These climbers transform challenges into highlights with cool style.

November 26, 2010

If summer's scorching heat has fried most of your garden, take heart. To the rescue are fall vines that boast stunning blooms and vibrant foliage. But these vines aren't just eye candy—they're the solution to many garden predicaments. They gracefully conceal unsightly fences, brighten arbors, and fill the vertical space between ornamental plants and trees. We love these vines for their outstanding fruit, foliage, and flowers, as well as their roles as practical garden problem-solvers.

Virginia Creeper
(Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

The problem: Your north- and east-facing walls are glaringly bare.

Why this vine: The small yellow-green flowers are much-loved by bees, but Virginia creeper's fall foliage is its real attraction. Leaves, each with five toothed leaflets, turn a rich red during autumn, brightening walls and cascading from pergolas.

What it needs: Fertile soil and partial sun. Easy to grow.

Mature height: Up to 50 feet, or as tall as the supporting structure

Climate: Virginia creeper is not limited to Virginia but can be found growing from Maine to Florida, and as far west as Utah.


Italian Clematis
(Clematis viticella)

The problem: Your landscape is as colorful as a pile of cold compost.

Why this vine: Varieties like 'Etoile Violette' and 'Abundance' bear beautiful and abundant blooms for vibrant color from summer into early fall.

What it needs: Full sun for the vine and shade for the roots. Because clematis does not cling as it grows, the way ivy does, it requires support. Fences, trellises, and host plants provide great structure for this twining vine.

Mature height: 10 to 12 feet

Climate: Survives subzero temperatures, yet has better heat tolerance than large-flowering clematis.

Sweet Autumn Clematis
(Clematis terniflora)

The problem: Your chain-link fence seems more fitting for a penitentiary than your family's garden.

Why this vine: Aside from its lush, shiny foliage, sweet autumn clematis produces a dazzling display of scented, white flowers in August and September. While its sheer volume may overpower your mailbox post, this vine is the perfect cover-up for unsightly fences.

What it needs: Full sun for foliage, shade for the roots, regular watering during hot weather, and well-drained, rich soil.

Mature height: 20 to 30 feet or more

Climate: Survives subzero temperatures in New England and grows with great vigor in the Southeast.

Watch out: Sweet autumn clematis self-sows readily and is considered invasive by some southeastern author­- ities. Avoid trouble by removing the seedheads produced after blooming.

Boston Ivy
(Parthenocissus tricuspidata)

The problem: Your cinder-block garage is an eyesore.

Why this vine: Boston ivy's glossy, verdant leaves turn dazzling shades of orange and red during autumn and provide a brilliant disguise for unsightly fences or walls.

What it needs: Fertile soil, part sun to shade, and regular pruning.

Mature height: 50 to 70 feet (or as tall as the supporting structure!)

Climate: Don't live in Beantown? No worries; Boston ivy adapts to a wide range of climates and conditions.

Watch out: Before introducing Boston ivy to your property, consider potential impacts on wood, painted surfaces, and mortar—the vine's adhesive disks may cause damage, though not as bad as the harm caused by clinging stem roots of evergreen English ivy.

Canary Creeper
(Tropaeolum peregrinum)

The problem: You've got far too much green in your front yard.

Why this vine: Canary creeper's fringed, buttery blooms have been compared to the wings of a bird in flight. In addition to its feathery flowers, the unusual bluish green, five-lobed foliage adds geometric variety to dull and homogeneous fall landscaping.

What it needs: In cool areas, treat canary creeper as an annual (it can be easily grown from seed), giving it even moisture in sun to part shade.

Mature height: 6 feet

Climate: Canary creeper usually survives only where temperatures stay above freezing, but mulch and a mild winter may bring a repeat performance.

Bonus: Canary creeper is a tasty treat. Its flowers, leaves, and fruit are completely edible, with the same peppery taste as its cousin, the nasturtium.

Hybrid Trumpet Creeper
(Campsis X tagliabuana)

The problem: Your treeless backyard desperately needs a shady bower, but you'd like flowers, too.

Why this vine: Between July and frost, hybrid trumpet creeper offers up trumpet-shaped apricot-colored blossoms. Hummingbirds find them utterly irresistible.

What it needs: Warm temperatures, full sun, fertile soil, sturdy structural support, and heavy pruning in late winter to early spring.

Mature height: 30 feet

Climate: While it looks tropical and tender, hybrid trumpet creeper is actually cold-hardy. Frosty winters are no match for this vine.

Watch out: Rather than calling it invasive, let's just say that this vine is "aggressive." Luckily, hybrid trumpet creeper is less overpowering than its native relative, Campsis radicans.

American Bittersweet
(Celastrus scandens)

The problem: You're looking for native plants to add to your landscape.

Why this vine: This attractive vine is colorful and native to North America, so you can plant it knowing you're not adding a nuisance to your landscape. American bittersweet's yellow capsule-like fruits open between mid-September and November to reveal stunning orange gems. Unlike rampant Oriental bittersweet (which has rounded leaves rather than the narrow, tapered leaves of the native species), American bittersweet is not invasive and is so rare in certain areas that it's a protected species.

What it needs: Give it a post to climb on in full sun or partial shade, as this vine grows rapidly and can kill shrubs or small trees by strangling branches and trunks. Prune in late winter or early spring to limit plant size.

Mature height: 20 to 30 feet

Climate: Found from the eastern seaboard to the Rockies; grows anyplace temperatures drop below freezing.

Corkscrew Flower
(Vigna caracalla)

The problem: You're tired of red, orange, and yellow mums.

Why this vine: Corkscrew flower produces unusual, spiraling purple and white blooms. (Think tortellini in flower form.) Against the usual autumnal background, these cool colors can really amp up the energy of your garden. Also, corkscrew flower is sweetly fragrant and a magnet for bees, birds, and butterflies.

What it needs: Full sun, regular water, and enriched, well-drained soil.

Mature height: Up to 20 feet

Climate: Corkscrew flower loves heat, especially heat reflected from walls and paving. Grow it as an annual where winters are cold— digging up and storing the tuberous root—or take cuttings for next year. It's also easy to grow from seed.

Watch out: When temperatures dip below 50°F, vine growth becomes pokey and the plant dies back.