Vines for that luxurious tropical look


Fences can create psychological barriers. In today’s culture, they define who owns what, but they don’t have to be harsh. The old adage, “Good fences make good neighbors,” isn’t necessarily true. In many cultures, the concept of shared space and inclusiveness is also a way to have good neighbors. On the other hand, it is helpful to have a screen between homes to ensure a sense of privacy. In the old days, we used rock walls or plant screens. Today, we have so many choices that an unattractive fence or aggressive hedge planting might create all kinds of neighbor problems.

Take the case of the two fellows who got into a feud because the chain link fence one put up made the other feel like he was in the county jail. Or the neighbor who decided a bamboo hedge would be ideal.

He planted a Phyllostachys specie. Though great for controlling erosion on steep mountainsides, planted in a small garden without consideration for containing the aggressive underground rhizomes, they will soon take over.

Chain link, concrete block and many other fence and wall materials look harsh and unsightly. This kind of approach is used in places such as Mexico where there is a great division between the “haves and the have-nots.” In Hawaii, we try to avoid that kind of thing. We generally prefer a luxurious tropical feeling that is relaxed and informal, so here’s where vines make ideal landscape additions to create a more pleasant ambiance.

Concrete or chain link make ideal supports for vines such as the red passion flower, jade vine, Kuhio vine, potato vine and creeping fig.

Vines serve many purposes. Some, including the passion fruit vine, produce edible fruit. The luffa vine specializes in dishcloth production.

Bird lovers like vines because they attract birds and are good nesting locations. Other lovers like the privacy vines give them when sitting on the lanai.

Youngsters and the young-at-heart like vines because they harbor geckos and chameleons. Vines are also fine because of their attractiveness both in foliage and in flowers.

Vines lend contrast and character to landscape plantings. They accentuate architectural lines, especially the closely clinging species like Ficus repens.

Creepers are adept at introducing color, form and texture onto otherwise uninteresting objects, fences, shrubs or trees.

Many gardeners say that vines are the best plants to give their homes an air of tropical living, using them to cover passageways or form patio walls. Ornamental vines are well adapted to a wide range of soils. Most of them thrive in sand, clay or rock land, provided plant food and moisture are adequate.

Soil preparation is most important in a vine planting project. Time spent improving the soil will produce vigorous plants and possibly provide trouble-free care later.

To get a project under way, spread about 4 inches of compost, peat, leaf mold or well-decomposed manure over the area where the vines will be planted. Sprinkle the area with a balanced slow-release fertilizer, then mix the organic material and soil with a spade.

The soil at the base of masonry construction often contains lime and other debris, so remove the contaminated soil to a depth of 18 inches. Replace it with a good soil.

Planting season for vines is any time the notion strikes you, provided the vines are small, container-grown plants. Dig a hole larger than the ball of earth about the roots.

If the plant is in a container, carefully remove the plant without disturbing the roots and settle it in the hole at the same depth it was in the container. Partially fill in around the plant with soil. Water thoroughly. Finish filling the hole and water again.

When two or more vines growing side-by-side become hopelessly entwined, the effect can be attractive. Vines can complement one another in several ways. An evergreen vine hides the bareness of a deciduous vine. Vines blooming at different times extend the flowering season. Vines blooming at the same time can display handsome color contrasts or blends.

Dozens of tropical vine varieties are available here. The Bengal clock vine, with its sky-blue flowers, the garlic vine, the many species of passion flower, confederate jasmine and philodendrons are just a few. Green jade and red jade vines are rare and spectacular.

Vines that bear fruit include chayote or pipinola, edible beans, vining tomatoes and kiwi. A last thing to consider is that some vine species can grow rampant. Don’t plant one that will grow too big or too fast for your location.

Check with our local nurseries and get acquainted with what’s available. Sunset’s “Western Garden” book is a good source of information as well.

This information is supplied by the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.