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Planting Virginia Creeper? Beware!

The Virginia Creeper Is a Beautiful Plant

Certainly, it is a beautiful plant; the stems have five leaflets and are pleasantly attractive, especially in May when they are still ‘Spring Green,’ but the 'pleasantly attractive' vine does tend to take over.

Most gardeners plant the vine for privacy. It is ideal for covering the fence between you and your neighbours; not only does it cover the boring blandness of a fence or wall, but it gives you a delightful plant to look at. As a plus in the way of privacy, the vine will extend about a foot higher than the fence.

If you don’t get on with your neighbours, the Virginia creeper is a must during the summer months. The vine will protect you from their prying eyes when you are having barbecues or erotic pool parties. Not only do the robins love building nests in the foliage, but all the other birds drool at the first sight of the vine’s blue/purple berries in September. As an added bonus, the reddish leaves are breathtaking in the fall.

(During research, I was very surprised to find out that the vine’s berries are poisonous and the sap can cause irritation, a fact that does not seem to put the birds off.

Although it loses its foliage during the winter months, this is no big deal to most Canadian families, as by that time they have emptied the pool and hunkered down, with snow-blowers and shovels to hand; not forgetting the ample supply of chilled beer to help immunise them against the dreaded effects of cabin fever. The BBQ is left in a convenient place on the deck in case there is a mild day of around minus 10C when it can be used again.

Why Should You Be Wary of Planting Such a Multi-Talented Vine?

The Virginia creeper has the mentality of a megalomaniac, and it has been suggested that the Creeper be urged to run for office. Hiding within that cutting that you are about to plant is a ruthless, power-crazed determination. To you, the cuttings will grow to be an eye-catching method of hiding your neighbour’s antics, but the Virginia creeper views the top of your fence as a jumping off point for world domination.

Most gardeners, who decide to plant the Virginia, on learning that the vine grows up to 50 feet high, tend to check their garden for tall buildings or trees, and if there are none, sigh with relief, and go ahead and plant it. Do not make this mistake. The creeper does not care whether it is climbing upwards or sideways. By the same token, don’t sigh with relief if your garden is less than 50 feet in length. The vine also has a spread of 50 feet, and it does not care how large your garden is; it will grow to its allotted 50 feet no matter whose garden it’s in. The vine doesn’t care if it grows over your car, or over your swimming pool, but most importantly, it doesn’t care if it grows under your home.

It is the insidious under part that is the most dangerous. The vine spreads by the use of little suckers; the suckers attach to anything—concrete, brick, wood, steel, mailboxes, sheds, decks, trees; it is a cosmopolitan, multicultural plant with no racial or ethnic tendencies—just as long as it is in control. The suckers can be easily removed if caught in time. The ‘caught in time’ part is what matters most. At first, the vine appears to be harmless, belying its true intent. You will probably be delighted at its rapid growth over the first couple of years.

After the second year, you may decide to do some pruning—that is when you will realise that all of the delightful little leaves aren’t just sitting there for you to admire; they are working feverishly in a Virginian creeper underground. Each bud that is lying on the soil is spreading—downwards, and sideways. The vine is quietly reproducing itself via its creeping rootstalks or rhizomes.

Your tiny little bud eventually becomes nearly impossible to eradicate – and almost impossible to dig up without a backhoe.

You have been warned.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can Virginia Creeper be planted in a container?

Answer: I don't see why not. At least in a pot, Virginia Creeper will be contained.

Question: Can I dig out a Virginia Creeper and replant it?

Answer: Yes you can. You can also take a cutting and replant it.

Question: I live in Saskatchewan, Canada and have started Virginia creepers in pots to transplant along a rural fence line. Can I transplant them in late fall when the plant goes dormant, or should I wait for spring? Can I winter the plants in pots above ground?

Answer: The plant can be planted from spring to early fall. Ours has just started changing color (we live in Ontario), and personally, I would keep it in pots until next spring. My other half reminds me that it grows like a weed and she would plant it now. I think she's right.

Question: Why are my Virginia creeper blotchy? They look like they are diseased.

Answer: If the leaves appear to look like lace, the creeper has probably got Japanese Beetle - an iridescent purple/green insect. This needs to be sprayed to kill it, or it could simply be the heat.

Question: We transplanted Virginia creeper from a pot, and the leaves quickly turned red. Why is this?

Answer: The leaves will turn red and fall off in the fall, or perhaps it has died off due to the transplanting.

Question: I was thinking of planting Virginia Creeper on the side of my garage, which is in full shade. Will it harm stucco?

Answer: Unfortunately, yes, Virginia creeper would harm stucco because it likes to be in control and will harm anything that gets in the way.

Question: Does Virginia creeper harm brick?

Answer: Yes! It is a very strong, forceful plant that will stop at nothing. It may take some time, but it will eventually harm brick.

Question: I had Virginia creepers planted in my yard last year and did not realize that they are perennials. I let them be over winter (ie - withered away, I live in southern Ontario). If the woody vines are still there, but there are no leaves on them are Virginia creepers dead or will they spring back to life?

Answer: I had to wait until the frost melted before checking my own plant - after all, it is only May in Eastern Ontario. My plant looks like it has given up, but on closer inspection, there are buds to be seen. So, remembering that everything dies eventually, it sounds like your plant is still hibernating, and who can blame it.

Question: How does the Virginia creeper respond to stimuli?

Answer: We did nothing special with our creeper. We simply planted it with some bone meal, and it grow exponentially. Now all we ever seem to do is try and cut it back and try to stop it from taking over.

