Advice on support for flowering vines

doctorsteve(6)May 30, 2007

This is a newbie question, so apologies if this is ground that has been covered a million times before. (I DID spend half an hour doing searches, honest!)

I just got a lovely new shed, and want to create a hummingbird/butterfly area on the side of it facing my deck. I'm thinking of making the "back wall" of this space out of flowering vines that hummingbirds and butterflies like (e.g., not-too-invasive varieties of honeysuckle, scarlet runner, cross vine, cardinal climber...I've been scared off of the Japanese honeysuckles, cypress creeper, and even trumpet creeper by posts about their invasiveness, and hummingbirds, at least, don't care much about clematis or morning glory).

Much as I'm straining at the bit to go out and buy and plant, I realize that decisions I make now about things like installing trellises will be with me for a long time, and so I need some advice....

A short summary of non-expert advice I've received:

Use metal. Wood rots, or needs to be painted, and you're too lazy to paint it.

Use wood. Metal rusts, or needs to be painted, and you're to lazy to paint it.

Use cedar or pressure-treated trellises. They don't rot or rust.

Don't use cedar or pressure-treated. They're ugly.

It doesn't matter if they're ugly. They'll be covered with vines.

Just use wires or even string.

Don't use wires or string -- some of these are perennials, and will outlast wire or strong.

Use poles.

Use 3" wire mesh with the plastic coating.

Don't put vines on your shed. They will eventually invade the shed itself, or its the shingles on the roof.

The things that you are talking about will take over your whole yard. Just plant clematis and hang hummingbird feeders.

Why are you planting flowers at all in an area you walk through? You're allergic to bees, moron! ;-)

On the more expert advice front (from the web), I know that there are vines that twine, vines that attach with tendrils, and vines that have suckers. (I assume it's mostly the latter that are a danger to buildings?) Unfortunately, I haven't been able to systematically hook this information up with the specifics of the vines I'm thinking about, or with the support options that would be recommended.

So I guess this is an open call for help on a lot of questions:

1) do the things I list (or others you might suggest for my goals) suggest a common support system? Or would I be better with a mixture of trellis/posts/wires? (The shed wall is about 8' wide and 8' high, though of course the roof is sloped.)

2) what support structures have you tried that you would never try again, and why? (I.e., mistakes that a newbie might easily stumble into and then regret later...)

3) is it a mistake to put vines on a trellis attached to a wall, as opposed to standing out, say, a foot from it?

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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

I don't have a garage or shed (am in a hi-rise but was in a house for years before and do some vertical gardening on my balcony wall), but I do have vines for hummingbirds and recently butterflies have been visiting too (yes I get both up

Regarding your suggestions, you bring up good points and counter-points regarding trellising against a shed wall. Wood does rot after awhile (even with paint) and metal can rust and crumble after awhile (even with paint). It would be nice if one could find a similar large wall trellis in PVC (I know there are smaller ones that are tall but usually narrow too, but that might be something to think about to use).

What I can offer would be like a small scale experience to help describe what the vines you are considering might do and the type of support you might need.

Some of the vines that hummers like do include the honeysuckles, but if you choose a native (Loncera sempervirens), then those don't grow as aggressively or are as invasive as the japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). There are many named varieties of the natives and my hummers couldn't wait until the flowers started opening yesterday and they were all over it. Mine ("Blanche Sandman") is in a pot and supported by a decorative vinyl-coated metal trellis. Interestingly, that honeysuckle seems a bit reticent to twine like other honeysuckles so it would basically mean manually threading it around the support and/or tying them initially until they are on their way. My other honeysuckle - a "Mandarin" (Lonicera x mandarin) does twine quite readily on its own and that is on a small wooden trellis support and yep, the hummers like that one too). But as a note, as a twiner, honeysuckles may have some difficulty going around something too large in diameter, although being woody vines, they do better than the annual vines on wider supports. Similarly, my American wisteria, which is not as aggressive as its asian cousins and as a woody vine, can twine better around a wider support, but the thinner the easier for it.

My Blanche Sandman honeysuckle looks like this right now (sorry for the hazy picture but it's hazy here...ugh... this is its 2nd year with me, it was from a 1 gallon size plant that I got last year). These have a tendency for bare bottoms (I have seen larger specimens do similar) with a mass of vinelettes and flowers towards the top (unless you prune to make it bushier - the japanese honeysuckle tends to do the long vines):

The SRBs, cypress vines and cardinal climbers have thinner vine shoots and need a finer support to attach to. I have seen some interesting suggestions for that on the large scale where one can string fishing line up for them. Since they are annuals (and the cardinal climber is in the colder areas although they might reseed), and unless you can find white or clear netting, using fishing line might be more aesthetically neutral in winter when the support area is exposed after they die back.

