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Vermont Garden Journal: Fall Vines Provide Color, Too

I, SB Johnny
The clematis virginiana or Virgin's bower grows in shade and produces these white fragrant flowers in the fall.

The fall colors are starting on native trees and shrubs turning our forests ablaze. Vines also can provide fall interest beyond their colorful leaves. Many are familiar with the bright red colors of Virginia creeper and Boston ivy this time of year, but two other fall vines give color in a different way.

If you have a shady fence or side of a barn or garage that is begging for a vine to grow on it, consider these two:

  • Sweet autumn clematis or Clematis ternifolia:  A fast-growing vine with white, fragrant flowers. It self-sows rampantly and is considered invasive.
  • A better option is the native Clematis virginiana or Virgin's bower. It's hard to Zone 4, not as rampant a spreader, grows in part shade and still produces white fragrant flowers in fall. Prune it hard each spring to keep it in bounds.

Another vine that should get more attention is the climbing hydrangea or Hydrangea petiolaris. It can grow 30 feet tall, but unlike clematis, it takes its time. It flowers in shade, but does need support. The large vine should be grown on a sturdy trellis or arbor and not directly against house siding. It can also be trained up an old tree trunk. It has white flowers in spring, and nondescript fall foliage. But once the leaves drop, the exfoliating reddish bark looks beautiful in late fall and winter. 

And now for this week's tip: Dig sweet potatoes now before cold weather sets in. With a spade or iron fork, carefully loosen the soil under the plant and hand pull the tubers. Because of the warm summer, you might have some whoppers. Let them cure in a warm, well ventilated garage or shed for 1 to 2 weeks, then store in a 55 F room for another month or so to develop their sugars. Don't eat them right out of the ground. They won't taste sweet.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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