Heavenly blue morning glories catching the first light of day, iridescent purple hyacinth beans hanging like summer jewels, delicate trumpets of the cardinal climber drawing hummingbirds in charms—these are just three of the finest vines for garden color. Each year we erect trellises and tall tipis just to grow our favorite climbing flowers. Summer just wouldn’t be summer without them.
The best flowering vines for our warm summer climate are tropical to subtropical. And even though they may not live through our cold winter, they are fast-growing, vigorous–able to reach tall heights by midsummer. Even better, they bloom and bloom and bloom offering flowers and ornamental pods in an array of bright, cheerful colors. Here are nine of the best vines to add vertical color and interest to any sunny summer garden:
1. Morning Glory ‘Heavenly Blue’
The queen of the summer climbers is the heirloom ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’). It’s large, funnel-shaped flowers of clear blue cover the vine from mid- to late-summer when many other flowers flag in the heat. (Ipomoea tricolor is native to the New World tropics, so humid heat is not a problem for this vine.) Towards fall, the flowers become even bluer and more prolific. The twining vines become thick and robust when happy, so provide plenty of room for this old-fashioned classic vine. A strong fence, trellis or pergola is recommended for support.
2. Hyacinth Bean
Space is required for this rambling, vigorous, flowering vine but the purple-hued leaves and purple flowers and pods of hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus) make it a summer standout. Even in the hottest days of summer this African-native vine will shine. This bean is just for looks and not for eating. Be sure to give it a lot of space to twine and roam and feel free to gently prune it back as needed.
3. Black-Eyed Susan Vine
Pretty, dark-centered flowers of yellow, orange, white or peach dot the ever-beautiful black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) when the weather is warm. The vines, though not as fast-growing as morning glories or hyacinth beans, become dense and lush when healthy and happy—offering lots of nice flowers that attract bees. The twining stems of this African native need a good trellis and out-of-bounds stems may need to be trimmed on occasion.
4. Creeping Gloxinia
Tolerance to partial sun makes creeping gloxinia (Asarina lophospermum) a good vine for patios and porches. Native to Mexico, its delicate, tubular flowers of white, russet red or pink, attract hummingbirds and rise from thin, twining stems lined with spade-shaped leaves with ragged, incised edges. This one is tame enough to plant in a large hanging basket or container. The popular selection Great Cascade™ Wine Red is very pretty.
5. Cardinal Climber
Hummingbirds cannot get enough of the hybrid cardinal climber’s (Ipomoea x sloteri) many tubular, red flowers produced along stems decorated with feathery leaves. The airy vine is deceptively delicate because its twining stems can reach up to 20’ by summer’s end. Expect it to be its most beautiful and flower-covered later in summer.
6. Spanish Flag
The flowers of the Spanish flag (Ipomoea lobata) are like no other. Designed for hummingbirds, the flowers of this Brazilian vine are borne in one-sided clusters of pocketed blooms that are red in bud and open to palest yellow. The massive vines will completely cover a large trellis of the course of a summer, so plan big. The sunny flowers begin to appear in late summer and will continue until frost.
7. Malabar Spinach
It’s attractive, heat-tolerant and edible, so what’s not to love? Malabar spinach (Basella alba) is a tropical vine native to tropical regions of Africa and Asia. Its thick twining purple-red stems and glossy leaves have a pleasing garden appeal, and they can be regularly harvested for eating. The flavor and texture of the leaves are spinach-like. Provide stout support for this twining vegetable. Inconspicuous flowers give way to berry-like black fruits that are subtly attractive.
Night bloomers like the moonflower (Ipomoea alba) use big size, white color and fragrance to attract moths in the fading hours of the evening. The enormous, funnel-shaped flowers are true novelties best enjoyed along a gazebo, pergola or a porch where they can best be viewed into the evening. The Mexican natives are quite heat tolerant and will bloom until frost.
9. Gloriosa Lily
The tender, tropical gloriosa lily (Gloriosa superba) is a true anomaly. It’s delicately twining stems and unique lives with tips that look and behave much like tendrils but its orange-red and yellow flowers look 100% lily. The tuberous roots can be stored in a cool place over winter but will not survive the harsh cold of northern winters. This native of Africa and Asia is a little less heat tolerant than some of the other vines we have mentioned. All parts of this plant are toxic, so it is not recommended for growing where children or pets might become attracted to the plants or flowers.
Summer vines appreciate good, friable soil that drains freely. Moderate to good fertility will do, so I recommend amending with Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend before planting. Container-grown vines should be planted in Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix. All of these vines will appreciate a little food for garden flowers upon planting as well.
To learn more about classic trellising for summer flowering vines, click here.