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“Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves.” –Edgar Allan Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher

Images of old overgrown sanctuaries can be magical and even a little spooky. Abandoned homes and other forgotten buildings are very popular now, if only for the untouched and untended aesthetic and possibilities for exploration. While these places create wonderful pictures in our minds (and on our camera rolls) of unruly vines, masses of ivy, and tangled brambles, this is certainly not a practical ambiance for a comfortable home with a beloved garden filled with carefully tended plants and flowers. Vines—even the pretty ones—can be invasive and may eventually take over a garden, turning it into an uninhabitable place for other healthy growth. This is a gardener’s worst nightmare! After all, we don’t live at Grey Gardens.

Some Parasitic Vines to Watch out for

Did you know that, while its legend is very romantic and begs those who stand beneath it to kiss each other, mistletoe is actually a parasite? That’s right: one of your wintertime favorites is actually very invasive and poisonous. It’s due to this that florists won’t even sell it at Christmas (or any other time). There are lots of common vines and plants that can ruin your garden and will actually choke out the other plants. Some to watch out for include (but are not limited to):

  • Spanish moss is a staple in warm climates but has small insects living in it so, it’s best not to touch or handle this plant.
  • Dodder is a parasitic weed; it uses another, healthy plant as its host to feed and then kills it. This can destroy the healthy growth in your garden. There are many kinds of dodder (such as “Field Dodder” and “Australian Dodder”), and it usually climbs and twists its way around healthy plants and flowers. 
  • Orobanche ramosa (or “broomrape”) is a noxious plant of which to steer clear.

And How to Get Rid of Them…

If you’re a conscientious gardener, you’ll notice if any strange vines or weeds appear. Keep an eye on them and don’t neglect your routine weeding, etc. Pulling a plant up by the roots (and ensuring it doesn’t take root elsewhere) is your best bet at expelling these pests. Most problems can be avoided with proper preening and pruning.

Cultivate Healthy Climbing Plants

For that rustic, enchanted appeal, there are vines that climb, do well on trellises, and are actually good for your garden. Try planting these for their beauty (but be careful because they spread easily and, if not kept in check, can become invasive). For example, even honeysuckle will take over if you let it. Ivy, although majestic and whimsical, will also climb all over the place and will almost immediately take over any built structure or tree.

  • Honeysuckle is one of the most beautiful twisty brambles there is, and it smells oh so sweet. Its small white, yellow, and pink flowers will spread and perfume your yard, but if you’re not careful, it can get overgrown and out of control rather quickly, so keep it cut back and manageable. 
  • English Ivy is ideal for ground cover (and for filling in gaps in a lawn or garden patch) and is almost an inevitable décor for any structure with which it comes in contact. It will, however, climb voraciously and can expand into a shrub. Pruning and lots of clipping are your best bet at keeping ivy lush and attractive but under control. 
  • Clematis, or “leather flower,” is a lovely star-shaped flower and a favorite for any gardener because of its attractive blossoms in various colours.
  • Bougainvillea is a tropical must-have that everyone loves. With its bright blossoms, it really cheers up any space.
  • Morning Glory simply states what it is: glorious. The trumpet-shaped blossoms open at sunrise and close as the day nears its end. This plant also has wonderful green vines with small leaves for foliage, and they love to wrap around things, especially fences.
  • Trumpet Vine, or “Trumpet Creeper,” literally creeps. It’s a beauty with bright green foliage that spreads and is notorious for covering buildings, fences, etc. Its best feature, though, is the vivid orange-y red trumpet-shaped flowers. 
  • Wisteria is the lavender stunner we all love to see on arbors, hanging overhead in the springtime. Not all wisteria is the same, however. For example: Chinese wisteria flowers more efficiently than the Japanese variety. One way to keep it from spreading away from your trellis is to snip off the dead heads; this will prevent new seeds from forming. 

For more information on what flowers are in season, the most attractive bouquets for all occasions, and other floral know-how, visit Chelsea Flowers on the website and see what’s on the blog.