Planting and Supporting Vines

Planting a vine is really no different from planting either an annual or a perennial (see Chapters 6 and 7). What really matters with a vine is how you plan to support it. Whatever you choose for supporting and displaying your vines, be sure it's equal to the job. It's a pain in the neck to keep pruning back a heavy plant, a disappointment to witness a rampant vine knock down a support or cause it to lean, and a hassle to have to constantly intervene to send growth in what you consider the correct direction. Head off these problems at the pass.

In fact, your best bet is to decide on, and find a place in your garden for, a support first; then choose an appropriate vine. But if you choose the vine first, at least do smart, practical matchmaking with the support.

Giving vines a little backup: Trellises, fences, and arbors

You may buy trellises, fences, and arbors fully or partially assembled or as a kit from a variety of sources — home and garden centers, hardware stores, and specialty catalogs. Figure 12-2 shows you a sampling of the types of supports available.

Shop around not only for the best price but also for the best quality. Support is not the place to cut corners. Some shopping considerations follow.

Figure 12-2:

Typical store-bought supports for vines — a fan trellis, an arbor, and a lattice.

Arbor

Square lattice

Arbor

Square lattice

Evaluating materials and construction

Supports generally come in wood (cedar or redwood are best), metal, or plastic. Consider the support's construction: Examine the width of the individual slats or pieces, of course, but also inspect the intersections and joints. Are they strong and secure? Braces may be optional or necessary, and so may hooks that help hold the item in place (for attaching a trellis securely to a wall, for instance; some supports just can't stand upright alone).

Knowing how the vine clings to the support can give you some hints about ideal support shape or materials. See "Looking at How Vines Hold On," earlier in this chapter, for details.

Staying grounded: Anchorage

Remember that in order to be securely anchored in your landscape, the support has to be pushed well into the ground — a foot deep is not too much, depending, of course, on the weight of the mature plant that it'll bear. Factor in that reduction in height when looking at the support to buy as well as when envisioning it plant-draped in your garden.

Using trees and shrubs as living supports

Yes, a vine can twine and climb another plant, particularly a tree or shrub. It happens all the time in nature; walk through any woodland, and you can see plenty of examples. But you may be worried that the vine will steal the show. Or smother the living support. Legitimate concerns! Of course, you want to make a match. Don't pair a heavy, aggressive vine with a young dogwood tree, for example. More-mature trees are more welcoming and less daunted. Avoid vigorous twiners like honeysuckle and wisteria, which can literally strangle and squeeze the life out of a tree or shrub over time.

The match should also be aesthetically successful. Trees or shrubs that either don't flower or only have a fleeting display are best, because you don't want a clash or competition in the color department. Evergreen trees, shrubs, and hedge plants are also more accommodating this way.

One practical concern is soil. Both the vine and its host need everything the soil has to offer — physical support for their root systems, nutrients, and water. One way around this potential conflict is to start the vine growing farther away and train it toward its tree or shrub, which it'll eventually ascend. Or you may be able to place a potted vine at the base of the host plant — you just have to remember to stop by often to feed and water the vine (Chapter 16 can tell you about container gardening). In any event, ideally the soil is as good as possible for both plants so they can both be healthy and happy.

Sometimes an old tree dies or has to be cut back to a bare trunk or stump. A vine turned loose over such a relic can turn a potential eyesore into a garden highlight.

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