creep into its otherwise red fall foliage. It clings well to walls and fences.
- "Monham" has leaves with white variegations.
- "Variegata" is also less vigorous, with yellow and white variegation of the leaves, which becomes pink and red in autumn.
- "Red Wall" is another variation on the wild plant, with its fall foliage color turning bright red.
Prune Virginia creeper vines well in the winter or early spring each year to keep them under control, especially if they threaten to grow over gutters or encroach on trees. Vines that have come detached will not reattach to a surface, so they should be trimmed away, as should any dead or diseased vines.
Propagating Virginia Creeper
Virginia creeper grows quickly and takes very well to propagating from cuttings. To propagate Virginia creeper from a cutting, find a healthy stem that is at least 12 inches long and cut it at the base with at least a few nodes near the bottom. Strip the leaves from the bottom 1/3 of the stem. Dip the cut end in root hormone, then place in a high-quality potting soil, buried at least 3 inches deep. Keep the soil damp and be prepared to change up to a bigger pot in a few weeks. As soon as the cutting establishes a good root system, it's ready to be planted in the appropriate place outdoors. The whole process usually takes three to four weeks.
How to Grow Virginia Creeper From Seed
Virginia creeper is a prolific plant that is easily grown from cuttings; however, the use of seed is possible. Sow directly into soil that has been amended with peat moss or sand. Bury the seeds about 3/8 inch deep and keep them to no more than 10 per square foot. Provide deep watering once a week. The plant will grow quickly. Be prepared to thin out the stems to the hardiest during the first few weeks of growth.
Virginia creeper is a very hardy plant that should have no problems with handling even the harshest winter. Though the foliage will die back during the coldest months, it will come back vibrant and lush as soon as warmer temperatures come around.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Many pests consider Virginia creeper a tasty treat, including caterpillars. Pick off the caterpillars and drop them into soapy water. More difficult insects include flea beetles, leafcutting bees, leafhoppers, and scale. Employ horticultural oils, nematodes, insecticidal soap, and cheesecloth (in the case of bees) to help protect your vines.
Leaf spot, powdery mildew, canker fungus, and anthracnose are common diseases that can damage Virginia creeper. Treatments that control fungal disease are the first line of defense.
Common Problems with Virginia Creeper
The biggest problems with Virginia creeper come from misunderstandings about the plant. Some folks dislike its aggressive growth habits and are intent on killing Virginia creeper. Since it grows so high, it's impractical to try killing a mature Virginia creeper by spraying its leaves. Instead, cut the vine's trunk (near ground level), then apply the strongest concentrate of glyphosate (Roundup) you can buy to the fresh wound. An organic method of killing Virginia creeper is to dig it out, but this is easier said than done, as the plant spreads via rhizomes.
How long can Virginia Creeper live?
Virginia creeper propagates very easily and grows quickly. This means a plant can continue growing for many years.
What's the difference between Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy?
While Virginia creeper is often mistaken for poison ivy, it doesn't have the urushiol toxin that causes the poison ivy rash. The key difference is that poison ivy (and poison oak) have three leaves on a stem, no more. Virginia creeper has five leaves on a stem.
What are alternatives to Virginia Creeper?
Other climbing vines, such as Boston ivy or English ivy, can look very much like Virginia creeper but might provide easier management.
Parthenocissus quinquefolia. NC State Extension.
Virginia Creeper and Wisteria Toxicity. National Capital Poison Center.
Leaf Cutting Bees 'Love' Redbuds and More. The Ohio State University,
Parthenocissus quinquefolia. NC State Extension.
Weed of the Month: Virginia Creeper. Clemson University Cooperative Extension.