Episode 29 – Climbers, Twiners, and Vines – Oh My! And Interview with the Birdman

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

Climbing the walls. Hear it through the grapevine as Stacey and Rick discuss vines in general and their favorites. From Wisteria to climbing Hydrangea, Honeysuckle to climbing Roses, Morning Glories to Moonflowers there are many choices to “go vertical” in your yard.

When we talk “viners and climbers” we are talking about the “tendrils” the “twiners” the “ramblers” or “hook climbers” and the “clingers” with aerial roots.

The “Tendrils” are distinctive vegetative extensions of a plant strongly possessing a twining tendency causing it to encircle any object encountered induced by touch. These tendrils are distinguished by their “irritability,” whereby tactile stimulation at their apexes promotes a coiling response so that the tips grow around the support. (see word of the day) Clematis, Grapes, Cucurbits, Passion Vine and Peas are examples.

(And what about Pea tendrils? (also known as pea shoots) Pea shoots became popular among restaurant chefs in the U.S. in the 1990s, but these tender greens are a staple of Asian cuisine.  Pea tendrils are a staple of Chinese cuisine, often used in soups and stir-fries. They are harvested when the pea plants are 12-18 inches out of the ground. Young leaves and shoots of the snow pea plant taste like a cross between peas and spinach. While they are growing, any flowers that develop are plucked off, so the sweet pea flavor goes into the leaves and tender stems. They’re delicate and tasty when gently stir-fried, or can be enjoyed raw as a salad green).

The “Twiners” are plants like Mandevilla, Honeysuckle, Wisteria, Thunbergia, (Black Eye Susan) Morning Glories and Moonflower (almost woody by the end of the season) “Twining-climbers” like Honeysuckle, Wisteria, Bittersweet, and Dutchman’s pipe wind their main stems about their hosts and spiral upward or outward along branches into the light.

These plants often need some “tough love” to bloom, in other words a little bit of stress to produce blooms in lieu of growth.

Clockwise or Counterclockwise? Ipomea is clockwise and bittersweet counterclockwise. Is the reverse true in a different hemisphere? The twist is not due to the reaching towards the sun but rather genetics of the plant. Either way tendril and twining vines naturally wrap themselves around supports without assistance ties or help

The “Ramblers” are made most famous by Roses (‘Rise Up’ Roses) that need support (long stems and twist tie) “Hook-climbers” like certain roses and other ramblers attach themselves to a host via prickles, hooks, and thorns. Pyracantha would be another?

The “Clingers” use “Aerial Roots” like Climbing Hydrangea or Ivy with rootlets that like a textured surface for clinging. “Root-climbers” like English ivy, Poison ivy, and Trumpet vine produce a profusion of bristly side growths (“adventitious roots”) that penetrate cracks and crevices of a host tree or building to hold the vine in place

Think about how weeds can be opportunistic by “vining.” From the parasitic tendrils of Dodder, the invasive twining of bindweed and kudzu and the toxic woody clinger Poison Ivy.

The garden Center industry has come a long way since Vinca Vine of the 70’s! 

Looking for a good indoor vine? The fenestrated plant Rhaphidophora tetrasperma is fun and easy to grow. Proven Winners Leafjoy has Monster Mash™ Adansonii Swiss Cheese Vine

Word of the day: Thigmotropism Plant tendrils respond to physical touch (thigmotropism).

Two Annual vines I love to plant are Purple Hyacinth Bean (Lablab purpureus) Everything about this vine is riotous color. The heart shaped leaves have purple veining on the under-sides with stems that are deep purple. The profuse blooms are a rich lavender and the glossy bean pods are a day-glow purple. Flowers taper off, as the pods begin to form, but the plants remain attractive and continue spiraling upward. And the Scarlet Runner Bean. There are much better-tasting beans, so this is grown for its beautiful flowers and showy bean pods. Of course also Sweet Potato Vine Proven Winners has the ‘Sweet Caroline.’ 

Why: We’re looking at Rose Sensation Japanese hydrangea vine today because, it’s, well, a vine. But it’s a vine that’s going through a bit of a taxonomic identity crisis at the moment, because it used to be known as Schizophragma hydrangeoides, or false hydrangea vine. It’s differs from the true hydrangea vine, Hydrangea anomala var. petiolaris, which is also known as climbing hydrangea,  in that it’s showy sterile florets, which ring the edge of its lacecap flowers, do not take on the distinctive four-petal shape associated with hydrangeas. Rather, the sterile florets on Schizophragma are a single petal, shaped a bit like a sail. So that’s all well and good: you have hydrangea vine, with flowers that indeed resemble those of shrub hydrangeas, and the related but not quite the same false hydrangea vine. Or, it was all well and good, until taxonomists recently changed the botanical name of false hydrangea vine, Schizophragma hydrangeaoides, to Hydrangea hydrangeaoides, making it pretty weird to keep calling it a “false hydrangea vine.” From a gardening perspective, this change is a very good thing. Schizophragma hydrangeoides was hard to pronounce, and false hydrangea vine is a mouthful – and confusing. So the new common name for this plant is Japanese hydrangea vine, and that’s what you’ll start seeing on plant tags in garden centers over the next couple of years.

On today’s show, we’re highlighting a very special Japanese hydrangea vine called Rose Sensation. It is a climbing vine that looks best scrambling up trees or covering a wall or fence, and it blooms in early summer for us here in Michigan, which is when most climbing hydrangeas bloom. But when it blooms, its flowers aren’t simply white like all the others – rather, each of those sail-shaped sterile florets is a marbled mix of pinks and white. Each one of those florets is unique, too, so it’s really interesting to look at. The flowers are fresh for around two to three weeks, depending on the weather (they last longer in cool weather and with regular water).

