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Everything You Need to Know About Houseplant Vines

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Everything You Need to Know About Houseplant Vines

February 10, 2020

A houseplant vine can become curtains on a window, or add a layer of texture to a bare brick wall, or inject life into a sterile, tiled bathroom—if only you can convince it to actually grow indoors. Some will climb. Others will trail. Here’s a guide to growing and training our favorite vines to behave like happy houseplants.

Vitaceae

See more of this neon pothos in Jamie’s Jungle: At Home with Houseplants in London. Photograph by @Jamie Song.
Above: See more of this neon pothos in Jamie’s Jungle: At Home with Houseplants in London. Photograph by @Jamie Song.

When we talk about “houseplant vines,” we’re describing a category of twining, trailing, and climbing plants that includes a lot of species that may not be true vines.If we were being strict about the definition of “vine,” we’d be limited to draping a bookshelf or framing a kitchen doorway with about 70 species of Vitis in the Vitaceae family, which which cling and climb via means of tendrils.

True vines include chestnut vine (Tetrastigma voinierianum), which isn’t the easiest plant to get your hands on but makes a vigorous houseplant. It’s good for covering larger spaces speedily. Grape ivy (Cissus rhombifolia) and miniature grape ivy (Cissus striata) have beautiful compound leaves of a more modest size than the chestnut vine, and are far more widely available. They are happy in lower light areas, as is kangaroo vine (Cissus antarctica) another old favorite that will tolerate a wide range of conditions without turning up its toes: just keep it out of direct sunlight. Begonia vine (Cissus discolor) is the diva of the group, requiring similarly high humidity to the rex begonias who it resembles (but is not related to).

Ivies

English Ivy is will tolerate low light. See more in Best Houseplants: 9 Indoor Plants for Low Light. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.
Above: English Ivy is will tolerate low light. See more in Best Houseplants: 9 Indoor Plants for Low Light. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

There’s a logic to the idea that English ivy (Hedera helix) will do well indoors. After all, it takes over in the garden if given half a chance. And yet ivies often suffer in modern homes, because they aren’t suited to the warm temperatures and dry air found within.

Tree ivy (x Fatshedera lizei) is a cross between English ivy, Hedera helix, and Japanese aralia Fatsia japonica. Like traditional ivy, it won’t do well in centrally heated rooms, especially in winter, but is ideal for a cool conservatory or covered porch.

Cape ivy (Senecio macroglossus) and German ivy (Delairea odorata) are the ivy-lookalikes to grow if you don’t like to live in an icebox, as they’re both much better adapted to average room temperatures and humidity levels. Just bear in mind that German ivy is considered an invasive weed in many parts of the world, so don’t go planting it outside.

Aroids

Monsteras are climbers. Read more at Gardening loading=
Above: Monsteras are climbers. Read more at Gardening 101: Monstera. Photograph courtesy of CenteroftheWebb.

You say Araceae, I say aroid. This plant family is huge, but there are a few species from the clan which make successful vining houseplants, the best known of course being the Swiss cheese plant, Monstera deliciosa. Coming up on the rails is its relative, Monstera adansonii, another vining aroid with windowed leaves.

A philodendron trained as a trailing vine, a Vining Kokedama is $36 at Pistils Nursery.
Above: A philodendron trained as a trailing vine, a Vining Kokedama is $36 at Pistils Nursery.

And let’s not forget the pothos vines or epipremnums, and the Philodendrons, too. All of these, given time and good care, will grow huge, but they will all tolerate a hacking back when they get out of line. Rather than relying on tendrils, these plants grow thick aerial roots from their leaf nodes and grasp onto anything convenient to cling to.

How to Train Vines

Should they trail, or climb? That’s entirely up to you, but there are many ways of displaying your houseplant vines. Here are some suggestions.

Blogger Agata Dimmich of Passion Shake made a DIY wall hanging to add a vine to a bedroom. For more, see DIY: An Indoor Trellis for Climbing Vines.
Above: Blogger Agata Dimmich of Passion Shake made a DIY wall hanging to add a vine to a bedroom. For more, see DIY: An Indoor Trellis for Climbing Vines.

Trailing Vines: Whether you buy a Victorian original from a junk shop or invest in a midcentury modern update, a plant stand is an inspired way to display trailing vines. Just make sure it is tall and sturdy enough to display a plant effectively (particularly a heavy-leafed monstera or philodendron). If you prefer to keep your plants off the ground and away from kids and cats, consider a Well Light Planter from Toronto-based designers Object/Interface. These pendant lights can accommodate one or more trailing plants and look fabulous over your dining table. A series of strands hanging like a curtain over a window or door looks great too,: mount erect a shelf above the door for pots, or secure a bar across the window to accommodate hanging pots.

Climbing Vines: If you prefer your vines to climb, most (with the exception of the true vines) will need some help to cling. One method is to tie vines to a moss or coir pole, which also helps to keep humidity loving plants happy. Either buy one, or make your own. For a more contemporary look, allow vines to vines romp across a plain wall or along a bookshelf at regular intervals using clear plastic stick-on hooks. Or  wind them around a trellis (as shown above).

Remember, however you choose to display your vines, the more difficult it is to reach your plants for maintenance tasks such as watering and pruning, the most attentive you’ll have to be. The vines that often do the best are those that hang down around a bathroom or kitchen sink so that you can keep an eye on them as you wash up each day. If you find your plants getting too leggy, don’t be afraid to keep pinching out the growing tips during the growing season; this will help to keep plants bushy.

Read more growing tips at Vines & Climbers: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated guides to Garden Design 101. For more, see:

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