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Garden Q&A: Minimal flowers, lots of foliage

| Saturday, March 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Virginia creeper

Q: We have an arbor in front of our house that we would like to cover with a vine. So many of the vines I have seen look lovely when the plants are in flower, but when they are not blooming, they don't look very nice. Instead of a clematis or morning glory or something like that, we want a vine that produces beautiful foliage but no flowers. Any suggestions?

A: To the best of my knowledge, there are no existing conifers or ferns that vine — so that means you'll have to put up with some sort of flowers. However, there are several beautiful vines that produce very minimal flowers and are attractive primarily for their interesting foliage. Here are a few ideas.

• English ivy — Yes, ivy does produce flowers, though the plants require substantial maturity and upright growth to develop them. Hedera helix is fully hardy here and is a rapid grower. Its thick leaves are evergreen, and variegated forms may present you with some added interest. Because the plant can grow rather aggressively, you'll have to prune it regularly to keep it confined to the arbor. Ivy produces aerial roots that develop along the length of the stem. These roots cling to wooden or even plastic arbors, but they have a difficult time climbing metal. Once the plant does come into flower (often a half dozen or more years after planting), you'll find it serves as a much-needed nectar source for bees and other pollinators.

• Virginia creeper — A beautiful native vine, Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a fast grower with terrific hardiness and disease resistance. It, too, climbs using aerial roots. Each leaf consists of a grouping of five leaflets, spread in a hand-like fashion. They are a lush green throughout the summer and turn a beautiful, brilliant red in the fall. This vine grows best in full sun and will probably need to be pruned once a year. The small, greenish flowers it produces are followed by clusters of small, dark blue berries. The berries combine beautifully with the red foliage in autumn.

• Hardy Arctic Kiwi — I love these vines for their variegated, heart-shaped foliage. Actinidia kolomikta Arctic Beauty is grown primarily as a foliage plant and once mature, it produces leaves with pink, white and green variegation. If you grow this vine for fruit production (the fruits are delicious!), you'll need to plant one male to every five female vines, but if you just want it for its foliage, then a single vine will do. Male varieties tend to have the showiest coloration. The fruits are produced only on female vines and are green and fuzzless. Their interior looks and tastes just like the tropical kiwis found at the grocery store.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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