Vining crops have a place in both the ornamental and the edible garden. As ornamentals they can provide privacy, screen an unsightly view or soften the hard look of a fence or wall. In the edible garden these hot-weather-loving vines produce many of our favorite summer fruits and vegetables.
Less invasive than the Japanese variety, coral honeysuckle (Lonicera semperivrens) produces coral, red or yellow trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom from mid-spring through fall. Its vines grow 15 to 25 feet long in either sun or partial shade. Coral honeysuckle is hardy in USDA zones 6 to 8.
Sweet autumn clematis (Clematis paniculata; C. maximonowicziana) produces masses of white fragrant flowers that bloom in August and September on the current year's growth. It is a prolific reseeder. Sweet autumn clematis grows on 30-foot-long vines and prefers full sun. It is hardy without winter protection in USDA zones 4 to 9.
Although easy to grow, grapes (Vitis vinifera var.) require a long-term commitment in the home garden. Although they do not bear full crops until they are 5 or 6 years old, grapevines can continue to bear fruit for 50 to 100 years if properly maintained. They require a site in full sun that is sheltered from late spring frosts. Grapevines prefer to be planted in rows oriented in a north-south direction, which offers better exposure to sun for all its leaves and fruit and produces better quality grapes. With the exception of heavy clay soils, they grow well in most soil types as long as it is well-drained.
Melons (Cucumis cantalupensis var.) are a heat-loving food crop and should not be planted until the soil is thoroughly warmed up in late spring. Many growers heat up the soil with black plastic, which is then left in place during the growing season as a mulch. Melons require full sun and soil rich in organic matter. Space two to three seeds in hills of soil 4 to 8 feet apart, depending on the variety. Most melon varieties mature 75 to 100 days from sowing.
A vining food crop ideally suited for vertical growing, cucumbers (Cucumis sativis) are a summer staple in many home gardens. Plant two seeds every 2 feet along the supporting trellis and thin to the strongest one in each pair when they are 2 inches high. Cucumbers send out tendrils that grab onto the trellis. They grow fast and are usually ready to pick in just 50 days from sowing. Check them daily once they begin to mature; cucumbers grow large much faster than most vegetables.
An autumn staple, pumpkins (Cucurbita melopepo) are another vining vegetable crop that loves hot weather. Although they don't mature until cool weather in early autumn, they require hot summer weather to germinate, grow and set fruit. Grow pumpkins in large beds; a pumpkin vine can reach 12 feet or more in a single growing season. Direct seed pumpkins in hills spaced 6 to 10 feet apart in late spring after the soil has reached a temperature of at least 60 degrees F. Plant four seeds per hill and thin to the strongest two seedlings when they are 3 to 4 inches high. Harvest pumpkins in early fall after the vines have died down and the rinds are hard. Cover to protect them from light frosts and bring indoors if a hard frost is predicted.