Who: Rose Sensation Japanese hydrangea vine came to us from France, where it was selected for this unique color. There’s really only one other pink-flowered Japanese hydrangea vine (and no pink climbing hydrangeas), it’s called ‘Rosea’ and isn’t nearly as vivid in its color, nor does it have the unique “marbling” that Rose Sensation has.

How to grow: Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first: Rose Sensation Japanese hydrangea vine is hardy to USDA zone 5 (though do be aware that many Schizophragma hydrangeoides/Hydrangea hydrangeoides are only hardy to USDA zone 6 or 7, so you can’t generalize on the species). They can take full to part sun, and do very well scrambling up the trunks of deciduous trees, which is what they do in nature. Like all hydrangeas, it is not deer resistant. It is shallow-rooted, so needs a good moist soil and a layer of mulch; it’s especially important to keep this in mind as you are getting a new Rose Sensation established because the much more established tree is likely to rob moisture away from the vine, making it more difficult to get established.

The real elephant in the room when it comes to climbing hydrangea and Japanese hydrangea vine is understanding how they grow, and what it takes for them to flower. These plants exhibit determinate growth. That’s a term you might know from growing tomatoes – it indicates, in that case, that the plant has one fruit set that you harvest and then it’s done. When used to describe a plant’s growth habit, it means that it does not continue to grow all through the season like most plants do. It puts on one spurt of growth in spring, and it’s really only this new spring growth that’s capable of growing the rootlets that help it cling on to its support structure. This means that the first year after you plant a Japanese hydrangea vine (or a climbing hydrangea, for that matter), it will not begin to climb. However, it is nonetheless important to have that structure in place and ready for the next year when it does; you can also use bamboo stakes or something similar to help direct the stems to where you’d like them.

And now, on to flowering. Most hydrangeas are precocious – in other words, they flower at a young age. This is not typically the case for either of the climbing hydrangeas, which need usually at least four years and up to seven to begin flowering. It’s important that the vine be well-established and actively growing on its structure before it will flower. They do bloom on old wood, so should not be pruned, but that’s not usually an issue for climbing hydrangeas. If you do want to clip it to stay within specific confines, that’s fine – just do be aware that it will be removing flower buds either for the current or the next year, and avoid doing any cutting or trimming until the plant is established on to its structure.

If you’d like to add Rose Sensation Japanese hydrangea vineor any of the 320+ Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs – to your garden or landscape, you’ll find a list of local retailers here

Gardening Mail Bag - Stacey

Planting under mature maple trees poses two challenges: the deep shade that maples typically cast, and their thick, abundant roots. Of these two, the shade is definitely the easier one to deal with, not least of all because the roots pose two problems: one, the difficult of planting when the ground is mostly taken up by thick, woody roots, and two, the competitive advantage for water uptake that the established trees enjoy. This means you need to pick plants that can withstand some dry conditions, and that are available in small sizes so they are easy to plant. And you have to be prepared to provide extra water to help the plants get established while the trees attempt to suck it all up.

Our list of suggestions that should be able to withstand these conditions include ajuga, perennial geranium, carex, brunnera, wintercreeper, ferns, and Japanese forest grass; we suggest you avoid myrtle/vinca/periwinkle and ivy. People may tell you these plants are tough as nails, which is true, but they are also invasive and difficult to manage so while planting them may solve your under-tree issue, it’s likely to cause new management issues. They’re best avoided. Finally, whatever you decide to plant, we suggest planting as soon as possible in spring. You want those new plants to be well-established before fall when the maples drop their leaves so that as you rake, you won’t be uprooting all the hard work planting work you did.

The key in picking the right plants for your scenario here is determining whether you have dry shade or moist shade. This is a key factor in all plant choices, but especially in shade, as so many shady places do tend to have at least somewhat moist soil. Here are some suggestions you could start looking at: taller ferns like ostrich, dixie wood ferns, and royal ferns, arunucus (aka goatsbeard), tricyrtis (toadlily), acanthus, and astilbe.
Harry Lauder’s walking stick, Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’, is a very cool shrub that naturally grows twisted, corkscrew-like branches. It’s fairly slow growing and is definitely best left to develop its own unique habit, so we do not recommend cutting it back, trimming it, or pruning it from the top. Rather, you can control the spread by taking out entire stems at the base with a pair of newly sharpened loppers. Concentrate on taking the oldest growth out first, even if this isn’t reducing the width – this plant definitely benefits from removing the old wood periodically. You can safely remove up to one-third of the total plant at once. And as for the wilted-looking leaves? Probably not a cause for concern – because the leaves themselves take on some of that twisty, contorted characteristics, they can appear droopy or wilty. It’s just another of this plant’s many charms!

Do you have a question for us? We’re happy to help! E-mail us or use the contact tab above.

Branching News - Rick

This week, we talk to Birdman Bill Stovall, a fellow West Michigan resident who is the brains behind Stovall Wood Products bird houses and feeders and is also an extremely knowledgeable birder himself. He shares his knowledge of bluebirds, turkey vultures, sandhill cranes, and loons. In fact, the southernmost pair of nesting loons resides not far from his home in Southwest Michigan, and he is a cofounder of the Michigan Loon Preservation Association. His enthusiasm for birds in absolutely infectious, as you’ll hear in today’s show. So infectious, in fact, that we couldn’t fit our entire conversation into the radio program, so please watch the YouTube version below or listen on your favorite podcast platform to hear everything Bill shares with us. 

Bill’s line of bird houses and bird feeders are sold under the name Stovall Wood Products. He does not offer them through a website, but you’ll find them through many online retailers, as well as at your favorite bird or wildlife shop.