Vines play a special role in the garden, covering a wide area with very little investment from our side. Most vines are selected for their climbing ability and are used to add vertical interest to plantings or to create a living privacy wall. Some vines are grown on pergolas as a green roof, while others are planted as ground covers.
Unfortunately, many vines traditionally used in landscaping can become invasive in natural areas. Invasive vines are particularly troublesome because of their spreading nature. The following are five invasive ornamental vines and native alternatives that can be used to achieve the same ornamental or functional role.
Replace Japanese honeysuckle with native trumpet honeysuckle.
Beloved for its fragrant flowers, Japanese honeysuckle (Loni Sierra japonica and cvs., zones 5–8) bends and climbs any structure in its path—including other plants. This trait allows Japanese honeysuckle to outperform natives in natural environments, where it can cover small trees and shrubs, and shade out low-growing plants.
A beautiful alternative to Japanese honeysuckle is the native trumpet or coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens and cvs., zones 4–9). The red-orange flowers are much prettier than their invasive counterparts, making up for their lack of fragrance. The flowers hang in clusters and almost cover the plant in spring, with many cultivated varieties blooming throughout the season. Yellow-throated flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Plants tolerate deer browsing and are semi-evergreen in zones 8 and above. Trumpet honeysuckle blooms best in full sun but tolerates some shade and can be grown near black walnut trees.
- Adult Size: 8 to 15 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet wide
- Conditions: full sun to partial shade; medium humidity; Rich, well-drained soil
- Opening Time: Mid to late spring
Replace autumn clematis with purple passionflower.
Although it is considered highly invasive in many states, sweet autumn clematis (Clematis paniculata and cvs., syn. Clematis triniflora, zones 3–8) is still commonly planted as an ornamental vine for its fragrant fall flowers. The bull is invading forest edges and other natural areas along river channels and roads where the bull flattens native vegetation. Look for its prominent blooms in woodlands in the fall.
If you’re looking for fall flowers — and summer flowers, too — purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata and cvs., zones 5-9) will not disappoint. Tropical-looking flowers don’t just leave this native beauty. Host plants for Gulf Fritillary and other butterfly species, purple passionflower is a popular butterfly garden choice. After the first growing season the stems can be pinched back to a bushy growth habit. Once established, plants are drought tolerant. Note that passionflower can be spread by suckers in the garden and may need to be controlled.
- Adult Size: 6 to 8 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet wide
- Conditions: full sun to partial shade; Dry to moist, average, well-drained soil
- Opening Time: Fall through mid-summer
Replace Chinese and Japanese wisteria with American and Kentucky wisteria.
Commonly planted over arbors and pergolas to provide summer shade, Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis and cvs., zones 5–8) and Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda. and cvs., zones 4-9) are long-lived vines that are tightly twined around a support structure. It is a problem in forested areas, where vines have escaped cultivation and climb trees for support, causing death by girdling trees. On land, wisteria grows in dense thickets and shades out native plants.
American wisteria (Wisteria Fruit Sense and cvs., zones 5–9) and Kentucky wisteria (Wisteria Fruit Sense subsp macrostachya and cvs., zones 3-9) behave better than Asian species and have equally spectacular spring blooms. Chains of fragrant, purplish-blue flowers bloom in mid-spring, so they are rarely lost to late spring freezes the way Asian wisteria blooms. Plants are slow to establish and do not flower until the second to third season. Wisteria does not tolerate being moved, so plan accordingly. Identify a permanent location, and provide a strong support system.
- Adult Size: 15 to 25 feet tall, spread 4 to 8 feet wide.
- Conditions: full sun; slightly acidic, moderately fertile, well-drained soil; Average humidity
- Opening Time: mid spring
Replace English ivy with crossvine.
Given how easily English ivy (Hedra Helix and cvs., zones 4-11) can cover a stone wall, it is not surprising that the plant does the same to trees and shrubs in forests. Where it climbs into the tree canopy, the foliage blocks sunlight from reaching the tree branches and slowly kills the tree. Affected trees are also susceptible to wind damage due to the heavy canopy. English ivy also ingests low-growing plant material, from ground covers to shrubs.
With vigorous growth and evergreen to semi-evergreen foliage, Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata and cvs., zones 5-9) can be used to cover walls and other structures like English ivy. But crossvine has one advantage over ivy: it produces beautiful flowers. The 2-inch, trumpet-shaped flowers are a deep orange with yellow throats and hang in clusters of two to five flowers. Flowers provide a primary nectar source for hummingbirds and butterflies. The leaves turn an attractive red-purple in winter.
- Adult Size: 30 to 50 feet tall and 6 to 9 feet wide
- Conditions: full sun to partial shade; medium humidity; Average, well-drained soil
- Opening Time: Early to mid spring
Replace winter creeper with Virginia creeper.
wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei and cvs., zones 4-9) can grow as vines, groundcovers, or shrubs and are used ornamentally as are all three, depending on the variety. Escape plants creep along the ground, destroying herbaceous natives and plants, although they can also climb into tree canopies. The plants tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions, from full sun to deep shade, allowing them to creep from adjacent gardens deep into forests.
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia and cvs., zones 3-9) fulfill many wintercreeper roles. It is equally rugged, tolerant of deer, drought, heavy shade, loamy soil, and black walnut trees. Virginia creeper provides erosion control on slopes and can also be used to climb walls, fences or trellises, often aggressively. Although the flowers are unusual, the fruits provide food for birds. The palmately compound leaves turn purple and red in fall.
- Adult Size: 30 to 50 feet tall with a spread of 5 to 10 feet.
- Conditions: Full sun to full shade; medium humidity; Average, well-drained soil
When growing vines, always use caution and do your research before growing on buildings. Painted surfaces, wood and stucco can be damaged by many vines. Although stone and brick themselves are not prone to damage, the roots and tendrils that vines use to climb can damage window frames, shutters, roof tiles, gutters and other building materials. They can also squeeze into cracks in the mortar. The best strategy is to grow vines on sturdy trellises 4 to 6 inches above the building surface.
—Kim Toscano is a horticulturist based in Stillwater, Oklahoma. He hosted first. Oklahoma Horticulture, A weekly PBS television program produced by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.
Photo: Kim Toscano