Pacific Northwest Regional Reports

Fast-Growing Perennial Vines for Northern California

Create a living screen or fence with these show-stopping colorful climbers

Polka rose
Polka™ rose is a vigorous, disease-resistant climbing rose with large, old-fashioned-looking flowers. Photo: courtesy of Star Roses and Plants

Homeowners take great pride in their homes and gardens but can often be faced with a displeasing view or unattractive chain-link fence that begs for obscuring. Luckily, many problems can be minimized and even eliminated entirely by putting lush greenery or colorful flowers to work. If you’re faced with a terminal vista consisting of a neighbor’s RV, a jumble of trash cans, or just a homely looking fence, you can plant trees or a row of hedging shrubs for a long-term solution, or grow a stand of tall corn or lofty sunflowers for a fast, summer-season fix. Better still, you can turn the challenges presented by the unattractive view into an opportunity to design and grow your own living fence.

Mexican flame vine
Mexican flame vine’s cheery orange flowers are charming, but this plant is treated as an annual in many regions. Photo: Fionuala Campion

Quick-growing annual vines such as Spanish flag (Ipomea lobata), Mexican flame vine (Pseudogynoxus chenopodioides), cardinal climber (Ipomea × sloteri), and hyacinth bean vine (Lablab purpureus) are all fantastic choices for quick and colorful, warm-season coverage needs, but for long-term, long-lived coverage, try these spectacular vertical growers.

black eyed Susan vine
This unique black-eyed Susan vine has vibrant cherry red flowers with yellow-edged petals. Photo: Fionuala Campion

Tangerine Slice A-Peel® black-eyed Susan vine

Thunbergia alata ‘DL1501’, Zones 8–11

Reaching 8 feet high and 3 feet wide, this colorful, free-flowering twining vine requires little more than full sun and a chain-link fence or similar thin-gauged support to encourage a rapid flush of dense green foliage and a gorgeous display of bicolored tangerine-and-red blooms. Easy to care for, this vigorous vine appreciates regular to light watering during the drier months. It can also use a protective layer of mulch to minimize frost damage in winter and a hard pruning in late February to 12 to 18 inches from the ground. Side-dress with compost and a handful of well-balanced, granular fertilizer at pruning time to get it off to a great start in spring. Drought-tolerant once established, this lovely black-eyed Susan vine can also be grown in a large container or even an oversize hanging basket.

Snow Queen passion vine
‘Snow Queen’ passion vine has long-lasting flowers that bloom almost all year long. Photo: courtesy of San Marcos Growers.

‘Snow Queen’ passion vine

Passiflora ‘Snow Queen’, Zones 6–9

This recently introduced, award-winning vine was selected for its exceptional vigor and hardiness, and most importantly for its long-blooming profusion of spectacularly showy, long-lasting, pure white blooms. ‘Snow Queen’ grows rapidly using tendrils to cling to its support, making it an ideal chain-link candidate. Its stems are densely clothed with glossy, dark green, deeply lobed leaves. The scented, beautifully complex, and very large snowy blooms positively pop against the lush foliage. They appear throughout the year, peaking from early spring through fall. Little to no fertilizing or pruning is needed. Only prune to contain and tidy. Grow it in full to partial sun in well-drained soil, and give it regular, deep watering until established. After establishment, it is somewhat drought tolerant. This lovely passion vine can also be grown in a large container.

Polka rose
Polka™ rose will form a dense backdrop, obscuring any offending view. Photo: courtesy of Star Roses and Plants

Polka™ rose

Rosa ‘Meitosier’, Zones 5–9

With support, sunshine, nicely amended soil, and consistent water until establishment, this vigorous, disease-resistant, repeat-blooming climber makes a fabulous living fence. It quickly reaches 10 to 12 feet tall and 5 to 8 feet wide, creating a tapestry of color from late spring through fall. Its abundant, ruffled, peach-colored roses are highlighted perfectly by its dense backdrop of apple-green foliage. Old-fashioned and deliciously fragrant, its big romantic blooms are perfect for cutting and are as lovely in a vase as they are outdoors. Plant your Polka™ rose where it best obscures the offending view, and attach its long, arching canes to a sturdy supportive fence, trellis, or obelisk using strong twine, tape, or a zip-tie-staple combination. Prune appropriately each winter to contain wayward growth and to guarantee continued coverage, tying up new canes as needed. Feed as you would any of your roses, and harvest or deadhead the blooms often for sustained flower production. This rose is deciduous but dense, offering year-round presence.

—Fionuala Campion is the owner and manager of Cottage Gardens of Petaluma in Petaluma, California.

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