Gardening Mastery: Perennial Vines

Gardening Mastery: Perennial Vines

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One of the most underused and underappreciated plant types may be perennial vines. I love them because they can be integrated into most landscapes with a little planning and the proper support structure. I’d like to share with you some of my favorites.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) can grow to 20 feet, but can be pruned back to 3 feet, if desired. It has small, shiny leaves that maintain their color throughout the year. The cheerful, fragrant yellow flowers bloom in mid-spring to early summer. Mine loves sun, although you may see some varieties that can be grown in partial shade. It prefers well-drained soil with consistent moisture. Carolina Jessamine is well-behaved, politely climbing over arbors or fences without overtaking its plant neighbors. You can also let it crowd in among your other plants as a ground cover. This plant is more common in the southern United States, and not all varieties you find can survive the winter. The species listed as hardy in Pennsylvania (Zone 6) is the cultivar ‘Margarita’. This one is a little shorter than some of the others, reaching 10 feet tall. Note that this plant is poisonous, so if you have children or curious pets that like to nibble, you may want to give up this plant.

Another favorite of mine for a sunny spot is the native or coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens. After a few years, this area can grow into a lush, well-behaved hummingbird oasis. The main vine can grow up to 20 feet, and has many side branches. This vine has smooth, glossy leaves and profuse trumpet-shaped flowers in mid to late spring, with sporadic blooms during the summer. The two-inch-long red flowers grow in coiled clusters at the end of the stems and are a striking yellow inside – one of my favorite things about this plant! It can tolerate a wide range of soil types, but you must be patient and water well until it is established. This vine needs a strong structure, as it can become very woody and dense.

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What about a vine that can handle more shade? Well, climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris) is the ticket! These vines may take a year or two to establish, so be patient: You’ll be rewarded with impressive growth of 30 to 40 feet or more, with side branches up to 3 feet tall. Climbing hydrangea tolerates pruning and can also be transplanted. A shrub or ground cover. It has shiny, heart-shaped leaves and clusters of large white flowers. Its fragrant flower clusters feature open outer petals and narrow inner buds that give it great visual interest. Flowering time is late spring to summer. Although it can get full sun, it’s best to make sure it will have afternoon shade. It prefers moist, well-drained soil. This plant supports itself by growing vines as well as by producing aerial roots, so it needs a lot of structure to grow on.

Perennials have a unique place in the garden. Keep them in mind when you need to cover a structure, need vertical interest in an area of ​​your garden, or want an unusual ground cover.

Mary Prescott is a Master Gardener in York County. Penn State Master Gardeners are volunteers with the Pennsylvania Cooperative Extension. For more information, contact the Master Gardener’s office at 717-840-7408 or

Also interesting: This wonderful park in the town of York.

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