Ask the Gardener

Vine is pretty, but don't let it invade

CorrespondentOctober 12, 2012 

Born to run, run, run

I have a vine growing out of one of my holly bushes that suddenly bloomed last month. The flowers were white and small, and they were fragrant. They looked like little four-pointed stars. I didn’t plant it. It just magically showed up. Do you know what it might be?

Doris Sullivan

Durham

Let me introduce you to sweet autumn clematis ( Clematis terniflora). This vine is quite a crawler – it can easily reach up to 30 feet in length. Ditch banks, ugly fences, retaining walls can quickly become awash in the pretty green wave that is sweet autumn clematis. And as its name implies, when summer gives way to autumn, the vine explodes in a shower of small white flowers that have a sweet-ish fragrance. I added the “ish” because it is a weird sweetness that I don’t much like.

So is this an ideal vine for area landscapes? Well, if you want to quickly cover up a rusty old Buick in the backyard, yeah, it is. Although this perennial can be found for sale as an ornamental vine, I can’t give it a two-green-thumbs-up endorsement because this introduction from Japan is considered an invasive exotic in much of the Southeast. In other words, if a neighbor has it, you’ll likely get it – which is probably how the vine “magically” popped out of that holly bush.

If you would like to take your chances with sweet autumn clematis, but don’t want neighbors storming your gates because the plant spread to their yards, prune the vine back as the flowers begin to fade, making sure to include all spent blooms. This will prevent the formation and spread of seeds, which readily sprout, and are the reason this vine gets its reputation as a botanical bully. Toss the pruned parts away. Don’t compost them because, if you do, like that rusty old Buick, by next summer, you won’t be able to find your compost pile!

Pruning eucalyptus

I just purchased and planted a rather full 9-foot Eucalyptus neglecta with the intention of pruning several of the lower branches to allow more of a tree form. I have the tree planted in full sun and have implemented a regular watering routine. Having been in the ground for three weeks, it is doing extremely well, with new growth on both the lower and upper branches. When the best time to prune it and how aggressive would be “too aggressive” in removal of the lower branches?

Patrick Church

Raleigh

You pick your eucalyptus well. Not only is Eucalyptus neglecta one of the hardier selections for the Triangle, but it is one of the more aromatic, with a scent remniscent of Vicks VapoRub. While this fast-growing, small tree can take on normal winters around here, it is still borderline hardy. With this in mind, any pruning should be done in the spring, because exposed fresh cuts made this fall could be subject to damage from frost. Since this is a new tree,it might be best to take out just a few of the more obvious, out-of-control lower limbs next spring, and then, the following spring when the eucalyptus is more established, do a more general pruning down below.

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. Send your garden questions, including the city where you garden, to: askthegardener@newsobserver.com.

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