Try Annual Vines

LLablab purpureus. Photo by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

Vines can be both overwhelming and scary. When I first moved to Chapel Hill in 1992, my front yard consisted of English ivy, my backyard nourished Japanese wisteria, while my side yard contained Chinese honeysuckle. I also had scatterings of poison ivy sprinkled among the English ivy – in fact, the only horrible vine I didn’t own was kudzu. As soon as we worked to free the yard of all these undesirable vines, I began contemplating covering my new fence with – you guessed it – some vines.

Vines have a lot going against them as many of them are exuberant growers so there’s a reasonable fear that once they get going it’s hard to contain them. Global warming hasn’t helped as vines thrive on the additional carbon dioxide in the air. Poison ivy has become more virulent while English ivy is flourishing. According to The New York Times, lianas are now increasing at a worrisome rate in tropical forests, preventing trees from absorbing the necessary carbon.

To dip your toe in the world of vines, sometimes it helps to start out with annual vines – but again, it’s important to do your research first. Plant Ipomoea quamoclit, aka the Cypress Vine Morning Glory, and you will never get rid of it as it’s a profuse seeder.

One of my favorite annual vines is Lablab purpureus, the Hyacinth Bean Vine. If you have a young child to whom you would like to demonstrate what a seed can do, this is your plant. In the first place, the seeds are large so a child can easily hold them. In the second place, when planted they barely need more than an inch of soil covering them. In the third place, germination is relatively quick – approximately two weeks.

The fragrant lavender flowers quickly turn into handsome long seed pods, about 4 inches in length. Let the pods mature, capture the seeds, store them in an envelope, and plant them again in the following April after the last frost date, usually around April 15. Best of all, this member of the bean family produces its own nitrogen so it doesn’t require any fertilization. This is an annual vine that I love.

Lablab purpureus. Photo by Kit Flynn.

Another vine I love is Thunbergia alata, the Black-eyed Susan Vine. Like Lablab, it requires a sunny area but unlike Lablab, it gets off to a relatively slow start. However, by midsummer, it will be a mass of flowers. Because it grows shorter than Lablab, it looks fabulous in a hanging basket. Seeding is not a problem. You can purchase Lablab and Thunbergia seeds at

Occasionally you will see Mandevilla for sale at garden centers. We, of course, must treat this tropical vine as an annual, which doesn’t mean that it will behave like an annual. Typically, annuals take off quickly as they’re anxious to set seed in order the preserve the species. Perennials take their time as they’re in it for the long haul. By all means, pick up this vine if you run into it at the garden center – but don’t expect it to behave like an annual before it disappears at the first frost.

Now all vines need some type of support unless you are seeking to have a shapeless mound in your garden. There are many options out there that suddenly are nonexistent as soon as you realize you need a support so start thinking about this ahead of time. Appropriate supports do not magically appear, alas.

Fences make great supports as do trellises. Wooden supports need to be treated as otherwise they will quickly disintegrate. Once you decide upon a particular foundation for your vine, you will have to figure out how to get it home. Wooden archways might be too large for a car while metal ones conveniently come apart. I’ve had great luck with H Potter trellises although it can take two people to put them together.

The point I’m trying to make when it comes to housing vines in your garden is that you must do your research and plan ahead. Figure out how you want to display your vine. Many vines are either super exuberant growers or seeders, neither of which I can live with. My advice when dipping a toe into the world of vines is to start out with a lovely annual vine and proceed from there. Otherwise, you may end up with a scary vineyard.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at

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1 Comment on "Try Annual Vines"

  1. Why does Kit Flynn keep recommending non-native plants? Doesn’t she know that our native pollinators need native plants in order to survive? Our pollinators know their host (native) plants, and know that non-native plants cannot support their larvae. Please recommend native plants for our gardens.

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