Posted on Apr 08, 2022 | by KK
There's something so inviting about a vine-covered arbor or pergola. Whether used to create a welcoming entrance, a shady garden nook, or softly frame a beautiful view, such a structure greatly enhances the landscape. There's no denying the drama of a red rose laden arch, or the romantic charm of a pergola draped in wisteria. But if you're trying to fill your garden with native plants, are there still good options?
The answer is yes, there are certainly some fine choices, but you may need to purchase online unless you have a specialty native nursery near you. Many of our common native vines grow quite large and can be aggressive, such as trumpet vine (Campsis radicans). While perhaps suitable for very large structures, these must be kept away from other garden areas, woodland edges of the yard (unless you want it there), and of course, the house!
We've put together a list of possibilities for you, including some smaller, better behaved options that will beautifully grace our trellises, obelisks, and small arches, larger arches, and pergolas & gazebos, so take a look!
Native Vines for Trellises, Obelisks & Small Arches:
Some of the best smaller native vines are relatively unknown species of Clematis belonging to the Viorna group. While these lack the big showy flowers of the more popular varieties, they make up for it with loads of charm and prolific blooms over a long season. Some experts feel that they are also less fussy and more adaptable to varying soil conditions than other clematis.
The 1-3" summer to fall flowers are usually leathery or heavily textured nodding bells with recurved sepals and the ethereal appeal of flowers from a magical fairy's garden. The spidery seed heads that follow extend the enchantment. Growing on average from 5-9', they prefer part to full sun with the roots shaded, as is usual for clematis. They flower on new growth, so are easier to prune than some others--a hard pruning in early spring is all that's needed. All display some deer resistance as well. They climb using small leaf petioles instead of twining, so they may need some help grabbing on to your structure if the supports are larger than 1/2" or so in diameter. We recommend our lattice inserts for our arches on which clematis are to be grown.
- Clematis crispa (swamp leather vine): From the Eastern US, heavily textured frilled flowers of pale blue on long stems make good cut flowers. Lightly fragrant. Moist to wet soil. Zones 5-11.
- Clematis crispa 'Big Sombrero': Southeastern US native with 3" bluish-purple curled flowers and compact habit. Zones 5-11
- Clematis 'Genie Brannon': From the Coosa River valley of Alabama, this displays 1" reddish-purple blooms on 6-8' vines. Zones 4-11.
- Clematis pitcheri: Also called 'Bluebill,' this 12-15' vine bears 2" blue to purple flowers that are greenish-white near the tips. Zones 5-11.
- Clematis texensis: Some better known Clematis hybrids have C. texensis parentage, such as 'Duchess of Albany' and 'Princess Diana.' The hybrids have larger flowers but keep the extended bloom time of C. texensis. The species, commonly called 'scarlet leather flower,' boasts rich red blossoms with a lighter interior. Grows 5-8' in zones 4-11. Often found on rocky limestone cliffs, so a bit more alkaline soil and excellent drainage is preferred.
- Clematis viniacea : A compact vine that may be more adaptable to growing conditions than others. Deep pink bells drip from 2-3' vines that make good candidates for containers with a smaller support, like our 3-way Diamond Trellis. Zones 6-11. (flower photo shown at top of this section)
Other smaller native vines: Great for easily creating a stunning privacy screen with our Monet Fence Panel!
- Lonicera sempervirens 'Red Charm': A smaller native honeysuckle with red spring and summer flowers, it grows 6-8 feet. Part sun to full sun, best flowering with more sun. Twining. Hummingbird magnet. Up to zone 4.
- Lonicera sempervirens 'Yellow Charm': Grows 4-7 feet with yellow flowers that repeat bloom summer to fall. Small orange fruits follow. Twining. Hummingbird magnet. Up to zone 4
- Lonicera x brownii 'Dropmore Scarlet', 'Mandarin': These are hybrids of two native species, L. sempervirens and L. hirsuta. Vines grow 8-12 ft and bloom throughout summer. Twining.
Adlumia fungosa (Allegheny vine, climbing fumitory): Reseeding biennial vine reminiscent of fringed bleeding heart. Blooms June-September on 2-12’ vines. Best in cool, moist shaded sites.
Ampelaster carolinianus (Climbing Aster): Bushy shrub-like vine blooms fall into winter with 2" aster-like pale lavender softly fragrant flowers with yellow centers. Site in part to full sun and moist soil. Good choice for wet sites and excellent late season source of nectar for pollinators. Grows 6-10'. Zones 6-10.
Native Vines for Larger Arches and Small Pergolas and Gazebos:
Some of these vines may also be suitable for smaller structures, as they bloom on new growth and can be pruned at will without disrupting the flowering cycle. These vines may seem large, but don’t forget that if you want one vine to cover a whole structure you need to add together the height of both sides and the top width, so a typical 8-foot arch would require a vine over 20’ long. Planting a vine on either side will create quicker cover or allow you to choose a smaller growing plant.
