Maintaining Perennial Vines through Pruning

You may have an idealized vision of a vine in your garden, draped lushly over a trellis, pergola, or even gazebo, alive with beautiful flowers. Just realize that to get from here to there, you have to do some work. Vines don't grow quickly and to exactly the right height before stopping to coast on their loveliness.

Perennial vines look their best if you cut them properly. Pruning can and does help a reluctant vine bloom. But first, make sure you've attended to the more obvious requirements:

1 Sufficient sunlight: If the plants don't receive enough sunlight, removing some crowding stems should help.

1 Watering and fertilizing regularly: A thirsty, undernourished vine will jettison expendable growth — namely buds and flowers — in favor of the survival of its leaves.

If all that checks out, some judicious pruning can jumpstart flowering. Thin out old, unproductive wood in the hopes that new growth will fare better. Never cut back severely. Many perennial vines bloom on old wood, wood that grew the previous year. That's why you don't want to chop out all of it. New wood simply means this year's new stems. These newcomers may yet be productive if they have room to grow and you meet their needs.

One thing to try is root-pruning, or cutting back some of the root system without digging up the entire plant. This technique can jolt a plant into fresh productivity.

Pruning, of course, is essential for maintaining the shape of the plant. The growing season is the time to trim your vine to stay within its limits. No trauma or harm to the plant should result. Early spring is the time to remove dead and damaged growth. Thin out old wood while you're at it. If you act before the vine leafs out, the wood and stems are easier to see and work with. Also, cuts don't bother a dormant plant — the coming spring growth surge will allow it to recover and replace stems.

In late fall, as top growth dies back, you can go ahead and chop it off, as you would any other perennial plant heading into winter. Leave several inches to a foot remaining.

Always take off dead and wayward branches at the base of the vine, or as near as you can get. Sharp clippers or loppers make the work so much easier (see Chapter 5 for info on the tools of the trade)! Remove dead branches any time you see them — winter, spring, summer, or fall. They're not going to come back to life, so timing is not an issue! Still, the best time to remove wayward branches is spring, before the plant is fully clothed in leaves and buds. Take out branches that are turning back toward the plant's center, rubbing against others, or heading off in the wrong direction.

Don't be afraid to cut back stems that are going the wrong way or refusing to remain on the support. Keep after your vine as it grows, editing out wayward stems as you spot them and training and tying the rest in the way you want. This practice is especially important while the plant is still young. Older vines get obstinate.

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