NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

A Gardening Journal

Trumpet-Vine pods

campsis-radicans-pods-320

Trumpet vine for the Winter?  With these mega-pods, why didn't I harvest a bouquet's worth years ago?

campsis-radicans-pods-640

 

Trumpet vine for the Winter?  With these mega-pods, why didn't I harvest a bouquet's worth years ago?  Perhaps like you, I was so absorbed in waiting for the July and August flowers, and then enjoying them (along with all the hummingbirds) that the crop of head-conking pods that followed was only a reminder that, darn it, here it was November and I still hadn't pruned back my trumpet.  (See "How to handle it", below, for strategies for training Campsis.)

 

And then, finally a clear day when I could focus on taking a whack at my trumpet.  In ten minutes, all the stems that had flowered—and then podded—were strewn on the ground.  As I started to get ready to haul them to the brush-pile, I realized that they might look different, indeed, if they weren't piled atop all the other clippings in the wheelbarrow.

 

Cut off to three feet (flowering stems on happy trumpets can be as long as six or eight), the stems were short enough for a big ginger-jar vase.  And what a show it they are! 

 

campsis-radicans-pods-closer-640

 

The pods are a full foot long, and in clusters of three, four, and five.  It's a big-boned performance that will last all Winter.

 

Here's an update on how to grow trumpet vine to maximize its cool-season display of colorful young twigs.

 

Here's more information on growing this vigorous vine, as beautiful "in pod" as it is in flower:

Latin Name

Campsis radicans

Common Name

Trumpet Vine

Family

Bignoniaceae, the Catalpa family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous vine.

Hardiness

Zones 4 to 9.

Habit

Rampant by any means possible.  Sprouts up from far-reaching roots.  Layers when stems touch the ground.  Climbs via self-clinging roots, like ivy or climbing hydrangea.

Rate of Growth

Fast.  You've been warned.

Size in ten years

Campsis should never be allowed to grow ad libitum!  Size, then, depends on how you've chosen to control growth.  Campsis could be trained along a fence or pergola to forty feet, but can be held at much smaller sizes, too.  See "How to handle it" below. 

Texture

The pinnate leaves have a feathery wisteria-like texture that some will just  as soon dismiss as coarse.

Grown for

the high-Summer flowering.  Campsis is unique in hardy vines for a month-long display of hot-color flowers, which, depending on the cultivar, can be yellow, apricot, orange, or orange-red.  No other hardy vine combines such ease of growth with a bullet-proof peak of bloom just when Summer is at its most merciless.  The flowers are shaped like those of foxgloves, catalpa, or paulownia: fat cones that flair out at the lip; they're at the tips of new stems that can be four to eight feet long, in clusters of six to a dozen.

 

its nearly unstoppable vigor.  Campsis can be the despair of timid gardeners, taking every opportunity to sprout yards away from the mother plant, and quickly clinging onto any wood structure unlucky enough to be within range.  On the other hand, if you accept your responsibility to do some pruning and yanking, and you grow your Campsis in full sun, flowering is inevitable even if it hasn't rained for a month and the temperatures are over 100 day after day.  No other hardy vine can make that promise. 

 

its amenability to radical pruning and creative training.  Campsis may be a scary thug if allowed to grow at will, but its boundless vigor—and its goal of blooming from only the tips of growth that began in Spring—means that you can prune it as brutally as you want without worrying that you'll have put the kibosh on the August flowers.  Finally, a showy ornamental that you don't have to be subtle or tentative around.  It's fun to grow something that couldn't care less of you want to play Atilla the Hun with it, chopping off every last stem and then decapitating each trunk.  Your trumpet vine will bloom regardless.   See "How to handle it" for suggestions on how to play Attila with style.

Flowering season

Summer: August is the peak but flowering can start in July and continue into September.

Culture

As with the recent posting on Japanese lanterns, Campsis radicans is so vigorous that "culture" is an overstatement.  Full sun and any soil that's not a swamp in the Winter.