Question: Excellent and entertaining description of a reliable and beautiful vine. I’m planting some Virginia Creeper to cover unsightly sea cans at my brother's property but worried about planting in the fall in northern Ontario. Is it worth trying to plant Virginia Creeper in fall in northern Ontario?

Answer: Don't see why not. I live in the St Lawrence Seaway, & the vine is in charge. I'm sure it would still take over further north.

Question: If I plant a creeper near my foundation or patio, will it break the cement from underneath via the roots?

Answer: Yes! It may take some time, but eventually, it will break through from beneath. Sorry about that.

© 2013 John MacNab

Comments

John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on May 27, 2020:

Not necessarily Lynnel. I've had my creeper for about 15 years and they refuse to kick the bucket. But...they are just beginning to wake up .....very late. It could be the unusual weather.

Good luck. John Macnab

Lynnell Ruttan on May 27, 2020:

I planted 3 creepers last year and they looked awesome, however, they have not come back this year. It's the end of May and they look dead...are they?

Kimberly on May 14, 2020:

Great read! Love your humor!

John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on September 22, 2019:

Sorry for the delay.

When it comes to virginia creeper, it doesn't care when you cut it back. Whatever the season, you can cut it back without any worry about killing it.

Thanks for the question.

Wanda Mauricio on September 17, 2019:

I have virginia creeper growing along my fence. I want to paint the fence & wonder if I can cut back the plant without killing it. If so - when's the best time to do this?

Johnmacnab on July 04, 2018:

Jacob B.

I don't know how fast it grows, except I think it could win Formula 1. As for what it will grow in - anything. It doesn't care.

Sue on July 04, 2018:

Our creeper, planted circa 1990 by the previous owners, is now growing through the pool - so that shoots are visible under the liner. We've always tried to manage it (that is, cut it back, dig bits out etc each year to keep it somewhat controlled) but this latest discovery means time for the round-up, as a leak is a costly problem. Pretty sure it will outlive us regardless of what we apply though. Yes it's lovely at times but I wish we'd removed it when we moved in 20 years ago!

Jacob B on June 01, 2018:

Wonderful article! My favorite part: "when you are having barbecues or erotic pool parties."

Does anyone know how fast this vine will grow? How many meters / feet per year? Will it grow in wet clay soil with very poor drainage?

Johnmacnab on May 25, 2018:

An excellent description Dave.

Dave Mitchell on May 25, 2018:

Have it here in south central Ontario, Canada, A horrible thing to get rid of. The trees can't support themselves and fall over. It takes over and then some. Sent straight from the devil in my opinion.

John McNab on May 18, 2018:

Athena

I'm warning people about the Virginia creeper because, although it is beautiful, it does take over if not controlled.

Athena on May 16, 2018:

Virginia creeper is a great native vine. Why you are telling people to beware and be warned is beyond me.

Laura on October 25, 2017:

We have a Virginia creeper that grows on our neighbors garage that faces our yard on our property and is absolutely beautiful

He had someone come over and cut it back all the way to the roots.._will it grow back this summer to cover the garage or will it take a few years? I am devastated!

Lori Fraser on August 09, 2017:

Good Article. Love the humour

John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on July 09, 2016:

Yes, Virginia Creeper has a lot to recommend i t, doesn't it.

Happy on August 16, 2015:

Virginia creeper is my hero!

Saved us from needing air conditioning even in our hottest summer months. We use to Cook in the afternoons because the whole back of

The house faced the west setting sun. Looked into planting trees, but

plumber said No Way with your older home pipes.

We made an arbor that arches over our windows and sidewalk using a

Bird netting and the Virginia Creeper forms a lush cool wall like a green

Tunnel. If it gets warm....you just go out inside the tunnel and spray water on the leaves....pull the cool into the windows with fans and ahhhhhhh Delish Cool All afternoon ! The dense shade forms just

When you need it, turns Scarlet, then disappears and let's the Winter

Sun warm your house...can't see the bird netting but the branches and

Net keep the snow off the side walk and entry of back door...they are very

Strong. So Yes We LOVE our Virginia Creeper!!

John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on October 10, 2014:

The leaves are beautiful in the fall aren't they. They turn red and fall off every year. I'm raking up Virginia Creeper leaves now, and we are losing our privacy. Roll on next spring when the creeper turns green again and shields us from our neighbors. Thanks for reading and commenting diana.

diana bishop on October 10, 2014:

I planted 2 virginia creepers this spring. 1 each end of an arch. It has grown very quickly and about 2 weeks ago the leaves turned a beautiful red. They only lasted 1 week and all fell off.

Will they always do that or is it just the first year?

John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on October 06, 2013:

Jackie: Many thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Virginia Creeper probably would be the plant you saw on courthouses, Jackie. You'll also see it climbing up telephone poles. It is a beautiful plant, but beware of its world domination tendencies.

John MacNab (author) from the banks of the St. Lawrence on October 06, 2013:

drbj: Many thanks for the visit and comment drbj. My pleasure young lass. Now, in Fall, the creeper looks stunning and I feel guilty about lambasting it.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on October 05, 2013:

That must be what I use to see on courthouses as a kid and loved. It climbed right to the sky. I have a corner I wouldn't mind having it in! lol

drbj and sherry from south Florida on May 30, 2013:

BOLO! BOLO! Be On the Look Out for the dangerous, mind-of-its-own Virginia Creeper. Thanks for the warning, John. We have a similar noxious plant here in Florida - it's called Bermuda Grass, and it devours beautiful lawns.