70531thumbAnyone can plant a grapevine. With a bit of work, almost anyone can make a grapevine grow. Most who put forth the effort can figure out how to prune and cultivate a grapevine. Yet, grapevines so often get very out of control. They easily escape confinement, overwhelm nearby plants, climb into trees and overburden their trellises or arbors. It is easy to forget how aggressive they can be.

The primary problem with aggressive vines is that they require pruning for confinement. The most aggressive vines need the most aggressive pruning. Grapevines can actually be quite docile if pruned properly. Chinese wisteria and red trumpet vine need even more aggressive pruning, and will never be completely tamed. It is important to know the personality of each vine in the garden.

The secondary problem with aggressive vines is they are expected to conform to unrealistic confinement. Small trellises that are lower than about eight feet, including common gate arbors, spires and obelisks, are really only big enough to accommodate docile small vines like clematis (hybrid), American wisteria, well pruned mandevilla and vining annuals like morning glory and pole bean.

Chinese wisteria, large types of bougainvillea and other big and heavy vines need big and stout trellises or arbors. Lattice will not do. Chinese wisteria becomes entangled with lattice, and then crushes it as the vines expand. Bougainvillea does the same to a lesser extent, but then pulls the lattice apart as the intertwined vines sag from the increasing weight of foliage and growing vines.

Clinging vines like creeping fig and Boston ivy present another problem. They are not interested in trellises or arbors. They do not grab onto support by twining stems or tendrils. They instead cling directly to surfaces with specialized aerial roots that damage paint, stucco or even bare wood fences. Clinging vines should therefore only be allowed to climb surfaces that they will not ruin, such as concrete walls. They are better vines for freeway soundwalls than for home gardens.

10 thoughts on “Grapes And Vines Of Wrath

  1. I made my experiences with chinese winsteria. I had one for some years that I trained to cover my trellis. I had no more light during the day in the bedrooms as it was outside the windows, and it began to crush the metal fixtures at the edge. It also began to climb our wall and invade the upstairs balcony. Our neighbour was thrilled to have such a pretty flowering vine on her balcony, but I told her to remove it otherwise it would take over the complete block. The wisteria has now been removed, we have light again and air circulation, although it tried to return in the garden. Never again.

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    1. My wisteria is doing just the opposite. Because I am familiar with what Chinese wisteria does in the gardens of clients (and how most trellises are inadequate for them), I got American wisteria for a gate into the rose garden. The floral trusses are not as pretty, since the protrude out like bottle brush blooms rather than hand downward like wisteria should. The main disappointment is that the vines are so puny. They stay less that fifteen feet tall, which would be fine on a ten foot high arbor. I got a pair to flank the gate. They grew very slowly to about six feet high, and have gone no farther in a few years. They bloom with to or three floral trusses at odd times of the year. I know that they will eventually catch on, but it for now, they are rather bland. In the end, I know it will be one of my favorites.

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  2. Our Wisteria is tame in comparison to our neighbour’s Ivy and Morning Glory that is sneaking over our boundary wall. Bougainvillia also needs to be kept in check and those thorns are vicious! The Plumbago, although not a vine has other methods – it is managing to get under the same wall and through almost non existent gaps!

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    1. About the time that I was writing that article, I had to work with silverberry (Elaeagnus pungens) that I always think of as shurbbery, but had climbed high into trees! It was nasty. It climbed something like bougainvillea does, without really gripping onto anything, but just putting shoots up into the trees, and then hooking into them. YUCK! There is also ivy that climbs well over a hundred feet into redwood trees! One of my colleagues rappels down into ravines to get to the bases of the trees to cut the ivy, but then the dead ivy stays in the trees for years. Vines can be serious problems when they get out of control.

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  3. I’m certain that if humans vanished from the planet, vines would soon take over the world. In our area the dreaded Hedera helix has become a noxious weed, climbing and killing huge trees and providing habitat for rats.

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    1. If they were capable of conquering the world, they would have done so already. The only advantage they have now is that humans have moved them around and into ecosystems where they can easily overwhelm trees that are not accustomed to them. English ivy that conquers urban areas would die out or at least reach a contained equilibrium shortly after humans left. It would last in areas where it can naturalize, but would probably not kill everything else off.


  4. Oh goodness, I’ve done battle for some time with a trumpet vine. A gorgeous thing, but–Ooof! And as for that English ivy–it’s demonic around trees. I must say though, that wisteria can be wonderful in the right place and properly supported. Dumbarton Oaks has some lovely specimens….

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    1. There is a grove of wisteria here that was big when I was a little kid, and is even bigger now. It has overwhelmed about an acre of redwoods. Fortunately, it does not seem to spread quickly. I do not think that it is rooting as it goes. Nor does it completely overwhelm the trees and kill them. It is very pretty when it blooms, so no one complains about what it is doing to the forest, especially since the forest still seems to be doing fine.

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  5. Amen about the massive vines! When we first moved here, I planted a Wisteria. Actually, I planted two. When I later realized they would likely eat both me and our house, I removed them. This was years ago, and just the other day, I dug up another few Wisteria shoots. It’s the vine that keeps on giving, LONG after you think you took it out. Hopefully, I got it all this time!

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    1. I just mentioned to someone else that my colleague in Southern California used to pull up passion fruit vine from an orchard that was on the site before the homes were built. That was in the 1990s, and the homes were built in the 1920s. I would not be surprised if the vine still comes back.

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