How to handle it

Don't plant Campsis radicans unless you've already thought through how you're going to train it.  Campsis must grow on something, but there's a satifyingly broad range of possibilities.  If you're blessed with a large rock outcropping that gets plenty of sun, you can plant Campsis at the base of it and let the vine fasten itself far and wide.  Stems that find themselves in contact with something—anything, really—tend to keep growing vegetatively instead of bursting into August flower, and can grow several yards a season, self-clinging along the way.

 

You could also plant trumpet vine near the trunk of a tree that you're confident will always be taller than the trumpet—mature heights of forty feet minimum, please—and let the trumpet race up its trunk.  I'm partial to partnering trumpets with tall, fast growing, ramrod-straight conifers such as Cryptomeria or Metasequoia.  The trumpet's foliage is a good contrast with their feathery growth, and the flowering stems dangle out from the central trunk very alluringly. 

 

You can also unleash a trumpet on an informal stone wall, where it will eventually colonize the entire thing, top-to-bottom and side-to-side.

 

More likely, though, you'll want to grow Campsis up a pole or post, and perhaps out onto a pergola when it reaches the top.  Don't grow it up a wood post, though, which its self-clinging roots would eventually rot.  Sink a galvanized pipe or length of thick rebar into the ground and tie it up that, or fasten a braided cable to the wood post and tie it up the cable instead of the post.

 

Each year, cut it back to the top of the pole any time after the leaves have dropped in the Fall and before new growth is very far along the next Spring.  Campsis is blessedly unconcerned with the specifics of your scheduling: Pruning in the Fall works just as well as in Spring or Winter.  As the weather warms up later in Spring, new shoots will sprout from the top with enthusiasm, and after a few years of such an annual cut-back, they'll number in the dozens.  By August, the vine will have grown into the shape of a giant and very floriferous lollipop, a "standard" in horto-speak.  Any time during the year, Summer or Winter, Spring or Fall, clip off new stems that volunteer from the trunk as well those that sprout from the ground distressingly far afield from it. 

 

If you're growing Campsis to cover a pergola, you'll also need some horizontal growth after the vine has climbed up to the top of your post.  Pick stems (flowering or not) that can conveniently be tied loosely in the directions you need, and then tie them with twine or, my favorite, clothesline that I buy in 200-foot bundles from my local discount store.  (To my amazement, each year I use up four or five such bundles.)  Next Spring, the tied-in stems will sprout new growth all along their length; they may also continue to grow from the tip, too.  In the subsequent off-season, continue to tie-in anything that helps expand coverage, and cut off anything that doesn't.  Cut off all the new stems that were just part of the billowing (and somewhat cascading) bulk of flowering stems that past August, too.  

 

During each annual pruning and tying-in session, check all the old ties of the vine, too.  Cut off and, if necessary, retie any that have grown too snug or have rotted through.  Campsis stems thicken-up quickly, and become as impressively trunky and gnarly as those of wisteria.  In a few years, you'll have completed a framework of these woody and structural stems.  They're strong and largely self-supporting, so you'll only need to anchor them to the structure with an occasional tie.

 

With the structural growth now completed, your yearly pruning is now "just" about cutting off all the first-year growth each Fall, Winter, or Spring, so the vine doesn't continue to bulk-up beyond what's visually pleasing or structurally advisable for the load-bearing capability of your pergola.  I like to prune in the Fall, because the woody structure of a pruned Campsis has more appeal during the Winter than a vine that carries all of its first-year blooming stems.  Fall pruning also removes all the seed pods, which is a good thing if self-seeding is a problem where you garden.   

 

The clusters of flowers are only at the tips of new growth that started that Spring.  Because blooming doesn't start until mid-July or August, and Campsis is a rampant grower, that new growth can be four, six, even eight feet long before the the budding begins.  These flowering stems don't twine, as with wisteria, and they only start to self-cling their second season.  Instead, they arch outward in all directions, bending only slightly as they lengthen, then bending down more as the cluster of buds at the very tip enlarges into bloom.  An established trumpet vine can have scores of flowering stems, and so can be a bulky creature, indeed: anywhere from eight to sixteen feet across!

