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How to Plant Bittersweet

By Desirae Roy ; Updated September 21, 2017

If you are searching for a vine with spectacular fall interest to liven up that dull corner of your property during cool weather, American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) is the answer. Sporting showy, orange-yellow husks that pop to reveal bright red berries prized by crafters and birds alike, American Bittersweet was also used by Native Americans for curing illness. Planting this nimble climber is easy, and the only trouble you may have is learning how to contain its impressive growth. Note the warning section about possible drawbacks to this festive climbing vine.

Choose a planting location carefully, considering that this rapid climber will reach heights and a spread of 20 feet or more very quickly. Also keep in mind that the vine will damage or even kill plants, shrubs, or trees that it uses for support. Bittersweet prefers full sun exposure and well-drained soil.

Prepare the site by ensuring good drainage. If drainage is a concern, incorporate organic matter like compost into the bedding area. Install a trellis made from weather-proof material if there is not a suitable climbing frame at the site.

Plant bareroot vines in spring, while container-grown vines may be planted any time during the growing season. University of Illinois Extension horticulture expert Jennifer Schultz Nelson suggests the male cultivar Indian Brave and female cultivar Indian Princess be planted in the same hole to ensure fruit production. Gently tamp the soil as you fill with soil, and water well after planting.

Contain the bittersweet vine's rapid growth in a buried container in small garden spaces. University of Arkansas retired extension horticulturist Gerald Klingaman suggests a 15-gallon pot, with drainage holes in the base, that will limit undesirable root spread.

Prune the vine back severely early in the spring before new growth emerges. Flowers appear on new growth, so heavy pruning controls growth and encourages more flowers, ensuring a large quantity of beautiful berries come fall.


Things You Will Need

  • Bittersweet female vine start
  • Bittersweet male vine start
  • Organic matter
  • Shovel
  • Vine support structure
  • Pruning shears


  • Although widely debated, all parts of the American Bittersweet should be considered poisonous. Care should be taken in bringing the branches and berries indoors for ornamental purposes, especially around children. The quickly spreading suckers of this vine may cause damage to fences, structures, and foliage as it grows, and it is difficult to get rid of once established.

About the Author


Desirae Roy began writing in 2009. After earning certification as an interpreter for the deaf, Roy earned a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education from Eastern Washington University. Part of her general studies included a botany course leading to a passion for the natural world.