Lonicera sempervirens cultivars (Native Honeysuckle vine): You will find many honeysuckle varieties at nurseries, both native and non-native species. Some of the non-natives have now naturalized in parts of the US, but currently are not listed as invasive; however, time may tell. Others are definitely invasive, so be sure to check their status before you purchase. Natives do not have the fragrance of non-natives, but they are better for your pollinators-- bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds will visit the 3” long tubular flowers frequently. Most of the natives are resistant to powdery mildew, a problem than can plague many lonicera species. These are twining vines that can grow quickly up to 20 feet but are easily pruned if they become too large—the named cultivars are a bit smaller than the species. Small bluish-green leaves don’t provide a quick cover if shade is what you’re after, though, so they may be better suited to medium to small structures. Grow in part shade to full sun, but best flowering with more sun. May be semi-evergreen depending on climate. Generally deer resistant.
- L. sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’: red flowers spring to fall on 10-20’ vines. Red berries follow. Zones 4-11.
- L. sempervirens ‘John Clayton’: Clear yellow flowers spring to fall on 15-25’ vines. Zones 4-11.
- L. sempervirens ‘Blanche Sandman’: flowers bright coral-red spring and summer, grows 10-20 ft’. Zones 4-9.
- L. sempervirens ‘Clay Hills’: Originally found on a Maryland farm, coral flowers in summer, grows 16-25’. Zones 4-11.
- L. sempervirens ‘Cedar Lane’: Soft red 4” long flowers bloom heavily in spring & may repeat in summer. Grows 12-20’. Zones 4-9.
L. sempervirens ‘Magnifica’: 3-inch coral flowers in clusters 5” across spring to fall. Grows 10-18’. Zones 4-11.
- L. sempervirens ‘Superba’: coral pink flowers in summer. Grows 15-25’. Zones 4-11.
Gelsemium sempervirens (Carolina jessamine): The Latin word “sempervirens” translates as “evergreen,” so when you see this word in a plant’s botanical name it tells you that it is evergreen in some areas and may be semi-evergreen in others. This is true of this native yellow “jasmine.” Flowers are shaped similarly to jasmine but are not fragrant. The twining vines bloom early in spring, are deer resistant, and easy to grow. While tolerating shade, best flowering will be in full sun. These provide an excellent source of nectar for early pollinators like mason bees.
- G. sempervirens ‘Pride of Augusta’: A lovely double-flowered form.
Apios americana (groundnut, hopniss): A unique plant with edible tubers and seed pods that have 3 times the protein of a potato with a nuttier taste and finer texture. Interesting dusty pink pea-like 1 inch flowers bloom in clusters throughout summer. Twines 10-20’ but can be pruned as desired. Native to Eastern US tidal marshes, these will perform best in moist soil and part to full sun. Site away from other garden areas, as it may colonize. Attracts pollinators and is a larval food source for the silver spotted skipper. Zones 4-9.
Echinocystis lobata (wild cucumber): A native annual vine with curious 2-inch spiky round green fruits that follow creamy white, very fragrant, midsummer to fall blooms. Although the spines look stiff, they are soft to the touch and pose no danger to children that are often intrigued with the fruit. Flowers bloom in panicles up to 6” long, vines grow quickly up to 26’. Maple-like leaves can be 7 inches across and are eaten in stir-fries.
Dioscorea villosa (wild yam): Twining vine grows 6-15’ bears shiny, veined 1-5” heart-shaped leaves. Flowers in narrow pendulous clusters up to 12” long in June-July are followed by interesting papery-winged green fruits. Part to full sun.
Clematis virginiana: Fragrant 2” white flowers bloom prolifically in late summer on 15-22’ vines that spread 3-6’ wide. Showy fluffy seed heads in fall. Plant this instead of invasive Sweet Autumn Clematis, C. paniculata. Partial to full sun with some shade preferred during the hot afternoon, adequately moist soil. Deer resistant, clay and sandy soil tolerant. Zones 4-9. Hard pruning in early spring is recommended.
Passiflora sp.: Passion vines are found from the Southeastern US and south into Mexico and South America. The flowers of our native species may not have intense, varied hues of the non-native cultivars, but are still spectacularly showy and just as weird. The small fruits of the “maypop” were eaten by indigenous peoples. Fast-growing to 15 feet or more, the attractive glossy lobed leaves provide good cover for arches or pergolas. The 3 to 4 inch purplish-blue and white flowers can bloom throughout the summer, followed by the edible oval fruit. Climbs by means of twining petioles. Part to full sun and well-drained, somewhat lean soil is best. Overfertilization or too rich a soil will result in heavy foliage growth at the expense of flowering. In warmer climates they may be evergreen; in colder climates they should be mulched well for winter and will return from the roots. Underground runners should be removed if undesired. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds will be frequent visitors.
- P. incarnata: as above, zones 6-11.
- P. incarnata alba: Pure white form of the species, heavy bloomer.
- P. lutea ‘Sapelo’: Unusual passionflower bears 1-inch soft yellow flowers a bit more delicate than is typical of the species. Leaves are a bit smaller and narrower than P. incarnata. Vines grow to 10’. Zones 6-10.