 

Campsis, then, needs a lot of room even if it's pruned without mercy during the off-season.  If you're growing Campsis up a pole, make the pole as high as possible while still permitting you to do the yearly pruning at the top.  Otherwise the first-year growth could arc all the way down to the ground.  This means, yes, you'll be pruning while using a step-ladder.  The pole should be a minimum of eight feet high.  If it can be ten or twelve feet or even higher, so much the better.

 

If you're growing Campsis on a pergola, many of the new stems that do all the blooming tend to dangle seductively downward.  If the pergola isn't unusually high, though, by the time those stems are ready to bloom, they'll be dangling down to your knees.  To have the flower clusters alluringly just overhead instead of maddeningly in your face or at your waist, the pergola will need to be unusually high.  Twelve feet wouldn't be too high at all: New stems can be four to eight feet long, remember!  Sixteen feet high would be wiser.  Campsis training is, clearly, somewhat of a high-altitude activity.  Consider if you'll be comfortable working from, say, a twelve-foot stepladder.  Or rather, plan on getting comfortable working from a twelve-foot step ladder.

 

Perhaps there's a way to control the length of the new growth, which means that your Campsis wouldn't need to be grown quite so high to ensure that the flowering tips aren't dragging on the ground.  Why not pinch the tips in mid-June?  If this works as well as it does for daisies and mums, it will take a couple of weeks for the new growth to begin, let alone form buds.  By the August blooming, then, the plant will be shy those two weeks of uninterrupted growth, so it will be shorter than normal.  I'm hoping "only" three to five feet long instead of the usual four to eight.  Plus, there should be many more flowering stems as a result of the pinching, too.  Stay tuned for the report on this experiment in September, 2012.

 

Because trumpet vine will self-cling when it can, pergolas are best constructed of pipe, not wood.  Yes, this can look a bit brutalist while you're still training the Campsis over the structure.  But when the trumpet's in growth you won't see the pipe.  If you must build with wood instead, have the fewest "structural" stems and trunks possible, and in your yearly pruning session lift up any that are attempting to root into the structure.  Either tie them to the bottom of the member not the top (they won't root upward) or just let them get more rigidly woody (which will take only a year or two) and then put in a spacer every yard or so to elevate them above the member.  For spacers, cut up an old hose into six-inch segments and tie one of those to the member to keep the stem separated from it.  The stems won't keep trying to root if they can't feel anything to root to.

Downsides

Trumpet vine is truly aggressive, and unless you're up for the regular steps to control it, you'll have way too much of it.  Besides spreading by sprouting roots and by layering where stems touch the ground, it can self-seed.  The self-clinging roots make it as destructive as ivy or climbing hydrangea if it's allowed to climb on wood structures.

Variants

Campsis radicans is available in several flavors and if you're comfortable with the steps needed to control them—see "How to handle it" above—most of them are worth growing.  'Lutea' (also sold as 'Flava') has soft yellow flowers; the flowers of 'Red Sunset' are, indeed, redder than usual, as are those of 'Flamingo'.  The foliage of 'Takarazuka' is heavily splashed with white; the flowers are orange.  'Takarazuka' needs to be planted for viewing up-close; from a distance it just looks like it has a terrible case of mildew.  The flowers of 'Mme Galen' are larger than usual, and a softer apricot.  

 

If you garden in Zone 6 or higher, though, treat yourself to 'Morning Calm', a hybrid with Campsis grandiflora.  Its apricot flowers are several times as large—and, hooray!, the vine neither suckers nor self-clings.  

 

In Zones 7 and up, gardeners can enjoy the Campsis cousin known as crossvine, Bignonia capreolata.  They're mostly evergreen, and bloom much earlier in the season.  Some cultivars are listed as Zone 6, but I haven't been able to establish any yet.  I'll keep trying.   

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By severing a root sprout or a layered stem in early Spring, and transplanting it where needed.  Campsis also self-seeds, but cultivars won't come true.

Native habitat

Campsis radicans is native to the southeastern United States.

 
 
FacebookTwitterRSS Feed

Stay in touch!

 

Sign up for twice-monthly eNews, plus notification of new posts:

 

* indicates required