Many flowering vines thrive in Florida's mild climate. By carefully choosing among this diverse and wonderful group of plants, you can have a vine blooming in your landscape almost every month of the year.
Vines can function in the landscape in many ways. When grown on arbors, they provide lovely "doorways" to our homes or provide transition points from one area of the landscape to another (Figure 1). Unattractive trees, posts, and poles can be transformed using vines to alter their form, texture, and color (Figure 2).Vines can be used to soften and add interest to fences, walls, and other hard spaces (Figures 3 and 4).
A deciduous vine grown over a patio provides a cool retreat in summer and a sunny outdoor living area in winter (Figure 5). Muscadine and bunch grapes are deciduous vines that fulfill that role and produce abundant fruit. For more information on selecting and growing grapes in Florida, go to https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ag208 or contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office for a copy.
Vines can be used as living walls that provide privacy and/or screen unsightly views (Figure 6). Narrow plant beds are the perfect spot to "vertically garden" with a vine and, finally, vines attract wildlife. They provide protective cover and nesting areas for birds, and many flowering vines are rich nectar sources for butterflies and hummingbirds.
Unfortunately, despite their many uses, vines are seldom seen in most Florida landscapes. This publication will introduce you to many plants that deserve more use. The vines listed in Table 1 are good choices for Florida, but many others exist.
How Vines Climb
Vines need some type of support when grown upright in the landscape. To choose the right support for a particular vine, it is important to understand how the vine is going to climb. Vines can be separated into three basic types: clinging, twining, and sprawling.
Clinging vines attach to surfaces using specialized organs such as roots or tendrils. English ivy (Hedera helix) and trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) (Figure 7) are examples of vines with adhesive rootlets. They can be difficult to remove and their roots can loosen mortar between bricks or concrete blocks in masonry walls. Other types of clinging vines include passion vine (Passiflora spp.) (Figure 8) and cross vine (Bignonia capreolata) (Figure 9) that climb by means of tendrils that curl around supports in response to friction. These can be used to cover lattice, wire mesh, or other supports that spread horizontally. Clinging vines are often used to cover solid upright surfaces such as trees, fences, or walls. Vines grown on wooden walls or fences may prevent the wood surface from drying and increase the chance of decay.
Twining vines climb by encircling vertical supports. They are often used on poles, vertical wires, or lattice structures. Most of these vines will spiral in only one direction characteristic of the species. If made to spiral in the opposite direction, most will not cooperate and the vine may be damaged. Twining vines include mandevilla (Mandevilla splendens) and Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) (Figures 6 and 10).
Sprawling or clambering vines are basically shrubs that produce long shoots, but have no means of attaching themselves to a support. This type of vine needs to be manually wound around a support or braced up in some way. With age, they usually become woody and self-supporting. Bougainvillea spp. is an example of a sprawling vine.
The Planting Site
Site characteristics such as amount of sun or shade, salt spray, water drainage, and soil type determine the type of vine that can be grown and its placement within the landscape. Plant location in a landscape will also influence how well it will tolerate cold temperatures. Tender species of vines can be planted on the south and east sides of buildings where they are more protected from cold northwestern winds. Vines planted beside buildings, or under overhangs or trees, get more protection from cold than the same vines planted in exposed locations. Plants in locations that are shaded early in the morning may also suffer less cold damage. The amount of sunlight required by vines varies, but most vines grow and flower best in full sunlight to partial shade.
The tolerance of vines to salt water and salt spray is of particular concern to home gardeners living on Florida's coast. Vines can be selected that are adapted to soils and exposures of coastal areas (see "Salt Tolerance" in Table 1).
Poor soil drainage causes the roots of some vines to decay while others are adapted to wet areas. However, even tolerant species are normally nursery-produced in well-drained potting soils and may not withstand the transition to a wet site. The best solution is to correct the drainage problem if possible or to plant the vine on a mound (see below).
Like most plants, vines grow best in a slightly acid (pH 5.5–6.5), loose, well-drained soil. When conditions differ from this, select vines which are adapted rather than amending or changing soil conditions to suit a particular type of vine.
As with all plants, the "right plant/right place" rule applies. As you read through Table 1, note which area(s) of the state (north, central, or south) each vine is adapted to. Vines grown in the cooler, northern areas of Florida may not be adapted to warmer regions. Conversely, many tropical or subtropical vines grown in south Florida will not survive the winters of north Florida. Others are killed to the ground by frost or freeze, but sprout back from the roots the following spring.
Although Florida is typically divided into three regions (north, central, and south), the limits of each region for a given plant cannot be exactly defined. Local conditions such as elevation, bodies of water, proximity to the coast, and other factors influence temperature. Yearly fluctuations in temperature also complicate determinations.
Choose a vine according to the "function" it will play in your landscape (i.e., screening, softening, color, hummingbird attractor, etc.). Consider planting one or more vines together so that when one finishes blooming, another begins, creating a tapestry of foliage and flowers.
Consider how you will support the vine. Many vines, such as cross vine and trumpet creeper, will grow as tall as their support will allow. Foliage and flowers often are sparse near the ground and greatest near the uppermost parts of the plants. Flowering can be concentrated at any particular height by providing a "stopping point," or limiting the vertical height of a trellis to the height at which you want the most flowers.
