The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Discover the good and the bad of perennial vines

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright said "a physician may bury his mistakes, but an architect can only plant a vine". Perhaps you have a few mistakes to hide or you just want to cover a downspout, a tree stump, or an arbor or shade a deck. Perennial vines may be just what the doctor ordered.

Not all vines are created equal. Do your homework to determine if the vine you selected fulfills your landscape needs and will not consume your house, your garage and the local natural area with rampant growth.

First, a word of warning. Stay away from Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). No, literally stay away from Japanese honeysuckle or it may twine around your feet and pull you into a dark weedy abyss. This rampant thug is illegal to cultivate in Illinois with good reason. It has invaded many miles of woodlands choking out everything in sight. It is sometimes labeled as Hall's honeysuckle and despite its illegal status; I continue to find it for sale locally.

We do have native honeysuckles; however, not all are suitable to grow on trellises. Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is a North American native with bluish-green leaves. The trumpet-shaped flowers are not fragrant, but quite vibrant in April and sporadically through the summer. 'Magnifica' has large bright red flowers with yellowish centers and good repeat flowering. 'Sulphurea' has stunning pure yellow flowers with bright green leaves. Trumpet honeysuckle can grow 10-20 feet depending on the structure. Since trumpet honeysuckle blooms predominantly on old growth, prune after flowering if needed.

'John Clayton' honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens 'John Clayton') grows a bit more compact as he shows off his yellow flowers from June until frost. Flowers are followed by persistent red berries.

'Major Wheeler' honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens 'Major Wheeler') is a major delight in my yard. The deep red flowers erupt in May and continue through the summer. Give Major a quick prune right after flowering to encourage more blooming stems. This honeysuckle is seldom plagued by leaf problems.

Goldflame honeysuckle (Lonicera x heckrottii) is a hybrid of trumpet honeysuckle with blue-green leaves. The pink flower buds open to reveal a center of creamy yellow starting in March and sporadically until winter. The flowers are slightly fragrant and as with most honeysuckle the hummingbirds love them. Goldflame honeysuckle is essentially evergreen as the leaves are very frost tolerant. It seldom forms berries. It grows 10 to 20 feet so is quite usable across a fence, over an arbor and on a trellis. It will grow in shade, but as with many flowering vines the flowers are not as abundant.

Mandarin honeysuckle (Lonicera 'Mandarin') is a unique hybrid with coppery bronze leaves in the spring. It is a vigorous vine growing to 20 feet. Blooms are bright orange with yellow centers and produced from June-July.

Common names can get confusing since there is another completely different species called trumpetcreeper or trumpet vine (Campsis radicans). It can be a great perennial vine if you have immense mistakes to hide. It grows fast and far at 40 feet or more. If that wasn't enough to prove its virility, it also sends up root suckers for "miles" around and can reseed with wild abandon. Despite all the reasons to beware, the tubular orange flowers are lovely from June to September and are a favorite with hummingbirds. Trumpetcreeper requires regular pruning to keep it in bounds. It flowers on new growth so it can be severely pruned in spring to a few buds. Trumpetcreeper is native to southeastern U.S. It is not for the faint of heart or for weak willed pruners. It is best left to very difficult areas where nothing else will grow.

Your homework assignment: check out University of Illinois Extension website Vines: Climbers & Twiners

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