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Workhorse Vines for Texas Gardens

By Dr. William C. Welch
Professor & Landscape Horticulturist
Texas AgriLife Extension Service
Texas A&M University

Vines provide a great opportunity to make a display in a limited amount of root space. They can also provide shade and screening for large or small spaces. There are numerous evergreen, deciduous, perennial and annual vines to choose from. The opportunity to combine vines with trellises, pergolas, fences and trees helps make them extremely versatile plants. Still another virtue is the fruit that vines can provide. Grapes, muscadines, blackberries and kiwi provide both shade and delicious fruit.

Perhaps you feel that your garden is full and don’t know where to go? You can always go “Up.”

Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis). The flowers of wisteria are beautiful but the plant is very vigorous. They come in a number of varieties in long clusters from lavender blue to white. Although a beautiful vine, it needs stout support and frequent pruning to keep it in bounds. Flowers occur almost simultaneously with leaves in early spring. With periodic pruning, wisteria may be trained into a bush or “tree” form as well.

Although thought of as an “evergreen wisteria,” Milettia reticulata has flowers that are reddish purple and mildly fragrant. It is strong in growth but its foliage is evergreen. Sometimes, Wisterias don’t bloom until 5–7 years after planting. To encourage flowering, withhold fertilizer, water or root prune. Wisteria can be an elegant Oriental vine and is often prominently featured in art.

Jackson vine (Smilax smallii [lanceolate]). Although the thorny version of this plant can be a noxious weed, Jackson vine is a useful and graceful evergreen vine traditionally utilized as cut foliage. Jackson vine has been traditionally draped across porches and trellises, and also harvested for Holiday Season, wedding swags and festoons. Although not easily available today, it is a worthwhile addition to any garden or restoration planting. The leaves are dark shiny-green, 2–5 inches long, and 3/4 to 2 inches wide. It is fairly common and native to much of the South.

Confederate or star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides). Shiny dark-green leaves provide a beautiful background for clusters of yellow-centered white flowers with a wonderful fragrance from mid- to late spring. It is a great plant for providing evergreen screening and climbs vigorously to 15–20 feet. It is also a good candidate to train on wire trellising. This vine is worth planting for any garden where fragrance is of the essence. Star jasmine can be grown to make an impenetrable screen.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens). Bright-yellow, bell-shaped one-inch flowers are sweetly scented and native to East Texas and the South. The vines entwine themselves in large shrubs and small trees. Its evergreen foliage is beautiful, tumbling over fences and walls as well as in deciduous trees. The most prolific flowering is in early to mid-spring. The fragrance varies among selections and can be very sweet. Carolina jessamine prefers acidic or slightly acidic, well-drained soils and, once established, is drought tolerant.

Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). A native, mannerly evergreen climber, this vine has clusters of beautiful coral-colored blossoms from spring through early summer. Dark red fruit ripens in late summer and provides food for garden birds. The foliage has a bluish cast and twines around structures. It is cold hardy, attractive year-round, very colorful in bloom and easily grown. A number of different colors are available, including a bright yellow flowering form (‘John Clayton’).

Climbing Roses. Climbing roses are a favorite landscape plant around the world. Both white and yellow Banksia roses come to mind as the largest of all with their cinnamon-like peeling bark and lustrous green leaves almost immune to insects and disease. Clusters of white or yellow roses bloom in mid-spring, completely covering the plant for about two weeks. The yellow form is thornless and the white form has a wonderful violet-like fragrance. Although they require little ground space, Banksias can cover a lot of territory!

Other once-blooming roses that thrive in our area include the Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata). It has large, dogwood-like single flowers and Rosa fortuniana is double flowered. All have somewhat similar shiny, dark green, disease-resistant foliage.

Ever-blooming roses are also valuable assets to our gardens. These are somewhat smaller than those mentioned above and rebloom periodically through the growing season. ‘Reve d’Or’ has fragrant, double peachy, yellow flowers. ‘Prosperity’ has medium-sized double white flowers and ‘Zepherine Drouhin’ makes a spectacular long, spring show of highly fragrant cerise flowers on thornless stems.

Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata). Crossvine is a native evergreen with trumpet-shaped blossoms in clusters. The usual color is brownish red with a lighter throat. ‘Tangerine Beauty’ is commercially available and a brighter, more distinctive color than the typical native form. Crossvine is native to much of Texas and the South, and is usually found clinging to the bark of trees. It will cling to brick or stone as well and rarely becomes a pest. Crossvines bloom from spring through early summer and tolerate a wide range of growing conditions.

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