Each spring gardeners begin looking for new and colorful plants to make their garden pop. "If you are looking for a plant that grows quickly, has interesting and colorful flowers, and will add a vertical element to your garden, look no further than an annual flowering vine," said Brittnay Haag, University of Illinois Extension horticulture program educator. All of these vines are easily grown from seed—either started directly in the soil or indoors 4 to 6 weeks before planted outside and after the threat of frost has passed.
Most annual vines climb by tendrils or twining (twisting their stems or leaf stalks) up any support such as a fence, trellis or arbor. They can also be planted to creep along the ground to form a colorful groundcover. These vines are sun-loving, easy to care for and have very few pest issues—an all-around great plant! While you don't need to prune annual vines, they may need limited "redirection and guidance" every so often. Many of these plants easily reseed in the gardens. Here are some tried and true gardener favorites.
cardinal climber (Ipomoea multifida) - This vine will add unique color and texture to the garden. It has palm-shaped leaves and grows 10 to 20 feet long. The abundant bright red tubular flowers are perfect for attracting hummingbirds.
hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus) – Purple-lovers, this plant is for you! The leaves are greenish-purple with deep purple veins and purple stems. Fragrant purple flowers turn to shiny red/purple pods when mature on the vine. The plant grows 10 to 15 feet long.
black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) - A less vigorous vine than others, it grows 4 to 8 feet long. Velvety, 3"-wide leaves form a dense canvas for the black-eyed Susan-like flowers. Blooms may be orange, yellow or white, all with dark centers.
scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) - The vine foliage may look similar to a garden pole bean, but the cluster of scarlet flowers and 3-5" red pods definitely set it apart. The vine can grow 8 to 12 feet long. The flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. The pods are edible as snap beans or shelled later.
"For a fun addition to any garden, make a teepee out of poles and plant vines along the outside for a green summer hideout for the kids," suggests Haag. "While not typically grown for their flowers, gourds are another great, easy-to-grow annual vine to try out. The vines produce ornamental fruit that can add an interesting size, shape texture to the landscape and used to decorate in the fall." Gourds will need substantial support to bear the weight of the fruit though.
Whether you have a newer garden that needs some maturity, or a mature garden that needs a pop of color or height, annual vines may just be the perfect plant for you. Check out the seed catalogs and gardener centers for some inspiration!
For more information about growing annual vines, visit the University of Illinois Extension vines website at extension.illinois.edu/vines/.