The Best Perennial Vines for Your Garden

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Perennial Vines

Whether they ramble, scramble, cling or twine, perennial vines offer the opportunity to take full advantage of your vertical gardening space. 

There are both evergreen and deciduous types.  Some display beautiful flowers and others bear fruit. As with all plants it’s important to select the right plant (in this case vine) for the right spot. When siting your vines consider how large the vine will get as it matures and how it will attach itself to a surface or another plant.

In my own garden I use a method to train clematis that I first observed in Lyndy Broder’s garden in Stockbridge, Georgia. Lyndy, a nationally recognized clematis expert, views many shrubs and trees as living supports for  her extensive collection of  clematis. While I only grow a handful of clematis this way, I am pleased with the results. In early spring, I use my Fiskars® PowerGear® to cut back my ‘Tardiva’ hydrangeas to a height of about 2’.  Before new growth begins and the plants leaf out, Clematis ‘Ramona,’ (Zone 4a – 9b) twines itself up and through the branches. Although it is reported to bloom in late summer/early fall, in my garden ‘Ramona’ produces masses of large “French blue” flowers (6 to 8 inches across) beginning in May. Anyway, you get the idea. Last year I used my ninebark shrub, Physocarpus opulifolius  ‘Diablo’, as a living trellis for Clematis ‘Princess Diana.’ (Zone 4 to ll). Once the clematis starts growing, I gently guide the vines to the branches of the shrub to help it get started.

Clematis-'Ramona'-on-Hydrangea-'Tardiva'-

Climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris, uses aerial roots to cling to walls, fences or trees.  It’s worth noting that this vine takes a number of years to establish itself before it really puts on a show. Still, the wait is worth the stunning white flowers, cinnamon bark and lush green foliage. While I rarely recommend Japanese or Chinese wisteria because they are so aggressive, the native wisteria, Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls,’ is a different story. This twining vine is more manageable and will initially need to be tied to a wall, arbor, pergola or tree trunk. Once it gets started it will continue to grow up the structure or plant you are training it on.  

A carefree native vine that I grow in my woodland is crossvine, Bignonia capreolata (Zone 5 to 9). This true clinging vine will grow up trees or quickly cover a chain link fence. In the wild it grows in shade, but in full sun you will get much better flowering. The trumpet shaped blooms range from brownish-orange to orange-red. Give this good grower lots of space.

Bignonia-capreolata-'Tangerine-Beauty'-on-rock

Kadsura, Kadsura japonica, is an elegant evergreen vine, hardy from Zone 7 to 9.  

The selection ‘Chirimen’ has creamy white marbling and streaking which standout against the dark green leaves. It is reported to have fragrant flowers but I have never experienced them. For shady gardens this twiner is a winner.  

Kadsura-japonica-'Chirimen'

Remember that some perennial vines will take a number of years before they flower or fruit.  When it comes to pruning, some bloom on new growth and others flower on old wood. If you’re not sure about a particular vine, prune it as soon as it finishes flowering or don’t prune at all. This will reduce the risk of cutting off next year’s blooms.