Virginia CreeperParthenocissus quinquefolia
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Virginia Creeper is a large self-supporting climbing plant that is valuable for large walls, fences and pergolas, as well as for ground cover in a wide range of difficult locations. It grows over 30 feet tall and at least 10 feet wide, so don’t plant it in areas with limited space. On houses it may need regular trimming to control where it grows. The attractive 5-lobed leaves are purple-pink in spring, bright green and attractive all summer, and spectacular shades of crimson and purple-reds in fall – a real seasonal highlight. On a south-facing wall it cools the interior, reducing costs and air-con usage.
The fall colors of Virginia Creeper are strongest in full sun, but it will grow through all light conditions, even into full shade. It grows in almost any soil, from dry to wet, and in heavy clays. It grows beneath black walnut, and isn’t eaten by deer or bothered by pests or diseases. It is drought-resistant once established. Trim as necessary to control the spread, or cut back hard every few years.
Often in gardens we have blank walls and fences that would look so much better if they were covered in green. Twining plants will work on trellis or chain-link, but if you have smooth surfaces of brick, stone or metal, it isn’t really practical to give plants some support, so the best choices will be self-supporting plants. It’s in situations like these that the Virginia Creeper can be the right choice. Not only does this rugged native plant survive in urban conditions and on difficult sites, it provides a gorgeous green wall of glossy leaves that turn flaming reds and purples in fall – one of the most spectacular and beautiful fall effects available. Not only is it a terrific choice when you want to cover large vertical surfaces, it is a fabulous and underused ground cover choice for slopes and banks, and areas where other plants won’t grow, and an attractive way to turn an ugly dead tree into a thing of beauty. It can also be used to quickly cover large pergolas and gazebos, providing good shade underneath.
Of course, like all good things, Virginia Creeper has some limitations. It will cover a large area – plants can rise over 30 feet off the ground – so don’t use it where space is limited. If you grow it on a building it may need periodic trimming to keep it clear of windows, shutters, guttering, wiring and roofs, where it can cause damage. It is also not a great choice for painted walls and wood or shingle walls, because the clinging suckers are hard to remove when necessary, and they can remove the paint as well. So consider these things carefully, but once you feel you have the ‘all clear’ you can look forward to a beautiful covering on any vertical or horizontal surface. It also has environmental value, as covering a large south-facing wall will keep the interior cooler, saving on air-con costs and emissions.
Virginia Creeper is a deciduous vine that produces many long stems that can rise to 30 feet or more up buildings or trees. A single plant will spread outwards up to 10 feet. The many stems support themselves by producing clusters of tiny suckers, that attach to almost any surface, but especially rougher surfaces like stone, brick and tree bark. It will also twine through branches, trellis and fences. In time the base will become thick and woody, with attractive reddish-brown peeling bark.
The leaves are divided into 5 leaflets growing from a single short stalk off the stem. The oval leaflets are up to 6 inches long, with irregular serrations along their edges, and taper to a slender point. Young leaves in spring are purplish-pink, maturing to a bright mid-green for the summer. In fall, especially when growing in full sun, the leaves turn brilliant and vibrant shades of crimson and purple-reds, making a wonderful and eye-catching fall display.
In spring and early summer clusters of small, greenish-white flowers sprout from the stems, but these are generally hidden among the leaves. The flowers turn into ¼-inch blue-black berries by fall, but these are rarely noticed until after the leaves fall. Birds normally take them during the winter months.
Virginia Creeper is a terrific choice for covering large blank surfaces, such as the sides of houses, other walls, fences, rocky slopes and open areas beneath trees. It will also grow on pergolas, and up into trees – its natural habitat – but it is best to only allow this on dead or very large trees, as it can smother a smaller tree. It can also be used for a simple but effective low-maintenance planting for a series of retaining walls. When covering a large surface, space plants 6 to 8 feet apart. It will grow in almost any location, including beneath black walnut trees (Juglans nigra), where many other plants cannot grow due to toxins released into the soil by these trees.
Virginia Creeper is extremely hardy, even in zone 3, so it’s especially valuable in cold zones where choices of climbers are very limited. It is also hardy even in zone 9, so it can be grown almost anywhere in the country.
This tough plant can be grown across a wide range of light conditions, from full sun to light full shade, although growth will be reduced and more sparce in a lot of shade, and fall colors will be weak or absent. It also grows in almost all kinds of soils, from wet ground to dry areas, and in heavy clays, as well as poor urban soils and reclaimed land.
New plantings should be watered regularly, especially since at the base of house walls it can be still dry even after rain. Once established it is drought resistant and needs nothing to help it grow. It may need regular trimming to keep it within the area you want it. You can also cut it back hard, almost to the ground every few years, and let it regrow, which it will do rapidly. It doesn’t suffer from any serious pests or diseases and it isn’t eaten by deer.
Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, is native to a large part of North America, growing all the way from south-eastern Canada through the eastern states and west into Manitoba and Utah. It grows south all the way into Mexico and Guatemala. It grows naturally on forest floors, up into trees, and on rocky banks and shady slopes. It shouldn’t be confused with the similar Boston ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata, which despite its name is not native, but comes from China and Japan. That plant has only three leaflets, instead of five, and is not quite as hardy in either the hottest or coldest zones.
If you have the room, Virginia Creeper is one of the very best climbing plants, and especially useful in cold and cool zones. Because it is self-supporting it doesn’t need elaborate support systems, and it is also wonderful as a ground cover for difficult locations where most other plants won’t grow. Remember too that it is a native plant, so it isn’t invasive or undesirable anywhere. Order now, because the demand for this reliable plant is always high and stocks sell out fast.