Vines for Shady Areas

Clematis is the queen of flowering vines

Clematis is the queen of flowering vines

Gardeners often use vines in their gardens simply for their beautiful flowers.  But vines have a functional purpose as well.  They can be used to hide the ‘uglies’ that every garden seems to have, whether it’s an old shed, fence or view into the neighbor’s yard.  And since many vines grow quickly, they can give a mature, established look to a young garden in no time.

Vines can be used to soften the lines of garden structures such as pergolas and arbors, as vertical accents in perennial gardens, to define the walls of an outdoor room, screen less than desirable views and also brighten up a long expanse of fence or wall.

Climbing hydrangea softens this fence on shed wall

Climbing hydrangea softens this fence and shed wall

The problem with some vines, especially those grown for their flowers, is that they require full sun to perform their best.  And not every garden has the ideal spot for a vine that also happens to get a full day’s sun. However, there are a few noteworthy exceptions to this rule.  If you are looking for a flowering vine that grows and flowers well in the shade, you might want to try one of the following:

  • Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris) – Zones 4 – 9.  Can grow up to 60 feet and tolerates full sun to almost full shade.  Great for growing up tree trunks, walls and meandering over stone walls and boulders.
  • Sweet Autumn clematis (Clematis ternifora) – Zones 5 – 9.  This clematis tolerates more shade than your typical clematis.  Highly fragrant white flowers cover this vine in August and September.  Grows to 20 feet and can be used as a ground cover if allowed to grow without support.  I have my Sweet Autumn clematis growing in my climbing hydrangea.  The clematis flowers open just as the hydrangea flowers are looking old and tired.
  • Woodbine honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) – Zones 4 – 9.  Can grow up to 30 feet with support and tolerates full sun to partial shade.  Use honeysuckle to clamber over bushes and fences.
Variegated Virginia creeper is a colorful evergreen vine

Variegated Virginia creeper is a colorful evergreen vine

If you’re looking for a vine to grow in a shady spot and you’re more interested in colorful foliage than flowers, you might want to consider one of these vines:

  • Variegated Virginia creeper ( Parthenocissus quinquefolia ‘Variegata’) – Zones 4 – 9.  The variegated version of the old stand-by Virginia creeper is a real show-stopper.  A hardy grower, that, like it’s all-green cousin,  can become invasive if not sited properly.  Fall color is spectacular.
  • Marbled Dragon ivy ( Hedera helix ‘Marbled Dragon’) -  Zones 5 – 9.  A new variation on the old ivy standard.  Large leaves have a light green marbled variegation along the leaf veins.  Grows in partial to full shade.
  • Variegated wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei var. radicans ‘Harlequin’ ) – Zones 5 – 9.  Grows in full sun to full shade and spreads about 7 feet.  Harlequin has speckled green and white leaves but there are a wide variety of wintercreeper cultivars in a range of colors.  The leaves of Harlequin are more delicate than the more common Emerald Gaiety, making it a good choice for a smaller garden.

Whenever you are choosing a vine for your garden, it is best to match the mature size of the vine with the space you are growing it in.   If you only need to cover a small section of a 5 foot tall fence, then a climbing hydrangea may not be your best choice.  Just as you would match the mature size of a perennial or shrub to it’s location in your garden, you should try to do the same with a vine.

15 thoughts on “Vines for Shady Areas

  1. I made the mistake of planting trumpet vine to climb up a 100-foot black locust tree i had in my front yard. Yes, it attracted hummingbirds, but unfortunately, the thing is a vigorous underground spreader, and even after having the black locust cut down (due to crotch rot), that trumpet vine will be with me forever. After a week of not cutting the lawn, you can see the shoots of the trumpet vine coming up in the lawn 5o feet from where the mother plant was. It comes up everywhere it’s not wanted, in perennial beds, in my vegetable garden, everywhere.

    It’s a great plant, if you can contain it, otherwise, I would not plant it in a cultivate yard.

  2. Fern,

    Thanks for stopping by and also for leaving a comment. You’re right that trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) can easily become invasive. That seems to be an issue with many vines; they do a great job of quickly adding color and covering unsightly views, they often don’t know when to stop.

  3. My climbing hydrangea adds a touch of green to the trunk of a large oak tree. One of my clients uses climbing hydrangea to cover the long fence surrounding an inground pool. It makes a striking green fence that is spectacular when in bloom, and its easily trimmed to stay in shape.

    I have to agree with the trumpet vine comments. Another client has trumpet vine and wisteria climbing up support posts of a second story deck. Both love to spread into the surrounding lawn and foundation beds. I’ve opted not to plant either at my house, but I have seen trumpets make a quite a statement when properly trained on a trellis … and you can’t beat the hummingbird antics around a blooming trumpet vine.

  4. Joene,

    I love the idea of a climbing hydrangea growing up a tree. I have been thinking about taking cuttings off of my vine and transplanting a few around some of the oak trees on my property. It would be great to have some other tall spots for them to just keeping growing higher and higher since the deer love to browse my climbing hydrangea and I only have flowers above deer level.

  5. I liked this post! I’ve always experienced disastrous results with every vine that I have tried to grow….(shudder). Do you think that growing vines in containers would restrict their invasiveness?

  6. Shailaja,

    Growing vines in containers to control invasiveness is a tricky subject because those vines that are suitable for container growing, some of the smaller clematis for example, are not known to be invasive. The invasive vines, like tumpet vine or japanese honeysuckle, would not be appropriate for container use.

    It is typically the woody vines that are invasive and as a general rule, woody vines just get too big for use in a container.

    So I guess my answer is yes and no. Growing a vine in a container will restrict it from becoming invasive through root growth but remember, many vines are invasive because of specific characteristics of their seeds and growing a vine in a container means it seeds can be still be scattered about, maybe just not as quickly.

    I guess my best advice is don’t buy and plant a vine that is invasive in your area – regardless of where you are planting it.

  7. Pingback: GOOPS for January 2010 « A Garden of Possibilities

  8. I hear a lot about VARIEGATED Virginia Creeper> I have seen it and it is truly gorgeous, but can someone tell me where I can buy it?

  9. Just curious….I am considering the combination you suggested using sweet autumn clematis with climbing hydrangea. We have a 12 ft tall trellis /fence about 20 feet long which has a narrow arbour at the top. Would this be ;arge enough to support both of these vines? We are in Canada zone 5.

    • Initially, you’ll find that the clematis is much bigger than th hydrangea. Once the climbing hydrangea gets going, it may outgrow the trellis. Of course, you can plan to prune it back to keep it in bounds. And keep in mind, the stems of climbing hydrangea get quite thick and woody so you will want to make sure the trellis is sturdy and well secured before you start seeing alot of growth out of the hydrangea. Good luck and thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  10. We have a beautiful climbing rose “American Pillar” Started on an arch then started growing up into a giant oak tree. It blooms up at the top of the oak and all over it. The tree has pink blooms for 6 weeks. Everyone loves it. It gets morning sun, afternoon shade.
    I want more we are talking of making cutting of it.

  11. Hello,
    I’m looking for a vine to cover a fence on my roof deck in the city. The fence is about 7 feet high and 10 feet wide. It gets a good amount of sun during the day, with part of it falling off towards the later afternoon. One consideration too, beyond what type would be best, is how large of a container I need to plant the vine into. Any suggestions would be much appreciated, thank you.

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