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Garden Q&A: Firecracker vine OK for trellis?

Jessica Walliser
Firecracker vine

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Saturday, April 19, 2014, 7:36 p.m.

Question: I have a trellis going up the side of my patio. I've grown morning glories on it in the past, but a friend tells me I should try something called a firecracker vine because the butterflies and hummingbirds like it better. Can you tell me whether I should make the switch?

Answer: Firecracker vine ( Mina lobata, syn. Ipomoea lobata), also called Spanish flag, is a terrific choice for your trellis. It is in the same family as morning glories, so if you want, you can grow the plants side by side.

The flower stalks of firecracker vine are about 6- to 8-inches long, with new flowers produced at the tip. While in bud, the flowers are deep crimson. As they mature, they fade from red to orange to yellow to cream, with all colors appearing at the same time on any given plant.

The vine often reaches up to 15 feet in height and readily twines around arbors, trellises and fences, much like morning glories and cypress vine (another close relative). The vine is a Central American native that was introduced to the garden industry in the early 1800s and has since fallen out of vogue, though I don't know why.

It is easily started from seed by directly sowing the seeds into the garden each spring, and it's rapid growth rate means it covers large areas fairly quickly. To speed seed germination, soak seeds in tepid water for six hours before planting, or nick the seed coat with a metal file before planting.

Firecracker vine is an annual that does not tolerate frosts, so do not sow seeds outdoors before mid-May. Plant in full to partial sun and plan to water the vine whenever necessary — but not too frequently as overwatering can lead to rot.

The vine is deer resistant.

Because it is a vigorous grower, provide firecracker vine with plenty of sturdy support. Sometimes, when summers get hot, a few of the lower leaves will yellow and drop off. That is natural and can be masked by planting some mid-height annuals, such as zinnias and cosmos, in front of the growing vine.

You'll want to be sure to collect seeds at the end of the season. The seeds are easily dried and saved for subsequent plantings. New seeds can be purchased from local garden centers or from catalogs such as Select Seeds ( and Swallowtail Garden Seeds (

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 “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.



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