Just as with masonry and home construction, it is sometimes more practical to build a landscape up instead of out. In this regard, think of a fence as a blank canvas and a climbing vine as the portrait composition. Growing vines on a fence is a great way to add color and textural interest, as well as bring height and scale to your yard. Which vines to grow depends on the type of fence.
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What Vines Do Best
Get a Grip
Vines climb by one of several mechanisms. Some vines reach out and “feel” around with antennaelike leaf or stem tendrils to scout for a place to perch and “step up” to the next level. Other vines use sticky pads to adhere to neighboring structures or attach themselves with clinging stem roots. The plants use these built-in touch-sensitive tools to get a foothold on a fence and to keep climbing upward.
Many plants that are not classified as vines have a climbing habit, but they often need training to “learn” to use a structure like a fence for support. True vines are natural climbers that grow vertically on just about anything -- whether invited to or not.
In general, the best vines for chain-link, lattice and picket fences are those that spread by tendrils because they readily grab onto openings in the fence. Split-rail and solid stockade-type fences are more suited to vines with twining leaves and stems, which can coil and wrap around and between fence rails and slats.
Growing vines on fencing is a long-term and sometimes permanent commitment. Some vines can become so attached to their supports over time that they stubbornly refuse to separate without damaging or even bringing down the fence. Thoroughly research any vine species you are considering introducing into your landscape to be sure you want to live with it year after year.
Blue Passion Flower
Blue passion flower (Passiflora caerulea), also called blue crown passion flower, is a hardy evergreen species of climbing vine that produces, large showy flowers from summer through fall. Suitable for growing in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11, the plant prefers moist but well-draining soil with a pH of 7.0 or lower.
As a South American native, this species enjoys heat and thrives with four to six hours of sun every day, making this vine ideal for fences that face west or south. It is a fast-growing vine that typically reaches an equal height and spread of more than 30 feet.
Because the flowers of blue passion flower last for just 48 hours and stay open all night, this vine is ideal to grow on a fence that encloses a moon garden or other night-themed space.
Everlasting Sweet Pea
Also known as wild sweet pea, everlasting sweet pea (Lathyrus latifolius) is perennial member of the legume (Fabaceae) family that is native to the Mediterranean region and suited to USDA zones 3 through 8. This vine has a height potential of 9 feet with an average spread of 6 feet.
Everlasting sweet pea features delicate, lipped flowers of white, lavender or pink that appear in clusters from early summer until fall. It prefers fertile, well-draining soil and full sun, meaning six or more hours of direct exposure a day.
Although everlasting sweet pea is a cousin to the popular annual sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus), it is not as fragrant.
- Since its introduction to North America in the 18th century, everlasting sweet pea has escaped cultivation, become naturalized in the U.S. and is considered an invasive plant in certain areas.
- The pealike seed pods and the seeds of everlasting sweet pea vine are toxic.
The common grape vine (Vitis vinifera) is cultivated in USDA zones 6 through 9 for its attractive foliage, as well as for its juicy fruit. The spring-blooming flowers, although inconspicuous in appearance, are highly fragrant.
This deciduous climbing vine thrives in any type of soil and isn’t picky about pH. The plant prefers a sunny site but tolerates partial or dappled shade that is typical of woodland settings and east-facing fences that receive morning sun and afternoon shade. It may produce less fruit, however, unless grown on a fence that gets six hours or more of direct sun each day.
The fresh ripe fruits can be eaten as-is or harvested to make jelly and wine. They can also be dried and used like raisins or currants.
Because grape vine can reach close to 50 feet in height and tends to send out tendrils horizontally, as well as vertically, it may be necessary to cut it back in winter to keep it tidy.
Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) is an evergreen Asian species of climbing vine that is suited to USDA zones 4 through 9. It is so named because its frilly lilac-colored flowers, which bloom from spring to early summer, smell like chocolate.
This plant has a moderate growth rate with a potential maximum height of 20 feet and an equal spread. While it isn’t fussy about soil type, chocolate vine grows best in moist soil with a pH between 6.0 and 8.0. It thrives on east-facing fences that get full sun, but it also tolerates some shade.
In mid- to late fall, chocolate vine yields fruits with an edible pulp that tastes similar to tapioca pudding or coconut milk.
Chocolate vine was introduced into the U.S. from Asia in the mid-19th century and has since escaped cultivation and invaded the forests of the eastern U.S., where it continues to displace native plants. For this reason, and because the vine is capable of taking over small shrubs and even trees in a backyard, keep it contained to your fence.
Black-Eyed Susan Vine
Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) is evergreen in USDA zones 10 and 11 and grown as an annual elsewhere. This twining vine produces trumpet-shaped, yellow-to-orange flowers with dark purple “eyes” from early summer until fall.
With an average height and spread of only 6 to 10 feet, black-eyed Susan vine politely stays confined to its given space. Because it has a preference for some afternoon shade, grow this vine on an east or north-facing fence that gets morning sun and more shade than sun later in the day.
As the name implies, American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) is a deciduous climbing vine that is native to the southeastern U.S. and cultivated in USDA zones 3 through 8. The plant grows in any type of well-draining soil and tolerates partial shade, but the more sun it gets, the more fruit it produces. This is desirable because, in contrast to its insignificant greenish-white flowers, the bright, orange-red, berrylike seeds provide strong color interest all fall and winter.
The cut and dried stems of American bittersweet -- with seeds intact -- are used in dried floral arrangements.