The crossvine and trumpet vine are woody like honeysuckle and sortof twine but can become shrubby as well. So for any of the woody vines, a good solid support would be a must. The trumpet vine can get aggressive so unless you are willing to hack it back (I have seen people grow it like a standard), then you might want to reconsider. The crossvine might get that way too, although it's not as aggressive and there are some pretty cultivars out there. If you did decide on clematis (I have one on a cheapy tomato cage) it depends on the type as the group 3s like I have can be cut to the ground every year and will bloom on new growth (meaning for a trellis, it needs to be re-trained each year), whereas the group 1s and 2s maintain a woody structure and require minimal pruning. These attach via their leafs, which wrap around the support, so too thick or wide a support and they can't climb well on their own and they will attach to themselves and then fall over in a tangled mess. But for the ones maintaining a woody structure, if you thread and train the vine (even tie it up), you can shape it permanently.

For attaching to a wall, it's probably best to have it on a stand-off (maybe a few inches out) so that you can get behind it and allow the plants to be woven around and through it easier. Plus it keeps the back of the plants off a hot wall and allows some air to move behind.

Anyway, hope this helps a little - when I was composing this, I saw a butterfly that I wasn't sure of. Someone from above was looking out for me because I took a WAG and checked a PA butterfly site and immediately ID'd it on a first try as a silver-spotted skipper. I have alot of red flowers blooming up here right now and I guess it saw those and the leaves of my wisteria and maybe thought the wisteria was a locust tree or related (these apparently like pea family plants and the wisteria leaves resemble such):

I did have a visit from an Eastern Black swallowtail last weekend:

And I'm still trying to get a good picture of my hummers this year but here's a rare one from last year where 2 were sitting not far from each other and had they known the other was there, the mad chase would have errupted (plus you can see my volunteer MGs around the shepherd's hook where the feeder was hung - they did use the MGs as they were closing by the way):

    Bookmark   May 31, 2007 at 3:56PM
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Jenny -- thanks for all the helpful advice. For some reason, fishing line never occurred to me. It sounds like an excellent choice for the vines that can use it -- it can be gotten strong, is almost invisible and won't rust or decay like wire or string. Perhaps I should just do some twining annuals this year and see how ideas shape up over the summer.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2007 at 6:29PM
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After another day's thought, the idea of using annuals (perhaps even potted) and fishing line is growing on me quite a bit. I was initially imagining only vertical strands, like invisible poles. But then I realized that I could also do more creative arrangements, such as putting a number of lines together at the bottom, where a plant starts, and having them flare out as they go up, perhaps crossing lines for different plants. (Though I'm sure the plants will go where they want in spite of any prior ideas I might have.) This will also let me get some experience first-hand about how particular vines like to grow.

I guess there's no reason I couldn't try this with perennials either, as they could be removed or cut back at the end of the season. Though things I've read have pretty much scared me off from the ones regarded as invasive, like Japanese honeysuckle, cypress vine and trumpet vine.

WOuld it be a bad idea to keep the vines potted, assuming the pot is reasonably secured so it doesn't get knocked over by the wind (or the woodchucks, feral cats, skunks, fox, deer, occasional itinerant fisher or incautious lawn service worker)? I'm tempted to build up that area using the lasagna gardening method, and while I think it's probably safe to plant a 30" annual in a newly-laid lasagna bed, I'm worried about whether it will provide stability for something that wants to grow 15', even if much of it is anchored to guide lines. (THe butterfly bushes, I think I will dig holes for, as I can't imagine 6" of newly composting soil being enough to anchor them adequately.)

    Bookmark   June 1, 2007 at 11:35AM
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Man O Day!!!!! Just throw something up for it to climb on!!! Don't drive yourself crazy!!! :) Arum

    Bookmark   June 1, 2007 at 10:18PM
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***Man O Day!!!!! Just throw something up for it to climb on!!! Don't drive yourself crazy!!! :) Arum****

LMAO! Lurking on this page and this cracked me right up!!!

    Bookmark   June 1, 2007 at 10:23PM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

LOL Arum!

