Trumpet vine needs no encouraging

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By Ted Manzer

Friday, June 22, 2018

I walked around my yard recently and realized certain plants are taking over my landscaping. Most of the culprits are woody vines. Most are also native species and natives are all the rage right now.

Just because a plant is native doesn’t mean it’s desirable in one’s landscape. My greatest problem comes from a vine with gorgeous reddish orange flowers. These flowers attract hummingbirds in droves. Butterflies and native bees love them too. The vine in question is called trumpet creeper or trumpet vine.

I read an article recently profiling this aggressive vine as one of the native species we must encourage. First, it needs no encouragement. Even kudzu is easier to contain. Trumpet vine will quickly cover shrubbery, trees and buildings. It’s also a prolific seed producer and these seeds will spread everywhere. Plants will spring up in your lawn and garden beds in no time.

Internet articles abound detailing how to propagate this menace. It may have some good points, but this is not a plant to encourage. It’s on par with Callery (Bradford) pear. It has an aggressive root system and will eventually take over your yard.

Some people plant it in pots to lessen its invasiveness. Some even bury pots in the ground to slow this vine down. I think this is wishful thinking. I’ve declared war on it on my property and I’m still losing.

I’ve pretty much eliminated poison ivy, but trumpet vine is in all my crape myrtles. It’s also growing up the sides of my house and has invaded all the shade trees bordering my property. Muscadine grapes are tough, but trumpet vine has crept its way into them too.

For those who don’t know what it looks like, it has a woody stem much like grape, Virginia creeper or wisteria. Leaves with multiple blades emerge from stems in groups of two. Vines climb by tendrils and can grow 40 feet tall.

Flowers are brightly colored and grow in bunches. As the name indicates, they are trumpet-shaped. As flowers fade, bean-shaped seed pods develop, and they are filled with dozens of seeds.

These plants have copious roots, so controlling their spread is difficult. Simply killing the tops or cutting them down won’t put a dent in them. Several applications of systemic herbicides are necessary to kill them.

I usually use Round-up on the stumps at full strength after first cutting the vines close to the ground. Repeated treatments are still often necessary. No options are available to spray directly on trees or shrubbery. Some broadleaf herbicides can limit the growth of trumpet vine in lawns, but they’re hard to kill.

Reports are mixed as to whether this vine is poisonous to pets. According to most sources, the worst symptoms are a mild dermatitis. People face the same risk, although symptoms are far less than from contact with poison ivy or its relatives.

I would never recommend encouraging this plant even though it is native and has beautiful flowers. I cringe every time I see it being sold in nursery catalogs.

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.