Climbing hydrangeaVertical vines bring an added dimension to gardens–they soften hardscape, conceal unpleasant structures and provide lushness, through their foliage and flowers, to sites where other plants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to grow.

Vines can be used as green screens, filling in the diamond holes of a chain link fence, or they can be the flowering focal point on a backyard trellis, an elaborate arbor or a simple support stuck in the ground. Vines require very little lateral room at planting time since their growth is mostly up and outward. They can work their way into tight spots before breaking loose on a vertical climb.

Not all vines grow in the same manner, but most require a good support to look and grow their best. Some larger vines, such as climbing hydrangea, Boston ivy or English ivy, send out hundreds of hairlike rootlets from their main stems. These rootlets stick to cement, brick, wood and even metal. In the case of climbing hydrangea, rootlet strength is such that homeowners in brick homes who value their tuckpointing are advised to weigh the benefits of the vine (attractive greenery on stone, cooling effect in summer) against the potential disadvantages (rootlets can penetrate mortar).

Other woody perennial vines, such as honeysuckle, wisteria and grapevine, wrap around poles, fences or overhead arbors. Many annual vines, including morning glories, jasmine and hyacinth bean vine, as well as perennial clematis, are twiners, requiring an open lattice, grillwork or open fencing where their delicate tendrils can clasp and climb.

Some recommendations for perennial vines for the Chicago area are:

  • Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) — This is a New England classic with shapely green leaves that blaze scarlet in autumn sun. As ornamental as it is, owners of brick homes should consider the long-term effects and maintenance issues involve in letting this fast-growing vine cover their homes.
  • Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris) — This vine is gaining in popularity in the Chicago area due to its four-season appeal. It is a sturdy woody vine with many ornamental features: beautiful peeling cinnamon bark, leathery green leaves and large flat white flowers in mid-June. It can be trained to grow both laterally or vertically and is not a vine for small spaces.
  • Dropmore Scarlet honeysuckle (Lonicera x brownii ‘Dropmore Scarlet’) — The hardiest of the honeysuckle vines for Northern gardens and the one with the longest bloom period, Dropmore Scarlet is also a non-invasive honeysuckle. Full sun is best for the showiest flowers, although the vine will tolerate partial shade. The red flowers persist from June into fall.
  • English ivy (Hedera helix) — This ivy can work as a ground cover or a climbing vine. Plant in semi-shaded conditions in the Chicago area and avoid open exposures where the ivy warms up in winter sun but cools very quickly when temperatures drop drastically at night.
  • Golden hops vine (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’) — Golden hops is a vigorous, twining vine that grows best in full sun to show off its yellow-chartreuse foliage. Young shoots are very yellow; older leaves are more chartreuse. The stems are sticky and bristly, and the plant produces dangling, cone-like "hops" at summer’s end. The vine is a nice foil for purple or blue-flowering plants at its base. It can be overly vigorous and reseed in other garden areas.
  • Kentucky wisteria (Wisteria macrostachya) — This is the hardiest of the wisterias, the one-of-a-kind vines with the pendant racemes of purple flowers that bloom in June. Wisteria grows to 25 feet and requires proper pruning to produce the maximum number of flowers and still maintain a tidy habit.
  • Kiwi vine (Actinidia kolomitka) — The vine’s highly unusual foliage (green with pink and silver edging), edible small fruits and tolerance for partial shade combine to make a winning plant. Select both a male and female vine if you want a good fruit crop; but plant only the male vine if you want the best leaf color.
  • Silver lace vine (Polygonum aubertii) — A very fast-growing vine, silver lace tolerates partial shade. For maximum fleecy flowers, it must be pruned in spring and planted in a light, well-drained soil.
  • Sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) — Only one of the many clematis vines that can add colorful and beautifully shaped flowers to the garden scene, late-blooming autumn clematis is a foam of white, star-shaped flowers with a sweet fragrance. Gardeners are encouraged to leave this plant standing over winter as its dried flower heads are a perfect nest for falling snow.
  • Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) — Another fast-growing vine, trumpet vine features attractive compound leaves and bright orange or red trumpet-shaped flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Trumpet vine is used to great advantage when allowed to soften sharp edges of garages or conceal corner downspouts. This is not a vine for small spaces.