Choosing Vines for the Fence

When selecting vines for your fence or trellis, consider the amount of vertical support the mature vine will require. Some vines require light support such as a trellis, while others require real structural strength provided by a fence, arbor or pergola. Annual vines tend to need the least support, while some fruiting vines such as hardy kiwi and grapes require quite a lot. Here are some of the best annual and perennial vines for growing zones 5-7, such as found throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, classified by the amount of support they require.

The Light Weights

Wood FenceAnnual vines provide more floral color than most perennials, so they can be a great way to start your trellis or fence plantings. A light weight trellis fence will be sufficient to hold most  annual vines.

Morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea), morning glory vine (Ipomoea tricolor), and moon flower (Ipomoea alba) grow easily from seed in May to lengths as much as 15' by early August. The first two open their flowers in the morning; moon flower opens at night. Their leaf stalks twine readily around any available support but the plants have very little weight.

Decorative peas are also good candidates. These include the everlasting pea (Lathyrus grandiflorus), perennial pea (Lathyrus latifolius), and the well-known, sweet-scented sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus). These plants reach 6' - 10' by mid-summer.

Climbing nasturtium (Trapaeolum majus 'moonlight') produces 6' - 8' vines of beautiful edible flowers. It grows best in bright sun.

Medium Support Required

Clematis TrellisSeveral annual vines fall into this category, including the highly decorative scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) and flashy purple hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus). These productive, fast-growing vines can reach a height as much as 20' by midsummer. Scarlet runner bean is sometimes so dense it can form the walls and ceiling of an outdoor room.

Bitter gourd or bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is another source of dense foliage with interesting fruit. Luffa gourds (Luffa acutangula) and ornamental gourds (Cucurbita pepo) and many other types of gourds, including cucumbers and small pumpkins, thrive on vertical structures.

For deer resistance and good fall color, the medium-weight Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is an excellent choice among perennial vines. It is an herbaceous perennial, which means that it dies back in the fall and winter. Another fast-growing herbaceous perennial vine is the herb golden hops (Humulus lupulus 'aureus'). Also in this perennial category is honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervivens). And no discussion of perennial vines would be complete without mention of native Virginsbower (Clematis virginiana) and the many clematis hybrids.

If deer-resistance is your top priority, another selection in the mid-weight group is Firethorn (Pyracanthus spp.). It can make a very interesting trained vine or topiary of 10' or more year round because of its fall colors and berries that persist into winter.

Heavy Lifting

Hydrangea on FenceSome vines develop major trunks and, over a few years, can cover entire pergolas and form the sides and ceilings of outdoor rooms. The challenge with these vines is to provide enough structural support. Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala ss. petiolaris) will grow as much as 40'. Climbing roses and rambling roses (Rosa spp.--many varieties) can twine or weave over lattices from 15'-30'. Grapes (Vitis spp.) have been grown on trellises in the northern hemispheres for centuries, but hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta) is a more recent introduction that will outpace the most vigorous grapes in their vining capabilities. Wisteria is perhaps the classic woody-stemmed flowering vine, though it is now labeled as an invasive nonnative species by the USDA Natural Resources Conservaton Service, among other organizations. Each of these requires a trellis or fence of considerable strength that is solidly placed in cement or another strong footing.

Vines and trellises can be a very rewarding combination, not only as attractive outdoor decor but also as a source of privacy and a happy place for many beautiful vegetables and flower. To have the best success, match the support needs of the vine with the fence or trellis structures in your landscape.