On the House: Tips for Vine Enthusiasts

Excuse me? Oh…you’re looking for the North Georgia Wine Highway. I thought you said the Vine Highway. I’m not aware of one, but if there were a Vine Highway, it would pass through virtually all of Northeast Georgia—and throughout the entire southeast, with stretches even located in the far reaches of the northeastern and northwestern United States. The featured botanical wonder along the Vine Highway—if there actually were one:  kudzu (Pueraria montana).

The so-called “vine that ate the south” has defied eradication since the Japanese native first took root in our soil in 1876. It was soon planted in genteel gardens and then, touted in the 1930s as a miracle vine, widely planted to combat erosion. No one of right mind would plant this in an American landscape today, but kudzu offers valuable lessons worth considering if you like the idea of including vines in your garden or landscape design.

In fact, one invasive plant specialist noted kudzu is “a good poster child” for the impact of invasive species.

This photo, taken by Dahlonega photographer Jack Anthony, shows what kudzu is capable of when left to its own devices in the landscape. In his collection of kudzu photographs, part of a remarkable gallery of work displayed on Landscapes by Jack, Anthony depicts the many faces of kudzu: eerie, ominous, soaring, smothering, invincible, triumphant, beautiful and awe-inspiring, among them.

It’s convenient to make an example of kudzu. After all, people planted it in their gardens back then for the same reasons they plant other vines today. It has some attractive features, like broad green leaves that could quickly shade hot porches, lovely, tall, purple blooms in late summer, and a flowery, grape-ish fragrance.

The mistake:  planting the wrong plant (an invasive species) in the wrong place (where they were free to grow unchecked without boundaries).

And haven’t we made that same mistake with other vines? Look at all the English ivy (Hedera helix) growing around here. It’s considered an invasive vine in North Georgia. In the landscape, it climbs up trees and covers the branches, blocking sunlight from the foliage and eventually killing them. Along the ground, it covers and smothers everything underneath.

Ivy eating mortar
Ivy eating mortar

When growing on a brick or stone house, English ivy vines eat the moisture out of the mortar, causing it to crack. The vines work their way between the mortar cracks and leave spaces for water to get in. Creeping fig (Ficus pumila) will do the same thing to an outside brick wall, causing tons of moisture and mildew damage.

Both of these vines may be charming on British cottages and manors, but I don’t ever want them near a house here in the states.

Ivy behind siding
Ivy behind siding

On this house, the ivy damaged the mortar and then started working its way behind the wood siding. It’s actually pulled the siding away from the house, allowing mold and mildew to develop, adding to water problems. We tore it all off.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t like vines. The right vines can be downright magical in Northeast Georgia’s outdoor spaces. They add vertical interest in the landscape, they can create shade and wonderful color, and many are great pollinator attractors. The key is knowing what you’re planting (Is it invasive or aggressive in your space?), how fast and far it will grow, how much maintenance it will require to keep it under control, and where you’ll plant it.

Courtesy of Georgia Native Plant Society

If there’s a particular vine you love, do some research to find out whether it’s invasive in our area. If it is, there may be similar, more suitable, species that you would enjoy just as much. Take honeysuckle, for instance. The species that’s most common around here is Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). It’s invasive in this area and can take over flowers and shrubs in no time. The lovely coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) vine, shown above, is in the same family, but it’s non-invasive. You need to keep an eye on it to keep it in check, but it’s quite manageable in the home landscape when grown on a trellis or fence.

Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)

The fragrant and dramatic crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), with its reddish-orange, trumpet shaped blossoms, is native to this area. It’s much more well-disciplined than the  spectacular but very aggressive trumpet creeper (Campus radicans), making it a good substitute in the home landscape.

Bignonia Cross vine
Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)

Here’s a closer look at a crossvine blossom. Isn’t it pretty?

Carolina Jessamine
Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens)

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is a charming vine that is beloved by many Southerners for its perfusion of fragrant, yellow, bell-shaped flowers. While it is native to this area, it’s very fast-growing and aggressive and can quickly get out of hand. I wouldn’t recommend it for a small garden. However…

Flagstone patio and vine

you can enjoy Carolina jessamine in your landscape by planting the vine in containers to keep it under control. After expanding a client’s patio and adding an arbor, we planted Carolina jessamine in pots at the corners, where it will quickly cover the arbor and provide afternoon shade and cheerful yellow blossoms without taking over the lawn and house.

There are many vines that will do well in containers.

Here’s one of my favorite vines. And who wouldn’t love it? Clematis (Clematis occidentalis) has earned the nickname Queen of Climbers for its many pleasant features and its good manners in the garden. It grows up to 8 feet in a season, so you won’t have to wait forever to enjoy it, but it’s easy enough to manage.


Planted with its roots in the shade and top in ample sun, the clematis vine often blooms twice a year, producing showy blossoms in an array of colors, shapes and sizes. It’s a nice choice for lamp posts, mailboxes, arbors, fences and trellises, and it works well planted in a container, too.

So, here are a few tips for vine enthusiasts:

  • Choose non-invasive and non-aggressive vines with expected growth potential that matches the size and scale of your space.
  • Be realistic about your maintenance expectations. All vines will need some snipping, cutting back or pruning. How much will depend on the types of vines you plant.
  • Make sure arbors, trellises and other structures your vines will be climbing are sturdy enough to hold the weight of the vines as they grow.
  • Select the right vines for the soil, sunlight, moisture and other conditions you have.
  • Never allow vines to grow on a house.
  • Keep ivy and other vines off of the trees. It will eventually kill them.

And finally, have fun adding a vine or two to your outdoor spaces! If you follow a few simple guidelines, you can enjoy them, worry-free, for many years.

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