By mid-spring, they're already large and in charge along Maryland's highways: giant vines with a thousand tentacle-like tendrils, some with trunks as thick as a man's arm, that climb to the top of the highest trees, then drape their leaves like a curtain of green all the way back down to the ground.
Pretty from a distance, maybe, though anybody who knows vines can see they're strangling the trees. But not all naturally occurring vines need to be a menace to your garden or property.
Vines, which often appear out of nowhere, can bring a magical aspect to a yard or garden, but the trick is always controlling their growth.
So don't automatically rip out your vines, thinking they're going to take over your little backyard world, until you read their rap sheets. Here is a handy summary of vines, some of which occur naturally, and others that are available in pots at nurseries and garden centers.
Heavenly Blue Morning Glory
Without a doubt, this is one of the most desirable and controllable vines grown by gardeners who want to add an old-fashioned touch to their cottage garden.
"I think there's nothing more heavenly than the Heavenly Blue morning glory," says Jane Baldwin, past president of the Cylburn Arboretum Association.
This annual is grown from seed toward late April, when all danger of frost has passed, in rich, soft, well-drained soil, in full sun. Plant about six seeds spaced 6-10 inches apart around a pole, trellis, or arbor. Press the seeds into the soil, then water generously.
Seedlings should emerge in 7-10 days. Once their tendrils appear, make sure to guide them toward the structure that they are to climb. Each small morning glory plant will develop into an 8-to-10-foot vine, displaying many 3-to-5-inch bright-blue flowers, with a dab of white in each center, beginning sometime in June.
There are many morning glory varieties on the market in seed form, ranging in color from white, pink, hot pink, and pink with stripes to shades of purple with white centers.
The Great Bindweed
This white-blooming vine looks similar to hybridized morning glories and pops up without invitation in neighborhoods and along roadsides, growing in almost any kind of soil that gets full sun.
By mid-to-late spring, if we look carefully at the bases of all plantlife in our gardens, we will find the beginnings of this very invasive strangling vine, as it gradually winds and binds around everything in its path, reaching up to 16 feet in height, depending on the intensity of the sun. Vines will produce blankets of pure-white blooms on tighly woven vines at the height of summer. The Great Bindweed is considered a nuisance by most gardeners, but it looks attractive when forced up an arbor or trellis.
Grown from seed in organic-rich, moist soil, this annual vine thrives in full sun and produces fleshy, dark bluish-green leaves with oversized white blooms that unfold only during the night. Many lost and restless insects fly into the large cup of the Moonflower and curl up for the night.
This hybridized vine can be grown in oversized pots and forced up a trellis, where it reaches a height of eight to 12 feet by mid summer, then starts to fade by September.
Prized for its scented, purple, pea-like flowers, produced on long strands that cascade down from the stems, the wisteria is a favorite among gardeners. Bees are drawn in by the heavily scented blooms. When bought in pots as small plants from the nursery, the new climbing, twisting stems of the wisteria look almost fragile. But over time, they become woody and even resemble tree trunks, especially at the base. Many ordinary fences or trellises have been crushed by the weight of this robust vine.
Trumpet Vine or Trumpet Creeper
A native to the Southeastern United States, this vine has escaped cultivation and now grows wild throughout much of the country. But come spring, vine-lovers can still find the trumpet vine for sale in pots, supported by stakes, at local nurseries and garden centers. This vigorous perennial grows rapidly, and climbs via sticky aerial roots to 30 feet in height. It should be planted against solid structures, such as a sturdy pole supporting a birdhouse or an arbor that won't collapse under its weight. It thrives best in full sun and average soil. By late June, this vine produces heavy clusters of large, trumpet-shaped, bright-orange blooms at the end of long canes.
Often visible from afar, this twining, deciduous vine is a rampant grower and is ideal for covering unattractive fixtures, such as wire fences, bare embankments, tree stumps, and rusty sheds. Its striking features are a mass of tiny white, fragrant flowers that, in great numbers, give this vine the appearance of floating white lace. Often, over time, this vine grows into itself and winds around its own strands of vine, which creates a thicket high above the ground and an ideal sanctuary for birds to nest in.
This old-fashioned hybrid is a favorite among gardeners. They love its 4-to-7- inch, deep violet flowers, which appear all summer long. The Jackman's Clematis (and all other clematis varieties) is finicky about where it gets planted and it requires full sun for the upper growth and cool shade for its root system. So, ideally, it should be planted at the base of a shrub, in light, organic, well-drained soil, sometime during late spring.
"This vine should be clipped back every fall to about 6 to 8 inches and well mulched after the ground freezes," advises Baldwin.
A native of Asia, this climber tolerates most soils, even poor soil conditions. But, for maximum, healthy growth, it should be planted in full sun or part shade in organic-rich, moist, well-drained soils. It can navigate smooth surfaces, due to sticky discs at the end of its tendrils and gradually covers a complete side of a house, reaching heights of up to 60 feet. Initially, branches are thin, but turn woody and thick with age.
The Boston Ivy's leaves look much like maple leaves, are shiny and medium-green, then turn red, orange, or yellow before dropping to the ground in the fall. At that time, when the ivy branches are bare, clusters of dark blue berries—formed like bunches of grapes—become visible.
Boston Ivy is usually grown as a ground cover or to cover unsightly walls and structures. It may be planted any time of year, as long as the ground can be worked.
Trumpet Honeysuckle Vine
This attractive, twining vine should be planted in full sun or part shade and in ordinary but well-drained soils as soon as it appears at nurseries and garden centers in early spring. Rich soils encourage stem growth, but reduce flowering. The trumpet honeysuckle can reach heights of up to 50 feet, if it has something that high to climb toward. Its tubular red flowers grow in clusters at the tips of branches throughout summer and attract hummingbirds.
This shrubby vine produces 1-to-2-inch long, bright yellow trumpets in the middle of winter when the plant is still without leaves.
If you leave it unattended, it will creep along, setting roots wherever it touches the ground. In doing so, it controls erosion and makes an excellent ground cover. But, if forced up a trellis, it can reach up to 15 feet.
This species offers a wide variety in foliage, including rounded leaves, twisted and crinkled leaves, and leaves splattered with white, yellow, or pink. It climbs its way up objects via sticky aerial roots, which cause particular damage on brick facades and can reach more than 60 feet in height.