A couple years ago I decided to list a flowering vine as a Weed of the Week in the Tribune Chronicle summer feature "How Does Your Garden Grow."
While I purposely bought this vine to put in my own garden, without thinking of its history or growth habit, it soon became apparent that it could be a potential problem in my garden. Who hasn't brought plants into the garden for one reason or another, only to have regrets later on? Although, I have to admit that I still harbor no regrets, for myself at least. My husband, however, does have regrets, and lots of them.
Let me explain.
Several years ago I was taking an aerobic class at a gym in my hometown and I noticed where I parked my car near a fence a lovely vine was growing with remarkable tubular orange flowers. Those in the know have likely guessed that I'm writing about - Campsis radicans, or trumpet vine. At that time, however, I didn't know what it was. I just knew that someday I wanted a fence in my yard and I wanted this plant to grow on it. It's no secret that I am attracted to orange flowering plants. Those, mixed with several shades of greens and purples, make a striking appearance in the garden. I could picture orange tubular (or trumpet shaped) flowers as a backdrop for Russian sage, blue salvia and Munsted lavender. I bought a small plant from a local garden center. I didn't yet have a fence, but I planted it anyway, in a spot that if I were to get a fence, this is where it would be.
The plant stayed small the first three years. I watched and waited, wondering when I would ever see those lovely orange flowers. To my delight a few years later, my husband installed several sections of wooden fence, not just to keep our dogs confined, but also to give me a place to grow climbing roses and other vining plants. I was in heaven. One of the sections was beside the vine. The vine, seeming to know the fence was there just for it, took off like a rocket. Those of you who know this plant are likely smiling now because you know what came next.
It not only began to grow and bloom vigorously, it hasn't stopped. It not only took over the fence, it began growing through the tight wooden slats, pushing them apart and distorting the fence. Baby trumpet vines appeared several feet from the parent plant. It was like Audrey-2 from Little Shop of Horrors. My husband, more than I, envisioned our house being consumed by this "Kudzu of the North" until we would eventually be engulfed in vines as if we were living in a desperate fairy tale.
Yet I still loved my plant. I still loved the tubular flowers that attracted hummingbirds and left unusually large seedpods that were wonderful additions to arrangements and dishes of fall potpourri. Had I known of its reputation of toppling over small buildings, not to mention fences, I might have given it more thought, but I doubt it. After all, a few minutes of pruning can keep the vines in check. What I didn't know was that pruning this plant simply stimulates more underground spreading. So while I was keeping the original plant in check, my husband was fighting hundreds of offshoots throughout the rest of the garden. He wasn't happy.
With regret, I eventually gave him permission to eradicate the plant from the garden. It has been three years and he is still fighting the battle of the trumpet vine. It hasn't stopped my desire for more of these plants, although I have since learned a few lessons about dealing with it. I have also learned why this plant is considered one of the most noxious of weeds.
If (like me) you can't resist, here are tips to make your trumpet vine experience more tolerable:
- Plant your vine on a sturdy arbor, fence or dead tree, where it can grow and bloom, but not in the middle of a garden. Plant it near the lawn where you can mow around it regularly to control vines that emerge from underground roots.
- Deadhead the vine after blooming, or pick seedpods before they burst open and spread their seeds.
- Don't use a live tree for the plant to climb on or it will eventually strangle and kill the tree.
- Don't plant it close to a house or on one of those bendable plastic arbors. It can get heavy and will knock down smaller and weaker supports. It will also cling to the sides of buildings and grow into gutters and downspouts.
- Prune the plant regularly in spring and fall to keep it under control, although pruning may cut down on the number of flowers. Use your judgement.
- Wear gloves when pruning. Some people are sensitive to the foliage.
- If you do decide to go with the plant, be patient. It can take up to five years for a young plant to mature enough to bloom. But it will eventually, and it will be lovely.
Evanoff is a Master Gardener with The Ohio State University Extension of Trumbull County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.