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 Vines and Climbing Plants for Hot, Dry Climates

roses climbing over garden seat A garden seat in early summer covered with fragrant pink roses is a lovely haven.  Roses, especially David Austen English Roses, grow vigorously in desert climates.  But--alas--they do need regular watering.  For more about growing roses in a desert climate, go here.

How refreshing it is to sit under an arbor on a hot summer morning under a canopy of leafy vines! And if these vines produce gorgeous, fragrant flowers or delicious grapes as well as cooling shade-- well, all the better. You may, in fact, find that the temperature under a shady arbor is about 10 degrees F. cooler than sunny areas of your garden.

The Pink Trumpet Vine (Podranea ricasoliana) is a South African native that loves the sun and heat. It grows slowly at first and must be tied to the arbor or trellis. But as it grows older its growth speeds up. Needs moderate water.

trumpet vine orange

The Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) from the eastern U.S. is a self-attaching vine with bright yellow and orange blossoms. This vine can grow as much 40 feet in one year! Because it is such a vigorous grower and can become invasive, it is best planted in a large container beside the trellis or arbor. It is tolerant of a variety of soil conditions and of heat and cold. Needs moderate water in summer.

Hall's Honeysuckle (Loncera japonica) is another vine with trumpet shaped flowers that does very well in the desert. Like the three we have already listed, it grows fast, fast, fast. It can be invasive, but its fragrance is heavenly in the Spring and early Summer! Tolerates poor soil conditions, hot weather, and needs little to moderate water. It should be cut back in winter.

clematis purple 

Clematis. With proper care the fast-growing Clematis will grow in a hot, dry climate. Plant it by a trellis in a sheltered corner and keep the roots cool. Tip: place a large flat rock or piece of tile over the root zone so the soil beneath does not become hot. Needs ample water. In winter it may look dead, but it is not, as Spring weather will prove.

Plant Cat's Claw (Macfadyena unguis-cati) and stand back! This vine will grow up and over a three story building in no time. It self-attaches, even to sizzling hot walls, to create a tracery of delicate green vines and leaves. Yellow flowers appear in the Spring during a short blooming season. This Central American native tolerates drought extremely well but it can be very invasive and difficult to eradicate once it is established.  You would be wise to choose another climber instead of this one.

lilac vine hardenbergia

Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violacea) is one of our personal favorites because it blooms in late Winter to early Spring -- which is Summer and early Fall in its native Australia. Lovely purple flowers -- almost wisteria-like-- announce that Spring is coming. Needs moderate water, partial shade and a trellis to climb on. (For more information about Australian plants and trees, read our January 2004 newsletter.)

Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) is among the very best climbing plants to use on pergolas and arbors in hot, dry climates. This South African native needs little water to maintain its luxurious growth all summer long. And grow it does -- climbing to as much as 25 feet in one season! Because it is both beautiful and a sun-lover, wholesale nurseries have developed new hybrids with a variety of yellows and orange blossoms. New growth may suffer damage in cold winters, but will come back in Spring. Will need to be tied to arbor, initially. It can also be grown as a shrub.  

Wisteria at Arlington Gardens Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) is long-lived and produces impressive amounts of blooms in lilac, white, blue, and lavender-pink in early summer. Better yet, it needs only moderate water and tolerates alkaline soil.

You may have to add chelated iron if the plant develops chlorosis, a condition where the leaves turn yellow but the veins stay green. Wisteria needs frequent pruning to train into shape, but not much fertilizer.

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bougainvilla and star jasmine 

Bougainvillea grows beautifully in the warm-winter areas providing summer-long brilliant color in reds, pinks, golds and oranges. Can be grown as an annual in areas where winter temperatures fall below 30 F. New shrub forms suitable for planters are now available. Low water usage once established. Note: Take special care not to disturb the roots when you plant bougainvillea: the root ball is easily damaged and the damage will kill the plant.

grape vines on arbor

Install Grapes (Vitis Vinifera) at your arbor and you can have your shade and great food, too! Several varieties grow well in a hot, dry climate, including the 'Thompson Seedless', 'Golden Muscat' and the 'Alden'. The 'Golden Muscat' needs some shade because its leaves will sunburn.
(See more photos of this garden in Nevada, here.)

Grape plants require strategic pruning and constant soil moisture in the Spring to produce ample fruit. They are, however, drought tolerant if producing an abundance of grapes is not your goal. Gravelly, fast draining soil is important.

For more about grapes suitable for your garden, visit your local nursery or go on a wine-sampling road trip to the commercial wineries in locations from Southern Arizona to Southern Nevada. 

Algerian Ivy (Hedera canariensis) can be either a ground cover or vigorous climbing vine -- or both. It is a fast grower that will climb up and over anything in its way. While it needs little water once established, this native of North Africa and the Canary Islands needs some shade in the afternoon; its large dark green leaves may sunburn.

The more delicate English ivy (Hedera helix) is generally more suitable for hanging planters or patio pots than for installation in the ground. One English ivy cultivar, however, the 'Baltica' is fairly hardy. Its small white-vein leaves turn a purplish hue in cold weather.

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