Shade Tolerant Vines

kangaroo treebine (Cissus antarctica)Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata)We want a plant for a terra-cotta pot that will grow fairly wide and not more than 5 feet tall. It could flower, fruit or just produce pretty foliage. It will face north and not get much sun.
>Claire and Norm Weinberg,
Granada Hills
My first thought is to find a fan-shaped trellis, available in most nurseries and home improvement centers, that is around 4 or 5 feet tall.
Place the feet of the trellis in or behind your terra-cotta pot and plant a shade-tolerant vine in the pot. Use the trellis to guide the vine’s initial growth and then allow it to grow as tall or as wide as you wish, keeping it in bounds by regular pruning.
A number of vines and at least one kind of tree would probably grow well in the location you describe.
Porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) is a deciduous vine, suitable for shade, that is a relative of the grape. It is known for its inedible berries that change from lilac to turquoise to purple to porcelain blue. At times, berries of each color are found simultaneously in single clusters on the vine.
Especially noteworthy is the ‘Elegans’ porcelain berry variety. It has white-and-pink variegated leaves that have the shape of a dramatic, more deeply lobed version of those found on a fig or mulberry tree.
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and Boston ivy (Parthenocissus triscuspidata), like the porcelain berry, are not as popular as they might otherwise be in Southern California due to their deciduous growth habit.
Boston ivy is the plant you see clambering up the ivy-covered walls of Ivy League colleges back East. In this part of the world, as you may know, there is a deeply held prejudice against plants that lose their leaves. This is unfortunate, since deciduous plants often display a kaleidoscope of fiery colors each autumn, which is certainly the case with these two vines, famous for scaling walls of buildings and, in Los Angeles, concrete freeway overpasses.
In addition, deciduous plants (and these vines, as well) are typically quite hardy and are able to survive freezing weather.
If you decide to go native, Sierra giant pipe vine (Aristolochia californica) or Dutchman’s pipe, is worth consideration. It has heart-shaped foliage, green-veined Meerschaum pipe-shaped flowers with brown petals, and grows vigorously in the shade. Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea), a native that spreads by rhizomes and is highly shade-tolerant, has fragrant leaves and can grow to 4 feet tall with large flower spikes that are pink to dark red.
While all of the shade-tolerant vines already mentioned lose their leaves, two tropical low-light vines, also in the grape family, are evergreen.
Kangaroo treebine (Cissus Antarctica) is a rugged, drought-tolerant species that bears 3-inch, ovate leaves with sawcut margins. Grape ivy (Cissus rhombifolia) has a softer look and is somewhat tender, generally confined to use as a trailing or hanging plant indoors, but suitable for outdoor use as a ground cover or vine where protection is afforded from hot sun during summer and frosty night air during winter.
A low-growing evergreen tree such as a bottlebrush (Callistemon) provides a microclimate on the ground beneath its branches that is hospitable to the growth of subtropicals such as these.
Climbing aloe (Aloe ciliaris) is a succulent vine that requires less light than most other aloe species and may succeed in your sun-deprived location. This species blooms on and off throughout the year with those torch-like inflorescences for which aloes are famous.
Then there is always English ivy (Hedera Helix). Dozens of varieties exist, including diminutive-leafed `Needlepoint,’ `238th Street’ with its heart-shaped and gold-veined foliage, and the white-marbled `Glacier.’
Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) — both the regular and pink-and-white variegated varieties — would also be suitable.
Besides vines, you might want to select a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) for your north-facing terra-cotta pot. There are dozens of varieties available and some grow no more than 5 or 6 feet tall but considerably wider, such as laceleaf or `Dissectum’ cultivars.
Sasanqua camellia, which is often trellised, and oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) also would be worth considering.
Tip of the week
If you want a plant to grow 5 feet tall and wide, you will probably want to purchase a 5-gallon plant and place it in a somewhat larger container. The larger the container, the less frequently you will have to water. If you are planning a container garden, it is wise to keep this principle in mind as we head into the warm season. A few large containers are much easier to manage that a lot of small ones.

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