By their very nature, vines – whether they’re fast-growing annuals or long-lived perennials – need occasional tweaking to stay healthy and inbounds. Routine watering, fertilizing and mulching can keep them growing well and producing beautiful leaves, flowers or fruit, while pruning prevents them from choking themselves – or overrunning nearby plants.

English ivy

On the West Coast, English ivy can become a botanical python.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Pruning vines

Prune long stems for thickness.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Crowded arbor

Without occasional tweaking, vines can start to overcrowd areas.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Just like any other plant, vines need deep watering during dry spells. A slow soaking every few days or weeks is far better in most cases than regular watering, which can drown or even rot deep roots, or cause new roots to grow very close to the soil surface where they can get the air they need.

Annual vines need fertilizing at planting time and again a little later in the season to keep them actively growing. Regardless of what kind of fertilizer you use – natural, synthetic, liquid, granule, whatever – do not overdo it or risk pushing the vines too fast. Anyone who has ever overfed tomatoes knows what “all vine, no fruit” means. Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, can result in overgrown, rank vines, as well as root damage, burned leaves and, in some cases, dead plants.

Mulches have many benefits for vines, including keeping soil cool and moist in summer, helping prevent rapid temperature changes during the day (even in winter), insulating against freezing and protecting the trunks of plants from being damaged by mowers or string trimmers. Natural mulches of leaves or compost can also break down and enrich the soil around roots.

Pruning vines isn’t difficult, but it requires having a reason. Removing wayward stems can be done any time of the year; however, perennial vines, including climbing roses and clematis, can have a few old flowering stems cut off every year to force strong new growth to replace that which is removed. Simply thin out a few cluttered stems, leaving others to continue blooming. Be careful to not prune spring-blooming vines too hard in winter, or you’ll lose that season’s flowers.

Fruit vines, especially grapes, must be pruned carefully to remove excess growth and to promote strong fruit production. This is usually done in midwinter, and every stem is cut back to within a few inches of where it started growing the year before. Leaving grape vines unpruned can quickly cause them to grow into tangled, unproductive messes.

Invasive Thugs

Some vines are extremely good escape artists and can quickly get out of control. In some cases, certain invasive vines – including exotics from other lands, and even natives (think poison ivy and Virginia creeper) – have escaped from gardens and taken over natural areas, sometimes displacing native plants, and are difficult or expensive to control. But with care and diligence, even these rampant vines can be carefully placed, tended and controlled as mannerly garden favorites.

When selecting overly vigorous vines, consider how far they can reach. Place them away from other plants and make sure you can at least walk all the way around them. Keep an eye on errant shoots, and prune or mow what’s not wanted. If you choose to grow “weedy” vines, even with great care, expect criticism – but hold up your head and go on. After all, every plant is a weed somewhere.