How Vines Climb
Learn how your vine climbs to determine the support it will need
The particular way each vine climbs determines what sort of support you’ll need to provide.
As these vines grow, their stems twist and spiral. They coil too tightly to grasp large supports such as posts, so give them something slender, such as cord or wire.
To cover a wood fence with chocolate vine (Akebia quinata), for example, string wire up and down the fence through eyescrews attached at 6- to 8-inch intervals. Twining vines with moderate growth habits are also good choices for growing on fan-shaped or rectangular trellises with narrow vertical members.
If you want a twining vine to spill over the top of an arbor, you can sink a narrow pole into the ground beside the structure and train the vine around the pole; when it reaches the top, it will twine along horizontally, with streamers of stems and leaves trailing downward.
Besides Carolina jessamine, twiners include include Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla), honeysuckle (Lonicera), and wisteria.
Vines with Tendrils or Coiling Leafstalks
Tendrils are specialized plant parts growing from the end of a leaf or the side of a stem. They grow straight until they contact something they can grasp—wire or cord, another stem on the same vine, another plant—then reflexively contract into a spiral and wrap around the support. Vines that climb by tendrils include grape and sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus).
Some plants (clematis is the best-known example) ascend by coiling leafstalks: as a stem grows and puts out foliage, the leafstalks of young leaves encircle anything slender they encounter, behaving more or less like tendrils.
Like twiners, vines that attach by tendrils or coiling leafstalks need slender supports; if the support is too thick, the vine will merely attach to its own stems, growing into a tangled mess. These vines are excellent choices for latticework supports such as chain-link fences and lath trellises.
If there’s any kind of vine that gives the whole group a bad name, it’s the clinging sort, which adhere tenaciously to almost any flat surface. Specialized structures let them grip their supports. Some, such as trumpet vine (Campsis) and ivy (Hedera), have stems equipped with aerial rootlets; others, like Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata), have tendrils that terminate in suction (holdfast) discs.
Clinging vines are a good choice when you need to cover a wide wall. If you grow them on a fence or pergola, the stems will first attach to the surface; subsequent growth will pile up on itself, often resulting in the look of a twining vine.
Some vines have no means of attachment; they climb only in the sense that their stems will proceed on a vertical path if secured to a support as they grow. Left to themselves, they’ll simply mound, sprawl, and scramble, though a few, such as climbing roses and most bougainvilleas, can hook themselves through adjacent shrubs or trees with their thorns. These vines will grow on almost any support as long as you provide appropriate attachment. Many gardeners cover flat surfaces with eyescrews and wire, then tie the plant in place at various points as it grows.