The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Annual Vines Have Many Uses and Varieties

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

"A physician buries his mistakes. An architect can only plant vines." Frank Lloyd Wright knew one great virtue of vines–to hide unsightly views. Annual vines, in particular, can provide quick cover, offer interesting flowers and fruit, provide shade, and provide a vertical element to the garden. Most annual vines are quite durable and sun loving. They need little care, have few insect or disease problems, and love the summer heat.

Cardinal Climber, Ipomoea x multifida'Cardinalis', has scarlet trumpet-shaped flowers that are about one inch across and appear throughout the summer until frost. Even if it never flowered, Cardinal Climber is attractive with its palm shaped leaves. Cypress vine, Ipomoea quamoclit'Cardinalis', is a similar vine but with very fine textured lacy leaves. It grows 12 to 25 feet tall. Both plants are attractive to hummingbirds. Like many of the annual vines, Cypress vine will sometimes reseed in the garden or the seeds can be kept each year for replanting.

Annual vines have some great names like Love-in-a-Puff, Cardiospermum halicacabum.Its subtle beauty makes it more weird than wonderful. This vigorous grower reaches 8 to 10 feet and is covered in tiny white orchid-like flowers and maple-like leaves. The flowers become small green balloon-like seed pods. Once the pods ripen the black seeds inside are marked with a distinct heart-shaped gray blotch, hence the name. Love-in-a-Puff loves the heat and like many of the annual vines the hotter the weather the faster and the longer the vines grow. Love-in-a-Puff looks nice as a background for large arching ornamental grasses.

Hyacinth bean, Dolichos lablab,has lovely purple flowers which are followed by glossy red violet pods. Hyacinth bean is a purple lovers dream. Even the leaves and stems are deep purple. It has been growing in gardens since the 1800's. It can grow to 15 feet and loves hot weather so wait until the soil has warmed before planting.

Firecracker vine, Mina lobata,grows to 10 feet. The tubular flowers start out red but fade to orange then yellow. The flower spikes have all three colors present at the same time for a dramatic color show. It looked lovely in theMaster Gardener Idea Gardenlast year.

Morning glories, Ipomoeaspp., are popular annual vines and certainly one of the fastest growing. They will grow almost anywhere, in any soil, and in full sun or partial shade. Morning glories offer a large variety of flower colors. One of my favorites is 'Heavenly Blue.' 'Chocolate' has variegated leaves and pinkish brown flowers outlined in white. 'Grandpa Ott's' from the Seed Savers Exchange is an heirloom variety with small deep purple flowers with red stars in the throat.

Since morning glories often reseed, be careful where you plant them. Don't put them over the compost pile unless you want to seed your whole garden with morning glories. Like many annual vines, morning glories can be direct seeded into the garden after danger of frost, around May 15. The seeds of morning glories and their relatives have a hard seed coat so be sure to soak the seed overnight or nick the seed coat with a file before sowing.

Now for something truly weird, how about Calico flower, Aristolochia elegans? The white and purple three-inch long speckled flowers look like smoking pipes dangling from the twining vine.

Annual vines need sturdy supports. A mass of stems and leaves can easily blow over during a summer storm. Mix and match annual vines. Moonflowers with morning glories. Let them romp over shrubs and fences.

Lawn Care Workshop–April 15, 7pm, Champaign Extension auditorium.

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