A trellis or other support should be placed several inches away from walls (Figure 11). Such placement allows air movement between wall and vine, reducing humidity and possible mold and mildew growth on surfaces. Vines should be kept off the roof to avoid damage to shingles. Vines can also damage or separate siding if grown on or too close to siding-covered buildings.
This publication emphasizes flowering vines. Table 2 provides a list of vines grown for their foliage and Table 3 provides a brief list of vines that grow as seasonal annuals.
Some non-native plants in Tables 1–3 have been reviewed for invasiveness using the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas (https://assessment.ifas.ufl.edu/). Restrictions in plant use, if any, are noted in the comments. However, many non-native vines have not yet been assessed for potential invasiveness by UF /IFAS, and gardeners should be mindful not to let non-native vines escape.
Planting and Care
Vines can be planted throughout the year in Florida. In north and central Florida, fall and winter planting of cold hardy vines is ideal because plants have time to develop new roots and become established before they resume top growth in the spring. In southern Florida, temperatures are warm enough for year-round planting and growth. However, planting from June through September takes advantage of the rainy season and reduces the amount of irrigation needed to establish plants.
Vines are planted in the same manner as other plants. The planting hole should be dug two to three times the diameter of the root ball and as deep as the root ball is tall. In cases where the soil is hard, compacted, or poorly drained, it may be advisable to dig the planting hole half as deep. Then mound the soil to cover the sides of the root ball. A plant installed in this manner may require more frequent irrigation during dry periods, but it is not likely to suffer from subsurface drainage problems.
Water the vine well while it is still in the pot, and then carefully remove it from the container. Gently place the plant straight in the hole and be sure the top of the root ball is no deeper than the existing soil surface. Fill the hole with the removed native soil. Research has shown that backfilling with organic matter or other amendments is not necessary. Gently firm the soil with your hands; do not pack it with your feet. Water thoroughly. Use the extra backfill soil to construct a saucer-like basin over the root ball. This will help hold water until it drains down to the plant's roots.
Vines should be mulched with two to three inches of organic or inorganic material. Mulches insulate the soil and roots, conserve moisture, help control weeds, add organic matter to the soil, and improve the appearance of the landscape.
Recommended organic mulches include leaves, pine needles, bark, and wood chips. Inorganic materials like gravel and stone can also be used. Avoid using black plastic around plants, which will act as a barrier to water and gas exchange. Woven plastic fabric or other types of porous ground cloth can be used to help stabilize the soil, reduce weed penetration, and conserve moisture. These materials should be covered with a mulch to prevent their degradation by sunlight and to increase the landscape's aesthetic quality.
Keep a one- to three-inch area around the stems of plants free of mulch to decrease the chance of stem rot.
The success or failure of a planting often depends on whether the plants receive adequate moisture. Vines require months to extend roots into the surrounding soil; therefore, they should be watered frequently until they are well established. Start with daily watering for a week or two, then decrease the frequency to two or three times a week. Gradually reduce watering until the plant appears to be capable of surviving on automatic irrigation or rain alone. Time of year, location in the state, and the landscape, as well as rainfall amounts will influence how frequently vines need water.
Establish a newly planted vine by fertilizing two to three times in the first year or two. One application is normally scheduled around February (south Florida) or March (central and north Florida) and another September (north) or October (central and south). The third application can be made during the summer if needed. If the foliage is green and the plant is flowering well, fertilization can be postponed or eliminated.
The amount of fertilizer to apply will depend on the age and size of the plant. Keep in mind that the roots of most established plants, including vines, extend two to three times beyond the plant. Fertilization may be justified when faster growth is desired or when plants exhibit nutrient deficiencies. Phosphorus content of the fertilizer should be 0–2% P2O5. Historically, the ratio of nitrogen (N) to potassium (K2O) for landscape plants has been in the range of 1:1 to 2:1. An example of a granular landscape fertilizer which fits these criteria is 15-0-15. Due to the prevalence of magnesium (Mg) deficiency on certain landscape plants in many parts of the state, up to 2.5 pounds Mg/1000 ft/year may be applied to address this problem. Micronutrients can be applied at specified rates and timing to achieve fertilization objectives.
Well-established vines often do not require fertilizer. Over-fertilizing induces excessive, aggressive growth, and increases pruning requirements.
Vines, by nature, are vigorous plants which will require occasional pruning to keep them in bounds and on their supports. Vines growing up walls should be kept off the roof to avoid damaging shingles.
Flowering vines should be pruned shortly after the blooming period. Later pruning may damage next year's buds and earlier pruning could remove the current season's flowers.
Your local UF/IFAS Extension office can provide more information: http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/map/
Some of the information in this fact sheet was previously published as: Vines for Florida by Robert J. Black, retired Professor Emeritus, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS, Gainesville.
University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. 2018. "Assessment of Non-native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas" (https://assessment.ifas.ufl.edu, 4/29/2019) Gainesville, FL, 32611-4000, USA.
Table 1 Thumbnails
Table 1 is best viewed in pdf format. Thumbnails are provided here for convenience:
Vines for Florida. Section of State: S = South Florida; C = Central Florida; N = North Florida; Areas in parentheses ( ) are marginal for that vine.
Evergreen vines grown for foliage.
Flowering vines commonly grown as annuals.