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Homegrown: Bold and beautiful vines

  • (Shutterstock)

Whenever I’m asked to suggest a vine that will provide vertical interest in a garden, create shade over an arbor or scramble up a wall, I always hesitate.

Vines can be beautiful and fast-growing problem solvers, but they can also become a mass of tangled twigs and a maintenance hassle. Besides those concerns, our enduring drought weighs in with the admonition that, if we plant a vine at all, it should be a low-water-requiring species.

All vines require support for upright growth. Many develop their own means of attachment — clinging rootlets, curling tendrils, twining stems — and can train themselves if they’re given something sturdy to lean on.

Not any support will do, however, especially not a flimsy sheet of lattice if the vine grows to great height or weight. Some become quite heavy in full leaf or after they form thick stems.

Only those with clinging rootlets will scamper up a smooth surface. Key considerations for all types are whether a background surface such as a water tank, wall or fence will tolerate fasteners and eventually will require paint or reinforcement with age. A hinged trellis or other movable material may be needed.

Making choices

Once a decision has been made to plant a vine, a barrage of questions arises. Should it be evergreen for year-round beauty? Deciduous with stems exposed in winter? Flowering for seasonal color? Needing maintenance twice a year or not at all? And how much water does it call for?

At this point in time, the demand for water is likely most important, though all plants require sufficient moisture at least until established. For some, winter rain is all that’s needed.

Low-water candidates

Vitis californica “Roger’s Red,” a wild grape, is a California native or at least a hybrid with a native and has great value for summer shade on a pergola and vibrant color in fall. This cultivar was found growing wild and will do well in drought-tolerant gardens.


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