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Ask a Master Gardener: Use Flowering Vines to Add Vertical Interest to Your Landscaping

Thunbergia alata. Spanish eyes. Photo by Alice Marty.

By Judy Weaver, Mobile County Master Gardener |  

Vines can create a beautiful show in the garden.  If you get them started on a structure to climb, they will not disappoint.  In this column we will focus on annual vines for our south Alabama landscape.  The advantage of annual vines is that you start all over each year with little need to prune or shape.  Not happy with last year’s growing site? Because annual vines are planted from seed each year, it is easy to try a new location.

Location and Structure and Fertilization

Annual vines can make a big show of flowers in less space because they are growing up a fence, trellis, or other support.  Along with plants that grow tall, like sunflowers and native hibiscus, vines add height to your garden. Most annual vines need a lot of sun and water if they are to reach their potential in one growing season.  Most flowering vines require a half-day of full sun to grow vigorously enough to give you the blooms you want. 

Vines are very good at attaching themselves to whatever is available.  If you don’t have a trellis, fence, or arbor in the place you want to add vertical color, you can use netting, string, or wire (aluminum or copper) to get them started. It is a gardener’s delight to observe their fast rate of growth and help them to attach to the structure you prepared for them.

Wait until your vines are established to fertilize. In spring and midsummer add a landscape fertilizer, such as 12.4.6.  Follow the directions on the packaging.

Annual Vines for Our Area

Seven tried and true annual vines to consider:

Morning Glories (Ipomoea purpurea):  Colorful morning glories can make a fence disappear at their peak. Seeds need some help germinating. Nick the outer seed coat and soak them overnight in room temperature water. Drought tolerant.

Moon Flower (Ipomoea alba):  This is a night-blooming relative of the morning glory usually treated as an annual in all but the warmest areas of the US. Nick and soak before planting.  The fragrant white flowers are 5 to 6 inches across, open at dusk, and last through the night.

Mandevilla (Mandevilla splendens):  There are over 100 species of this tropical woody vine with funnel-shaped flowers, which can overwinter in tropical climates.  Mandevillas do well in partial shade.  When temperatures drop below 45 degrees, they don’t want to be outside.  So, prepare to move them into your house or let them go and start over next season.  Unless you have a greenhouse to start your seeds, you will probably want to begin with a well-established plant from a garden center. 

Annual Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odorata): Try making a bamboo tripod for your garden and plant sweet pea in the early fall to get the root system started, allowing them to winter over for vibrant spring growth once the days become longer and warmer. Nick and soak seeds before planting. One version of its origin is that a wild sweet pea dates back to the late 1600s on the island of Malta, off Sicily. They prefer cool weather and will reward you with their fragrance and beautiful blooms for about a month in the spring.

Black-eyed Susan Vine (Thunbergia alata):  White/buff/orange/yellow with dark eyes and arrow-shaped foliage.  These vines like full sun and are great for arbors or containers.  This vine will quickly cover small structures.

Purple Hyacinth Bean (Dolichos lablab): This is an annual flowering vine that keeps on giving.  Collect the beans from the bean pods once they mature, put them in an envelope to dry out, and plant again next spring.  You will enjoy sharing these beans for planting with family and friends. This is a large vine that likes full sun and is easy to grow because it tolerates poor soil.

Ornamental Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas): This vine is grown for its foliage that provides a striking contrast in the garden.  ‘Blackie’ for burgundy foliage and ‘Marguerite’ for chartreuse foliage.  It likes full sun.

As always, happy gardening!

Cardinal vine, Ipomoea sloteri. Photo by Alice Marty.

Mandvilla splendens. Photo by Judy Weaver.

Sweet pea. Photo by Judy Weaver.

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