Plants for Large Arches, Pergolas, and Gazebos:
These are large-growing vines, most with lush foliage that will provide excellent cover and shade the area beneath. Most will require some maintenance or pruning to keep them in bounds. Additionally, they may not be suitable for plantings close to the house where they may climb up drainpipes, etc., or near other garden areas where they may cover other shrubs. Native plants are not considered “invasive,” but may be aggressive.
Aristolochia sp. (Pipevine): Very large heart-shaped leaves lend a tropical ambience to these pollinator friendly vines. In summer, hummingbirds and other pollinators are attracted to the unusual burgundy edged soft yellow flowers. The common name of “Dutchman’s Pipe” refers to the flower shape resembling a traditional Dutch smoking pipe. Tolerates shade, but best blooming in full sun. Moist, fertile, well-drained soil will bring best results. Blooming on new wood, hard pruning should be done in late winter, but may be trimmed as desired during the season to maintain size. Larval food source for Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly.
- A. macrophylla: Leaves may be as large as 12”, 20-30’ vines. Zones 5-8.
- A. tomentosa: Found from Southeast US into the Midwest. Fuzzy foliage and stems on 20-30- vines. Deer resistant. Zones 5-8.
Bignonia capreolata (Cross vine): These evergreen to semi-evergreen 15-30’ vines are tendril climbers—small disks at the ends of the tendrils adhere themselves to surfaces. Waxy 4-to-6 inch long elongated oval leaves and clusters of 2” trumpet flowers in red to yellow shades give this fast-growing vine a tropical appearance. Needs part to full sun and a rich, moist, well-drained soil; tolerates drought and wet spells. Remove root suckers and seedlings to control spread; prune as needed to reduce size. Deer resistant.
- B. capreolata ‘Athens’: Yellow flowers have red-streaked interiors. Zones 6-11.
- B. capreolata ‘Dragon Lady’: Red flowers bloom spring into summer. Zones 6-11.
- B. capreolata ‘Helen Fredel’: The throats of these larger 3" peachy flowers are shaded with dark orange and yellow. Zones 3-11.
- capreolata ‘Tangerine Beauty’: Best repeat bloomer, this bears typically sized yellow-throated orange flowers in spring and into summer and fall. Zones 6-11.
Campsis radicans 'Jersey Peach': Our native orange trumpet vine may be too rampant for many situations. Campsis climb by way of aerial rootlets, so should be kept away from the house or any structure you do NOT where you do NOT wish it to attach. This cultivar's larger 3" summer blooms hold longer than those of the species, and are a soft orange-yellow shade. May be a bit less aggressive than the species at 15-30 feet. Originally discovered in New Jersey. Zones 4-11.
Decumaria barbara ‘Vickie’ (Wood Vamp): Similar to climbing hydrangea, this self-clinging vine blooms with 5” clusters of white flowers in late spring to summer. The glossy evergreen to semi-evergreen foliage is borne on 15-30’ vines. It prefers a moist to wet acidic soil, tolerating occasional flooding. Part sun to part shade will suit it best. Interestingly, when grown on the ground it does not flower—it must climb to bloom. It will keep foliage all the way to the bottom, no matter how large it grows. This selection is by Michael Dirr, which is always the sign of a great plant. (If you don’t know Dirr, you’re missing out, by the way—his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants is not only considered the “Bible” of the industry, but pretty darn funny, too! Gotta love a plant man with a sense of humor.) Zones 6-9.
Wisteria frutescens and W. macrostachya: Recent breeding has made native wisterias easier to find. Both species can grow up to 30 feet, although not quite as quickly as the invasive Asian wisterias. These are only suitable for large, sturdy structures—we recommend our Classic Garden Elements line. If grown close to the house, be sure it cannot get behind shutters, drainpipes, or the like, as it can dislodge these from the wall with time. Pruning may be needed to keep these within bounds—cut back just before new growth starts in spring, leaving only 4 buds from the previous year’s growth. In spring, soft blue, purple, or white flowers are borne in long racemes, up to 15” for W. macrostachya and 9” for W. frutescens, and may repeat in summer. Part to full sun with best flowering in full sun. It can take several years for young plants to bloom—stubborn plants may benefit from root pruning to induce flowering. Deer resistant. Zones 4-9 unless otherwise stated.
- W. frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’: Soft purple flowers can bloom throughout spring and summer. Zones 5-9.
- W. frutescens ‘Kate’s Dwarf’: Blooms at a younger age than other cultivars; more compact at 15-25 feet.
- W. frutescens ‘Longwood Purple’: Deeper purple flowers on 25’ vine.
- W. frutescens ‘Nivea’: White blooms on 25’ vines.
- macrostachya ‘Blue Moon’: 15” racemes of lilac-blue flowers with a sweet fragrance bloom in late spring and may repeat up to 3 times during the season. 15-25’.
- W. macrostachya ‘Clara Mack’: 1 inch white flowers in 12” long racemes bloom late spring to summer on vines up to 25’. Zones 5-11.
Echinocystis photo By Aung - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2543569 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en