A Gardening Journal

Wire Vine

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When you love plants, every spot has potential.  Nothing growing in an empty crevasse?  Surely something will be happy to call it home.  Indeed!  Wire Vine is delighted with just such digs. 

 

With round leaves on exciting dark stems, Wire Vine looks like a Button Fern gone wild.  That fern's strictly for the subtropics and tropics, though, so it's an even bigger pleasure to have its texture in a plant that with luck—see "How to Handle It" below—is perfectly hardy in southern New England.

 

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I've got plenty of granite slabs on the property, so this nook should be perfect:  Shelter from Winter winds, fantastic drainage, plenty of sun, and protection from lead-footed visitors. 

 

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The outward-creeping stems will probably get Winter-killed, but that just means that the growth between the slabs will be that much tighter. 

 

Stay tuned:  Wire Vine works well as an annual, but the real achievement this far north is establishing it as a permanent garden citizen. 

 

 

Here's how to grow this intrepid creeping vine:

Latin Name

Muehlenbeckia axillaris

Common Name

Wire Vine

Family

Polygonaceae, the Knotweed family.

What kind of plant is it?

Surprisingly-hardy creeping shrub, deciduous at the cold end of its range.

Hardiness

Zones 6 - 9.

Habit

Narrow stems race outward, hugging the ground and rooting as they go.  Upward growth is more and more prevalent in milder climates.  A dense springy mat of old and new growth eventually accumulates, leading to the other common name, Mattress Vine.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

Spread depends on the mildness of the locale.  On its own, without support and in a frost-free climate, a mat ten feet across and a foot high.  In Zone 6, even under ideal circumstances, a mat six or eight feet across and six or eight inches high; higher and wider at the end of the growing season, but is killed back by Winter.

Texture

Dense and uniform.

Grown for

its rarity in Zone 6: the plant is justifiably popular (as well as somewhat feared) in mild climates, where it can be challenge to control.  It grows so quickly it works well as an annual.  It's only rarely encountered in-ground in Zone 6. 

 

its attractive combination of round cotoneaster-like leaves widely-spaced on dark wire-like stems. 

 

its preference for growing in cracks in stonework and over hardscape in general, which conveniently provides the ideal backdrop to its leaves and stems.

 

its tolerance of almost any amount of pruning and training, so it can be clipped (with frequent pruning) into tight tracery around stones, or grown up into wire forms to make topiary. 

 

the tiny flowers aren't showy—but lead to translucent pearly-white fruit that are.

Flowering season

Summer.

Culture

Sun or shade and any well-drained soil.  At the cold end of its range, easier to establish with excellent drainage and siting in the quick-draining and wind-sheltered cracks of ledge and walls.  In milder climates, almost too easy and adaptable.

How to handle it

Wire Vine is an exciting surprise in Zone 6, which is a puzzle in that it can be an almost weed-proof groundcover and its texture is unique.  Part of the reason is because the plant is almost never sold in Zone 6 as anything other than filler for warm-weather containers.  Another reason is that the less-hardy (and much more aggressive, at least in milder climates) M. complexa is often sold instead.

 

Also, if you actually do establish Wire Vine—hooray!—then you've got to control it.  The thin stems and small leaves mean that the plant can grow into all its neighboring plants, swamping anything its height or smaller.  The best tactic is to grow it as an isolated colony—say, in a crevasse in ledge.  Or partner with plants that are sharply vertical as well as many times Wire Vine's height—think Solomon Seal—so Wire Vine doesn't have much of an invitation to climb or any realistic hope of smothering, and can be easily extracted when necessary. 

 

You can clip or even mow the colony in the Spring to keep it flat.  Clip off out-of-bounds stems at any time.

Downsides

Not suitable for planting near dense or compact or low neighbors, from which the vine is just about impossible to extract.  And if only it were hardier.

Variants

M. complexa is the Blob That Ate The House, at least in the mild and subtropical climates where it's hardy—think the Bay Area—growing 20 to 30 feet in all directions when uncontrolled.  With regular pruning, though, it can be a gorgeous groundcover or, trained up support, a tight screen. 

Availability

On-line and at retailers.

Propagation

By division in Spring, or by seed.

Native habitat

Muehlenbeckia is native to New Zealand.

 
 
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