Northscaping For Northern Gardeners
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whole new dimension
Vines open up a whole new dimension to our landscapes

In the first part of this two-part series (click here to view), we looked at the definition of vines and climbers, cultural aspects relating to successfully growing them, and the many functions of vines in the landscape. Now it's time to examine some of the finer vines we have at our disposal in the northern palette.

There are a number of hardy functional vines at our disposal, combining the attributes of vigor and density to provide quick screening or to fill in vertical spaces. There are fewer hardy flowering vines, but the ones we can grow are quite spectacular and are well worth the effort. Many of the showiest and best known vines like wisteria and the vineyard grapes aren't hardy in most of the North, but there are more than acceptable substitutions that we can make. When it comes down to it, you really can find the right vine for the right application.

Here are just a few vines and climbers of note for the North;

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia, zone 2), Englemann ivy (P. quinquefolia var. englemannii, zone 3) and Boston ivy (P. tricuspidata, zone 4) - These members of this genus are among the most popular and versatile vines in our northern landscapes, renowned for their summer density, vigor and spectacular fall color. The suction pads at the ends of their tendrils allow them to climb up nearly any structure all, although they can be too aggressive for some applications. If you see the entire side of a building covered in "ivy" in the North, it's probably one of these three species doing the job!

Grapes (Vitis spp., zone 3+) - Among the most vigorous and rampant of all climbers, these will make short work of a fence or arbor, twining their way up anything they can wrap their tendrils around. The riverbank grape (V. riparia) is the toughest of them all but has unpalatable fruit, while the cultivated grapes and grape hybrids provide tasty fruit, although they are significantly less hardy. "Valiant" is by far the hardiest variety, worth a try into zone 2. Be sure to give them a sturdy structure to climb!

Climbing Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp., zone 2+) - These are popular flowering vines which climb by twining their flexible stems around support structures. Dropmore Scarlet honeysuckle (L. x brownii "Dropmore Scarlet", zone 2) is the hardiest with its showy orange-red flowers all season long. Goldflame honeysuckle (L. x heckrottii, zone 5) and its counterpart trumpet honeysuckle (L. sempervirens, zone 5) are similar with mixed flower colors of yellow, pink and red and varying degrees of fragrance. New selections of the native woodbine honeysuckle (L. periclymenum, zone 4) such as "Honey Baby" and "Harlequin" offer deliciously fragrant flowers or variegated foliage.

Hops (Humulus lupulus, zone 2) - This is a rampant vine that behaves perennially in the North. It bears distinctive paper-like clusters of fruit that are used in the making of beer. The cultivar "Aureus" (golden hops) features wonderful golden-yellow foliage that fades to lime green in summer. It is sometimes prone to leaf diseases in late summer which can make the plants look a little ragged.

Clematis (Clematis cv., zone 3+) - By far the hardiest of the showy flowering climbers, there are so many dazzling selections to choose from! They climb by twining their very supple stems and also by creatively bending their leaf stalks around suitable supports. Most of the climbing varieties are not overly vigorous, which allows them to be used in almost any garden setting. Keep the root zones cool and shaded while the tops bask in abundant sunlight for best performance. Note that different varieties of clematis will bloom on either new or old wood, and you need to know which is which when it comes to pruning in order not to trim off next year's flowers!

Hardy Kiwi (Actinidia spp., zone 3+) - Arctic kiwi (A. kolomikta) is the hardiest kiwi, and gets quite ornamental when mature as the leaves develop tri-colored variegation, although the fruit is small and not worth the effort. A. arguta is the hardiest fruiting species, producing small but tasty fruit. Note that plants of this species are either male or female, and both are required in close proximity if it's the fruit you're after.

Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans, zone 4) - Not for the faint of heart, this is a vigorous and aggressive vine that will take up a great deal of real estate in short order. The tubular flowers, however, are spectacular and scream out for attention, standing off well against the distinctively compound dark green leaves. The species has flaming scarlet red flowers, while certain cultivars offer more subtle yellows. It climbs by twining, so give this guy an appropriately sturdy support structure and lots of room to grow!

Porcelain Berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata, zone 5) - A rather unusual distant relative of the grape, this vine's primary attribute is the berries, which turn a most unusual and rare shade of blue in late summer. It can best be described as an amethyst or sapphire blue, somewhat iridescent and shiny. It's too bad the fruits are rapidly consumed by the birds. The variety "Elegans" is somewhat less vigorous than the species, making it a better alternative for home landscape use.

Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala var. petiolaris, zone 5) - This is one of the most artistic vines for climbing buildings and other structures with rock or brick facades. Both the dainty pinwheel flower clusters and the way the foliage is held contribute to its elegant appearance. It is able to secure itself by means of special "rootlets" with modified suction pads, so it can climb masonry and stonework. Unfortunately, it is only hardy in the warmest parts of the North.

English Ivy (Hedera helix cv., zone 5) - A popular houseplant in the North, this is one of the most utilitarian of all vines where it is hardy. It makes a thick, dense groundcover, it will climb bare tree trunks, it will amble over fences, arbors and buildings, and it looks great all year round. Unfortunately, once again, the distinctive leaves are evergreen and thus very tender, not standing up well to our very cold winters. There are numerous cultivars with a wide range of hardiness; try "Thorndale", which is worth a try with reliable snow cover in colder zones.

Wintercreeper (Eounymous fortunei cv., zone 5) - This is a half-shrub, half-vine that will climb upwards if it has something to climb, or form a spreading mound if not. It does not have tendrils and does not naturally twine, so it must be trained up a structure by "weaving" the branches. Highly desirable and widely used as a groundcover in warmer climates, it is only hardy in the warmest parts of the North, as the broad leaves are evergreen and thus tender. There are numerous cultivars available, with many attractively variegated. The variety "Coloratus" is worth a try in zone 4, while some of the smaller variegated varieties are worth trying in colder climates where snow cover is guaranteed.

Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens, zone 3) - Another twining vine, this is one of the less vigorous species, suitable for trailing along fences. It climbs primarily by twining in and about various parts of structures. The primary attributes are the very showy fruits (technically called "arils") in fall along with good yellow fall color. This is another species with separate male and female plants, so both are required if you desire the showy fruits in the landscape.

Climbing Roses (Rosa cv., zone 3+) - These roses are more like rambling shrubs than actual vines, so their long arching canes need to be trained to grow up structures, although some varieties lend themselves better to this application. "William Baffin" is one of the hardiest varieties. Be cautious about many of the more attractive climbers you'll find on the store shelves which, as they are true tea roses, are anything but hardy in the North.

Wisteria (Wisteria spp., zone 5+) - No vine is more coveted by northerners, yet more frustrating to southerners who can grow it with ease - almost too much ease. Where it is hardy enough, this is one of the most vigorous of all vines, quickly forming a thick trunk with heavy branches, so give it a very, very strong structure to grow on! The flowers are the sole reason for its popularity; the long chains of purple or white pea-shaped flowers, many fragrant, hang gracefully from the twining, trailing vines in spring, and when in bloom, few plants can compete. While most of the southern varieties are not hardy here, the native species W. macrostachya (Kentucky wisteria) is worth a try into zone 4, particularly the cultivars "Aunt Dee" and "Blue Moon".

Five-Leaf Akebia (Akebia quinata, zone 4) - A lesser know vine with a dainty growth habit and fanciful leaves. The flowers are rather subtle and the fruits, while often hidden by the leaves, are most unusually shaped. An interesting alternative for those who don't like to tread on the beaten path.

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