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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - February 16, 2014

From: Rochester, WA
Region: Northwest
Topic: Poisonous Plants, Vines
Title: Tough, Non-toxic Vine to Cover Fence in Washington
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

I have about 150 feet of 6-foot high chain link fence that I would like to cover with a vine for privacy. I really want an evergreen or semi-evergreen plant that requires very little care. I also don't want something that is very invasive and going to try to take over my yard. Annual trimming I can do, but I don't want to constantly battle with my vines. This fence runs north to south with no trees around it so it will have full sun. I do have kids that like to put everything in their mouth so the vine cannot have berries that are toxic. Does anything like this exist? Please don't say English ivy as it is way too invasive. Oh, and the soil is poor -- clay that is full of rocks.

ANSWER:

The first place to go to find a list of potential vines for your chain link fence is our Native Plant Database. Use the Combination Search feature instead of Recommended Species. This will provide a bigger selection with much more choice to narrow down. The volunteers and staff at the Wildflower Center who maintain the database have partners in different regions to help with these recommended species lists based on what is easy to access in local nurseries.

Under Combination Search, select the following categories: WA, Habit – vine, Duration – Perennial, Light Requirement – Sun, Soil Moisture – Moist & Dry, and Leaf Retention – Evergreen and Semi-Evergreen.


This search requirements turned up one native vine: Lonicera hispidula (Pink honeysuckle). It will twine and grow along your fence and has deciduous to semi-evergreen foliage and grows up to 20 ft. The vine has pink or purple flowers in the spring and summer as well as showy red berries in the fall. The flowers attract hummingbirds. Unfortunately the fruit are mildly poisonous if eaten and are especially attractive to children because of their color and size.

A less restrictive search (just for full sun vines for Washington) produced a couple of additional suggestions but toxicity is again a big issue.

Clematis ligusticifolia (Western white clematis), a strong climber growing to 20 ft. Creamy white blooms  appear from late spring through summer. The plant has deciduous leaves.  In hot, dry situations, shade and mulching is needed to keep the roots cool. All parts are poisonous.  Bird and hummingbird attractant plant.

Lonicera ciliosa (Orange honeysuckle), climbing to 18 feet with orange, trumpet shaped flowers in clusters during the summer. Red fruit may be poisonous. Deciduous leaves.


Parthenocissus vitacea (Hiedra creeper), a prolific climber to 60 ft. Small greenish flowers in late spring with hard purplish-black berries wish are moderately poisonous.

If you would like more information on the toxicity of garden plants, the University of California has a good resource on their website called “Safe and Poisonous Garden Plants.

No worries about Mr. Smarty Plants suggesting planting English Ivy! Nan Hampton summed our thoughts on English Ivy perfectly in at previous question. English ivy (Hedera helix) is native to Europe, western Asia and northern Africa and is considered invasive in at least 18 U. S. states. We are not enthusiastic about giving advice to propagate non-natives given that: "The mission of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is to increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants, and landscapes."

 

From the Image Gallery


Pink honeysuckle
Lonicera hispidula

Western white clematis
Clematis ligusticifolia

Orange honeysuckle
Lonicera ciliosa

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