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Column: Virginia creeper can grow 30 to 40 feet

Hanbidge on Horticulture: Take care to not grow the vines directly on buildings.

Last week, we introduced vertical gardening. Using vertical space not only increases the area of your garden but also makes it easier to pick the fruits of your labours. Growing anything that has a viney mode of growth can be easily convinced to go vertical. This not only creates more space but also creates walls and ceilings of note. For this week and next, we will devote our subject matter to some of the vertical climbers of note.

One of the most historic choices on the prairies for vertical gardening is the well-known Virginia creeper. Parthenocissus quinquefolia will grow 30 to 50 feet but does need a sturdy trellis for support as this vine is woody in nature. It is also a powerful grower. Do not ever grow vines directly on a structure as they do have the power to go through multiple building surfaces. I have a fond memory of redoing my mom’s roof and finding the Virginia creeper she had growing on a trellis of the house had penetrated the roof and all the subsurface structures and grown all the way across the attic looking for light. It is things like this that I am sure are the impetus for many of our stories and films that feature suspense.

Plants are an amazing part of our environment and have evolved and adapted to their many environments to increase their survival and enhance their ability to live. These adaptations give the plants additional advantages that allow them to thrive in the areas where they grow. The Virginia creeper is a native climber belonging to the grape family and has always been noted for the brilliant colour it develops in autumn. In order to aid their ability to climb up towards the sun, they have produced small, branched tendrils that often also have strong adhesive disks on the tips to fasten securely onto bark or rock. These tendrils are produced on the stems opposite from the leaves to allow the leaves to be exposed to the most light possible wherever they are growing.

Some of the varieties and cultivars of Virginia creeper include Engelmann’s ivy (P. quinquefolia var, engelmannii) which clings well to structures such as brick or rock. This type of Virginia creeper has very developed adhesive disks on the tendrils allowing them to cling onto smooth surfaces like rocks. This variety is considered to be less vigorous than the species plant so if you are growing it on a building, you need not worry about it breaking apart the stones. This variety also has some bronze colour that creeps into its otherwise red fall foliage.

There are also other cultivars that have been developed over the years. Monham has leaves with white variegations making it striking in lower light areas. Variegata has both yellow and white variegation of the leaves which turn to pink and red in autumn. ‘Red Wall’ is another cultivar which has the brightest and most brilliant red colour in autumn.

Virginia Creeper can be grown in full sun to shade areas, but will have the best fall colour in full sun areas. For many years, this vine had no real pest issues but over the years it has become apparent that white flies, aphids and other sucking insects love that it is available to them year after year. Unfortunately, there are no real solutions to an infestation of these insects other than the use of systemic insecticides. There are no domestic registered products that we can use in Canada, but there are some commercial products that are available. However, to purchase or use a commercial pesticide, you need to have the appropriate training and certification which is in place to ensure safe and proper use of the commercial products.

Watch next week for more on climbing vines.

Hanbidge is the Lead Horticulturist with Orchid Horticulture. Find us at; by email at; on facebook @orchidhort and on instagram at #orchidhort.

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