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Lessons Learned from Growing Native Vines: Chesapeake Gardens

One arched trellis: three vines.

view of native plant garden through trellised arch
Arch with Three Vines

With a dreamy vision of an arch covered with flowers for most of the growing season, I planted three vines at the base of this metal trellis five years ago: Carolina jessamine for yellow flowers in early spring, crossvine for orange flowers in late spring and maypop for purple and white flowers in summer and early fall. The results of the combination are mixed. The vines each are dream makers!

Vine One: Maypop

mosaic close-up of the maypop flower on wood
Maypop Flower

These exquisite flowers crazily attract both people and pollinators. They are intricate, colorful and unique. Maypop vine (Passiflora incarnata) grows in full sun and part shade. This perennial vine dies back each winter and regrows the following year to about 12 feet.

It grows aggressively, meaning it will send runners under ground that pop up 10 feet or more from the plant's base. If you are in your garden regularly, pulling the new sprouts is fairly manageable but if your garden is not tended for weeks at a time in summer, planting in containers may be your best bet.

This vine is native to the eastern and southern U.S. Passion flower vine is host to the larva of several butterflies and the fruit is attractive to birds. Our mature vine starts flowering in June. Fruits begin to form then and continue all summer long.

maypop vine with flowers and fruit on arched trellis summer
Maypop Vine in Summer

What I have learned in our garden is the vine's foliage is quite dense. The size of the leaves grows each year. This can be a downside in that flowers get lost in the foliage. A few years back, I began pruning the vine through summer limiting it to two main stems on each side of the trellis. That did seem to lead to more flowers but still a tremendous amount of foliage.

Three years back, in Old Town Alexandria, I passed by a home where the gardener had trained maypop to grow along wires across a brick wall. The vine had many flowers and the foliage was limited to the wires which formed a criss cross pattern. That did make me wonder whether severely pruning the foliage causes the vine to produce more flowers. Do you have any experience with this? If so, please share in the comments.

If you are looking to purchase this vine, please be careful in your selection. "Passion flower" vines of all kinds are sold in nurseries. Some of these are tropical vines which are extremely aggressive growers. To get the native, the latin name is the key: Passiflora incarnata.

Vine 2: Carolina Jessamine

native Carolina jessamine vine on arch in full bloom
Carolina Jessamine

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), native to coastal and southern Virginia and further south, is a twining vine that is easy to grow. It blooms in late spring and the more sun it gets the more flowers there are. This vine is modest in its pace of growth and can reach heights of 20' over the years. In our garden it is semi-evergreen.

I initially planted Carolina jessamine along a fence in part shade and it did not thrive - only a few flowers each year. After moving it to the trellis in full sun, the difference in bloom and growth was noticeable right away. Some experts advise it will bloom in the fall as well but that may be more likely further south.

Vine 3: Crossvine

native crossvine on arch in full bloom

Crossvine, sometimes called trumpet flower (Bignonia capreolata), is another twining vine native to the south with smallish dark green leaves that is semi-evergreen in our garden. The blooms last for a couple of weeks. This vine blooms in early May with the tropical looking orange to coral to pink to yellow flowers. In our garden, the growth habit of this vine is less vigorous than maypop but stronger than Carolina jessamine. In the wild, this vine climbs up tall trees and other structures.

The Three Vine Combo

maypop vine on trellised arch in bloom late summer
Maypop Vine Late Summer

This is what the the three vine combo looks like most of the summer. The maypop foliage basically takes over. Maypop foliage dies back and can be removed in late winter. In spring, Carolina jessamine blooms first and the flowers are quite visible since nothing else is growing yet. By late April or early May, crossvine comes into bloom and the maypop foliage is still not growing so all good. Once the maypop starts growing, the other flowers are long gone. From a bloom succession standpoint, this all works out.

I have learned maypop and crossvine are stronger growers than Carolina jessamine. The crossvine holds its own with the maypop. The three seem to grow compatibly though Carolina jessamine will probably never fully cover this trellis because it can't out compete the other two vines.

From an aesthetic point of view, my lesson learned is less is more! Each of these vines alone would probably be much more beautiful. Just check out this trellis in my friend Alice's garden. The crossvine arch is just stunning.

crossvine on trellised arch in full bloom
Crossvine in Alice's Garden

Likewise, crossvine growing along a neighbor's fence is also a stand out.

crossvine on wood fence in full bloom washingotn dc
Crossvine Washington D.C. Garden

This is one of the challenges of a small garden. So many plants, limited space! I am going to try to move one of the three vines on my trellis to its own location this year but certainly have no plans to give any of them up!

If you have experience or tips to share on any of these vines, please do. We will all appreciate it. Thank you so much for reading!


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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