When designing a garden, we often think of its structure in only two dimensions: width and depth. Climbing plants add height. And they have such small footprints that you can place them almost anywhere. Vigorous growers like annual moonflower vine can start as a seed in spring and grow 30 feet by fall.

When designing a garden, we often think of its structure in only two dimensions: width and depth. Climbing plants add height. And they have such small footprints that you can place them almost anywhere. Vigorous growers like annual moonflower vine can start as a seed in spring and grow 30 feet by fall.   

I’ve seen a climbing rose called Zepherine Drouhin cover an ugly chain-link fence in less than two months, then start to clamber over the eaves of a two-story house. And most climbers can bloom as vigorously as they grow. This rose covered herself in hundreds of deep pink blooms. Wisteria, clematis and morning glory all flower profusely, too.

Annual vines like morning glory, cup-and-saucer vine, cardinal vine, Spanish flag, nasturtium, black-eyed Susan vine and hyacinth bean grow slowly in early spring, then kick into overdrive in summer. Once they start flowering, nothing stops them until cold weather shuts them down in late fall.

Use them for continuous color, and to fill in blank spots in the garden while waiting for permanent plants to take over. Annuals are also light enough to need only temporary supports, like netting or simple twine strings. You can remove these supports for the winter and keep the yard looking neat.

Perennial vines like trumpet creeper, honeysuckle and kiwi offer color and texture year after year. Most get pretty substantial over time, and require sturdy, permanent supports. Because these vines are mostly deciduous, it helps to have a decorative support that will look good in winter when the vines have lost their foliage.   

Some perennial vines, such as clematis, can be pruned back almost to the ground every fall. For these, a sturdy but temporary support, such as chicken wire supported by hooks on a post and beam framework, can be taken down in the winter if desired.

Vines climb in three ways.

Twining vines, like morning glory and star jasmine, spiral their entire stem around anything with which they cone into contact. They need thin supports such as string or lattice. They won’t spiral up anything as large as a tree trunk.
Many vines, like grape or clematis, use a special modified leaf called a tendril that twists tightly around thin supports like netting and wire. A few vines, like Boston ivy, use tiny discs to glue themselves to surfaces, or wedge themselves into cracks with tiny clusters of short roots, like winter creeper and English ivy.    
They might make a house or garden wall look stately and venerable, but think twice about letting them climb the walls; those little suckers and roots embed themselves permanently and eventually shift shingles, enlarge cracks and degrade even the toughest materials, like brick or concrete.   

Many vines have specific pruning requirements, even within the same species. But, in general, keep vines attractive and healthy by removing about one-third of the old wood every year to make room for new growth; thin overcrowded plants to let air and sunshine reach the centers; do any heavy pruning in the winter when the vines are dormant; and prune dead, diseased and damaged wood back to a strong, healthy bud.   

Lovely as most are, some vines are thugs that can grow out of control and quickly take over a garden. Although they’re attractive, you may want to pass on growing porcelain vine, oriental bittersweet, Japanese honeysuckle, moonseed vine and other aggressive or invasive climbers that may be specific to your area. Your agricultural-extension-service office will be glad to give you a local list of undesirables and invasives.

Joe Lamp’l, host of “Growing a Greener World” on PBS, is a master gardener and author. For more information, visit www.joegardener.com.