Friday, August 5, 2011

Chain-link Coverage: Grapevine (video!)

I return today to my interest in plants that go well with chain-link fences. What about grapevine (Boston Ivy, which is, confusingly, not ivy)? The particular variety I'm referring to is (I think) parthenocissus tricuspidata, and it's all over Hyde Park and covers many University of Chicago buildings. The grapes aren't fit for humans to eat, but birds love them in the fall.

Here is a photo of the vine growing on and sticking to a brick wall. It does not necessarily twine about things on its own (more on this problem below).

Grapevine has one magical quality that I must share, and it requires video. When the grapes begin to ripen (the video was taken in late July 2011), the outer casing bursts open and pops off. There are so many dozens of grapes per cluster, and so many clusters per vine, that the effect is like some sort of dry rain. Have a look:
It leaves a bit of green "confetti" on the ground afterward, which later turns brown (and tracks into your house!). However, it disintegrates fairly quickly on its own, or you can brush or spray it aside.

But how does it work on a chain-link fence? The photo below suggests that grapevine can provide good coverage, but also that training it properly may require some care. Here, left untended, it is growing straight up and then flopping over on itself, rather than moving sideways across the the fence. I can imagine going out every few days to weave it in and out of the wire mesh myself.

So...some PROS for grapevine on a chain-link fence:
*it leafs out early, and hangs on fairly well in the fall (turning beautiful colors)
*coverage can be dense
*grows quickly
*you can get a clipping easily in Hyde Park and start your own vine using rooting hormone (I'm told)
*grapevine "rain" offers a zen-like experience
*it will come back every year; the main vines become thick and woody and will eventually provide winter interest even without the leaves
*may attract birds, or even huge flocks (starlings especially, as far as I've seen), which is fun for humans and cats too!

Some CONS:
*It can be quite invasive
*You have to clean up the leaves in the fall...they leave a thick matting on the ground
*You'll have to train it at least a little on a chain-link fence or trellis
*You'll need to think about what to do if it spreads to a nearby building (or your own building!)... it is easy to pull off, but if it's very high up, it could present problems

I like mine, and I wish I had grown it over my chain-link fence years ago. Other peoples' experiences with it are welcome!

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