by Melody Kendall
We have an oddly shaped lot with two fences. One is a normal six-foot tall neighbor-friendly fence. The other is six feet of fencing atop a four-foot retaining wall (that side of our yard is lower than the adjoining lot) creating a ten foot tall barrier fence. We have espaliered evergreen climbing vines along both fences to add color and privacy. Originally, we planted a lavender trumpet vine (Clytostoma callistegioides) on the neighbor-friendly fence and star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) on the raised fence. Both were slow and steady growers that required no more than three trimmings a year, once each spring, mid-summer and late fall.
A-original height of vine
About five years ago the star jasmine on the raised fence started to decline and within a year most of the plants had died back. We did some research, but could never pinpoint what caused the plants to die off. Most of the information we could find said that the star jasmine plant is pretty tough and trouble free.
Not liking the views through the boards into our neighbor's yard the bare fence provided us, we looked for a fast-growing evergreen vine to fill in the area quickly. The potato vine (Solanum jasminoides) was our choice. The information on this vine said it was fast growing and evergreen; both attributes which fit perfectly into our criteria. Little did we know that when the word ‘fast' was stated in the ‘growth rate' part of the description, the writer was being conservative. The vine grew very rapidly and covered the fence in short order. The downside is we now have to prune it back about twice a month for most of the year. It does slow down in the winter months, but not by much.
B-vine cut back and lattice installed
It's been some time since I realized that getting up on a ladder wasn't such a good idea. My husband and I have an agreement that when either of us does get up on a ladder we notify each other, not to catch the other person if they fall, but to be aware and check on the climber periodically. My husband likes to say, “Don't try to catch me, because then who would call 911?”
Since the potato vine grows on the raised fence and requires regular pruning, I found that I was up on a ladder quite a bit and it was becoming harder and harder to manage. Two years ago, I decided enough was enough. We cut the six-foot tall potato vine down to three feet and installed lattice above it to create the privacy we wanted. Now I can stand on the ground and manage the still vigorous vine without a ladder.
C-the way it looks today, two years later
Today the fence looks great with the three-foot tall green foliage and white/purple flowers running along the retaining wall with the lattice above it creating the perfect screen. Also, I now use a battery-operated hedge trimmer to save my neck and shoulders from getting tired from all that hand clipping. No more ladders.
My opinion: potato vine is a great filler, grows fast and loves to climb, but be warned this plant grows exuberantly and knows no boundaries.
Lavender Trumpet Vine https://www.monrovia.com/lavender-trumpet-vine.html
Star Jasmine https://www.monrovia.com/star-jasmine.html
Potato Vine https://www.monrovia.com/potato-vine.html
Master Gardeners are following recommended social distancing guidelines that keep everyone safe, Napa Master Gardeners are available to answer garden questions by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. or phone at 707-253-4143. Volunteers will get back to you after they research answers to your questions.
Visit our website: napamg.ucanr.edu to find answers to all of your horticultural questions.
Photo credits: Mel Kendall