Gardening With Charlie - Charming Annual Vines

(Family Features with Kathie Bond-Borie, Guest Columnist)

Would you like to cloak a summer porch in cooling shade? Hide an eyesore such as a chain-link fence? Dress up an arbor? Annual vines offer foliage and flowers (some fragrant) for many situations, and they're perfect for creating a cottage garden look.

Some annual vines grow fast and densely enough to make good screens, such as:

  • morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) with blue, purple, pink or white flowers
  • scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) with red flowers
  • black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) with brilliant orange blossoms and striking black throats
  • cup and saucer vine (Cobaea scandens) with blue-purple flowers

Other vines may not cover much ground in one summer growing season, but they are distinctive and fun to grow:

  • purple bell vine (Rhodochiton atrosanguineum) with purple bell-shaped flowers and heart-shaped leaves
  • canary creeper (Tropaeolum peregrinum) with yellow flowers
  • sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) in a multitude of colors and all fragrant
  • mandevilla (Mandevilla sp.) with large, exotic-looking flowers in shades of pink
  • bougainvillea (Bougainvillea sp.) with luminescent fuchsia, pink, or orange double flowers. (These woody vines can be moved indoors for the winter.)

Because they grow so fast and are temporary, annual vines lend themselves to experimentation. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Make a bamboo or twig tepee for your kids, and cover it with an annual vine.
  2. Plant vines next to a tree 10 to 14 feet tall, and let them scramble up the trunk and into the limbs for a blooming tree until frost.
  3. Use them to blanket a problem slope or fill a new flowerbed in a hurry.
  4. For instant charm and color, frame a door or window with a vine climbing a string trellis.
  5. Even tiny courtyard gardens or apartment balconies have room for annual vines. Most have relatively limited root systems so they adapt well to life in containers.

Tending To Their Needs

In general, annual vines, like so many plants, like full sun and well-drained, good-quality soil. However, if planted in soil with too much manure or fertilized with too much nitrogen, they tend to produce excessive foliage and not enough flowers. If you want to fertilize, work a little compost into the soil, or at most an all-purpose fertilizer, such as a 5-10-5, according to label directions. The best time to fertilize is just as plants begin to bloom.

It's important to provide support at planting time. Most vines climb by twining, so provide a pole or stake and they'll twine right up (though it never hurts to give them a guiding hand every few days until they've begun twining on their own). On a building or other smooth, flat surface, construct a trellis of wood, string or even monofilament fishing line, which creates a nearly invisible support. Unlike perennial vines, even vigorous annual ones are fairly lightweight and seldom topple their supports.

Once these vines are established, few pests or diseases bother them, other than occasional aphids (plant-eating insects), which can be controlled with insecticidal soap.

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A former floral designer and interior plantscaper, Kathie Bond-Borie has spent 20 years as a garden writer/editor, including her current role as Horticultural Editor for the National Gardening Association. She loves designing with plants, and spends more time playing in the garden - planting and trying new combinations - than sitting and appreciating it.


National Gardening Association