Virginia Creeper – Parthenocissus

This group of vigorous climbers includes the Virginia creeper, and that name is often applied to the whole group. They are deciduous, climb by tendrils which often have sticky pads on the ends, and are grown for their ornamental leaves, which change colour spectacularly in the autumn. P. quinquefolia is the true Virginia creeper from North America, which has been cultivated for centuries. Since it can climb to 21 m (70 ft), it can be difficult to control, and is best left to clamber up tall trees. P. inserta is similar in appearance, but less vigorous, and is more suitable for walls, where it can be trained on horizontal wires. P tricuspidata is often called ‘Virginia creeper’ – wrongly, since it comes from Japan. It is the Boston ivy, commonly planted on walls, where it can go to 15 m (50 ft) or more, and give a marvellous display of crimson foliage in the autumn. P. henryana (Chinese Virginia creeper) grows to 7.6 m (25 ft) and has distinctive bronze leaves in the summer which also turn red in the autumn. It needs a sheltered site.Virginia Creeper - Parthenocissus

General care: These creepers repay some trouble in planting and care when they are young. Dig a large planting hole – a cube about 45 cm (18 inches) and fill with a humus-rich soil. Use container-grown plants, as parthenocissus do not like root disturbance. Support them with sticks until they are able to climb by themselves. Once they are established, they need little or no routine attention. Keep away from the sun to get the best colouring: a north or east wall is best.

Propagation: Sow seeds in a cold frame or greenhouse in November; take hardwood cuttings at that time and push them into the ground to root; or layer long shoots. Semi-hardwood cuttings can be taken at the end of the summer and rooted in pots.

Pests and diseases: Scale insects cause sticky brown or black patches on the leaves. Spray with diazinon or malathion.

Did You Know?

These are the climbers that gardeners often call ampelopsis or Virginia creeper, though the latter name properly belongs to one kind only, Parthenocissus quinquifolia, which has extra large vine-like leaves that colour brilliantly before they fall in autumn. It is partially self-clinging and excellent for covering sheds, screens, fences etc. or for running up into old, not very valuable trees.

Better as a wall covering, because it is entirely self-clinging by little adhesive pads, is P. tricuspidata, popularly known as Boston ivy. It also colours well but is more variable in leaf than the Virginia creeper, one of the most popular forms being veitchll with relatively small leaves.

P. henryana has deeply lobed leaves that combine dark green and bronzy purple with white veins. It is exceptionally decorative since the colour is there all summer and it is completely self-clinging but it needs a sheltered wall as it is a little tender.

All kinds will grow well in most soils, in sun or shade, though autumn colour is best in a light place. No regular pruning is necessary but shoots that grow too far can be cut back in the autumn.


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