Steve - All mine are potted obviously. ;) An interesting suggestion that I read about stringing the line and securing it was to use eye hooks and clamp ferrules around parts that are to be tied off. If you are building a bed and want to use pots initially, you could just sink them to keep them stable - maybe even use nursery pots with the bottoms cut out and sink those in the bed.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2007 at 7:44PM
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Some thoughts:

If you care about the shed wall, leave space between the wall and the trellis for air circulation. If you have to maintain the shed wall (paint it? pressure wash it?) and you want to grow a perennial vine, use hinges or removable panels on the trellis support.

What vines you want to grow will dictate the type of trellis. Is the vine self attaching or adhering? If so you need a porous surface like unpainted pressure treated lumber. Is it a twiner? Then metal, painted wood or string will work. Select the one appropriate for the weight of the vine.

My personal favorite for flexibility (I may want to try different things!), economy, and appearance is pressure treated lumber with a colored wood stain applied. Stain - not paint. It lasts for many years without a redo. Stain comes in garden friendly exterior colors like green, barn red, and honey gold. Use 1x1s for the main part of the trellis and bigger wood like 2x2s or 4x4 wood fence posts as vertical supports. And decking screws that won't rust.

You are not overthinking this. You will get the last laugh when every else's trellises and vines are on the ground in a chaotic mound. Just don't get a yen for Chinese or Japanese wisteria. Now that is a major construction project involving iron pipes and concrete. Don't go there.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2007 at 12:01AM
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Thanks for all the good advice.

No danger of planting wisteria there. Much as I enjoy looking at it, it strikes me as too formal for this space. And not a good hummingbird magnet, I think, and that's the intention behind this area. Not to mention that I've seen wisteria stems as big around as my leg -- as you say, some serious support needed! (Granted, said wisteria was probably almost a century old, and by that time I'll be mulching the plants rather than looking at them. :-))

    Bookmark   June 6, 2007 at 8:02PM
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davek913(Z5 Northern IN)

I'm a newbie with vines myself and I wanted to try some honeysuckle by our one fence but wanted to keep it away from the fence some. I built a 12'wide, 7' high arbor with cedar 2x4s and attached it to the fence about 1 foot away using galvanized 2x4 joist hangers on the fence and scrap 2x4s. I also ran some 3 foot coated fencing from one end to the other to give the plants something to twine around. It can still reach my fence, but it's not something I have to check every other day to make sure it goes where it's supposed to.

I also used some rebar to stake it to the ground through the base supports. By the time I was done, I(160 #s) could hang from it without hardly any deflection at all. I gave it a couple of coats of spar urethane for a finish. It's pricy, but is a good finish for outdoor use. I already had the finish, adhesive and screws, but the whole setup cost me around $50 dollars.

A couple of tips for building a wooden arbor or trellis: Use galvanized screws or screws coated for use with cedar or pressure treated lumber, and use polyurethane adhesive (Gorilla Glue, others)on all joints or points where wood contacts other wood at stress points such as corners or end joints. It generally takes 24 hours to cure, but is worth it for the extra joint strength. You can use a water resistant yellow glue(Tite Bond II, others) in some places, but on end to end joints the wood will suck some of the glue up(The fibers at the ends act like little straws). That's not as much of an issue with poly glue, plus most poly glue will expand some as it cures to fill in any gaps.

I used cedar rather than pressure treated because I like the prospect of it remaining stable over the course of time. Pressure treated wood is like any wet wood. Sometimes it will warp, bow or cup over time as the treatment dries out. That's not as much of an issue with a deck or outdoor foundation because there's generally a lot of bracing, weight and fasteners involved to keep it stable. There's a chance that wouldn't be the case with a freestanding structure like an arbor. If you've got a good straight piece of cedar, it's more likely to keep it's form due to its not being as damp initially.

Also, if you do use pressure treated lumber, make sure the screws you use are rated for the ACQ treatment used on pressure treated lumber. The ACQ has been known to eat regular and even some galvanized fasteners. Some screws that would hold up with the old CCA treatment just didn't work with the ACQ. I've read stories of people who had to partially or completely rebuild their decks only two years after building them because the screws failed.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2007 at 1:51AM
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I am a newbie. I had a stump removed in the middle of my front lawn so I put in two metal teepees from the garden store and planted MGs and moonflowers. They climbed up the teepees and had nowhere else to go. So I stuck a round gold drapery rod in the ground between the teepees providing another four feet. They wound up that and started twining around each other and falling over. Not knowing what else to do, I inserted the other half of the drape rod to extend another four feet and trained the twisted clump around that. There was no way to untwine the vines. So they have started up that. Will they go on forever???? What can I add that will help them spread out and not look really stupid?

Desperate in New York!

    Bookmark   July 15, 2007 at 4:22PM
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